“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”—my 50-year high school anniversary

Omaha_Civic_Center BLOGIn 1963 the commencement exercises for Omaha Central High School (in Nebraska, for those who think the US is on the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans or just above the Rio Grande River–it’s the half-way point between Boston and San Francisco on old US Highway 30) were held at the Omaha Civic Auditorium. By some great miracle of, I am sure, divine intervention, the auditorium is still there.

Oh, I don’t mean it’s a miracle the building still stands. In 1954 buildings were constructed to last more than 20 years. I mean it’s a miracle that it has not transmogrified into the “Mutual of Omaha Auditorium” or the “Berkshire Hathaway Center” or some other grand palace dedicated to “branding” one of the private corporations headquartered in Omaha.

In Dallas we have the American Airlines Center paid for by the taxpayers of Dallas ostensibly to provide a home for the Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars. The owner of the Stars, having convinced Dallas taxpayers to saddle themselves with the cost of his team’s playground, fell into bankruptcy (or some such nonsense while he still counts his billions [note the 5th offset paragraph]) and sold the team. I suppose advertising American Airlines (why it needs advertising in Dallas is beyond me—doesn’t it have a stranglehold on airplane travel in and out of DFW?) helps defray a fraction of the yearly cost to the citizens of Dallas for subsidizing the Mavericks and the Stars, but, REALLY!

A side note: part of the reason Dallasites (even those of us who couldn’t care less about the Mavericks or the Stars) are saddled with the cost of the largest single advertising venue for American Airlines is that people were convinced that those teams would bring huge sums of money into the city businesses and generate huge tax revenues for the city. Baloney. The arts generate by far more revenues than sports (I’ll find the source for that fact if anyone doubts it).

Mr. Hicks

Mr. Hicks

Funny thing, that. The large public venues for the arts in Dallas, the Myerson, the Winspear, and the Wylie auditoria are named for citizens of Dallas in honor or memory of their contributions to the city. Of course, the so-called Arts District—don’t get me started on that—is named the AT&T center. As if AT&T needed advertising. But at least the individual component venues recognize individuals for their (mostly financial, but also civic) contributions to the life of the city.

So back to the Omaha Civic Auditorium. We proudly graduated high school there. I don’t know how proud we were, actually, and our pride had little to do with the place. But at least our graduation announcements didn’t go out to all of our aunts and uncles as advertising for the Kiewit construction company or some other private business. I’m not going to be so sappy as to say we advertised our city, our community, our home. You can figure that out for yourself.

Why is everything in America for sale?

OK. I’ll admit my bias before I go any further so you can stop reading before you get really offended. I’m a socialist. Yes, successors of J. Edgar Hoover, I am a subversive. (Apropos of nothing–or everything–Why is the headquarters of the FBI in Washington still named after that man who ran his own private KGB in America for so many years? How hypocritical is it for America to honor that creep and complain about anti-gay legislation in Russia or the Russian conviction of Pussy Riot for practicing free speech?) There, see, I am a subversive.

I’m not really a socialist. I’m not any kind of political creature. I simply want to point out why I think naming the Omaha Civic Center after a private money-making corporation would be a bad idea.

“Capitalism” as the romantic ideal of most Americans does not exist. The romantic idea is as much a matter of “belief” as opposed to “fact” as the idea that Jesus is coming again soon. “Capitalism” is a religion for most Americans. It is based somewhat (only very little in actuality) on the idea that you and I have the right to make, buy, and sell whatever we can to get ahead in the world or at least feed and clothe ourselves. And if we figure out a way to join together and several of us become a “person” in the form of a corporation so we have more ability to make, buy, steal, and sell, so much the better.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but that’s not what capitalism is in 21st-century America, and it has not been for a long, long, long time.

For contributions to the city

For contributions to the city

I’m not going to write a treatise on what capitalism is or isn’t–because I don’t know enough facts to do so.

This is a personal statement by a senescent old man. And it’s very simple. Americans are idolators. Americans worship the Golden Calf of capitalism as if it were God incarnate. Say the word, and most people get all goose-bumpy.

The most common reaction is to stand and sing “God Bless America” at the mere mention of the word.

And Americans apparently don’t notice or don’t care that Alice Walton by herself can destroy the center of any town in America where people like you have the little shops where they make, buy, and sell stuff to make a living. And David Einhorn, Jeff Gundlach, Carl Icahn, Kirk Kerkorian, and Bill Ackman can each, by himself, destroy any company you’ve invested in as the Holy Grail of your financial security.

So all I want to ask is how that’s working out for you these days.

“Civic” auditorium or “American Airlines” cash cow.

Which god do you worship?

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