Getting Your Head Out of Its Box on Food Stamps

Steve Russell

As I punched my car radio to NPR, I only caught the end of a woman’s earnest plea: “if we only save one of these kids, that child might be the one to climb to the top ranks of corporate America.”

I winced.

I’m all for helping disadvantaged kids. I learned in the discussion later she was helping out some kids in a homeless shelter, and good for her. But her idea of success gave me flashes of Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good!” Maybe it’s too soon after Mitt Romney ran for president. I can’t speak for others, but he came across to me as not so much an evil man as much as he came across as a blind man.

“Whoa, Russell, don’t you trade stocks?”

I do. I took it up in my mid-50s to prove a liberal arts education will serve the purpose as well as a business education, and it will. I do not trade to lose.

To be competitive is not to be greedy. Let me set out some observations that lead me to this conclusion.

As far as I know, I’m the one who first said in these pages that a stock trade is an agreement about price based on a disagreement about value. Let’s unpack that.

There’s somebody else on the other side of the trade (duh), although I recognize that individual may be a silicon-based life form rather than a carbon-based life form like me. I must assume that individual is as smart as me or smarter and has as much information as I have and probably more. Please suggest why it would be wrong to wager with this anonymous person? And why would it be wrong to feel happy about winning?

“This is that white blood coming out, Russell. Cherokees are not competitive.”

Oh, right.

I was getting out of the shower one time over at the university, next to me was a Potawatomi friend of mine and he had a big red welt across his back.

“Man, what happened to your back?”

“You know that stickball game last Saturday? They let those Cherokee women play.”

He didn’t need to say anything else.

Now, both my white friends and my Cherokee friends hunt with bows. My white friends practice by shooting at paper targets attached to bales of hay. My Cherokee friends practice by shooting at cornstalks. Just sayin’.

Nobody goes bow hunting because they like vegetables. Nobody races their horse to look at the back end of somebody else’s horse. And nobody trades stocks or anything else for the purpose of losing money.

The greed thing comes in when you decide whether to play by the rules. Greed is insider trading. Greed is doping a horse.

The greed thing comes in again if you are skilled enough or lucky enough to win and have to decide what to do with your winnings. All rich men are not equal. You can be a rich man like Sam Walton or a rich man like Warren Buffett.

I’ve not yet been endangered by becoming wealthy, but I’m fortunate to have retirement benefits that cover my basic living expenses. So the money I do make is spent on my extended family, so far mostly medical bills for my mother and textbooks for my grandchildren. Those expenditures do not strike me as being on the level of Gordon Gekko.

So you see I winced too soon, my perception polluted by the fictional Mr. Gekko and the too real Gov. Romney, about whom a short review is in order because I write on the day the House of Representatives took a meat cleaver to the food stamp program, in an apparent attempt to insure that the poor will have no need for meat cleavers. Meat will be off the menu if it was ever on.

Ann Romney, explaining “starving student” days when Mitt was in graduate school at Harvard, lamented that they ate tuna fish out of a can. I could relate. Nobody who is used to a fresh tuna steak or sushi would be too interested in the canned version.

I know a student at a state university who used to go to a butcher shop and buy turkey necks for pennies to make broth. It was pretty good….the first time.

Ms. Romney really got down to it when she related that the portfolio that was supposed to put Mitt though school was not throwing off enough dividends and they had to sell stock. For the first half century of my life, I would not have understood the horror in that remark. I was not raised with the iron rule that you never invade principal for living expenses.

I was born and raised in Indian country and I never knew anybody who had any principal to invade. I guess I showed my ignorance again the time some students were complaining to Mitt about the costs of education and he said they should borrow some money from their parents, start a small business, and come back to college later. He did not crack a smile. My expectation that he might was ignorance.

Many people took Romney’s blindness for meanness. Maybe I did at times.

A man like myself, born and raised in Indian country, has his head in a box. He has the survival skills his people taught him, skills that work where he was born.

So do we all have our heads in boxes? Some of us learn to think outside the box as we soak up the experiences of the people we meet.

It seems to me that if I can learn to trade stocks, those House Republicans can learn that people are not on food stamps because they invaded the principal in their portfolios for living expenses.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.




Anonymous's picture
Sure they are blind but a lot of it is I got mine to hell with you as well and I honestly believe that.