On Strike

My dad worked for General Electric. This was considered a very good job and, basically it was. Dad was also a union steward. He was a very loyal union member. He believed that without the union to protect the workers, GE might not be such a great employer.

Several times in the 50’s and early 60’s the workers at GE went out on strike. While Dad was on strike he did not get paid. He had no savings. There were ten of us. These were pretty grim times. At the grocery store Dad would buy the dented cans or the cans with no labels. We had mystery meals. We learned to make our own potato chips. We froze corn and Mom canned tomato sauce. People gave us clothes. Dad had a series of horrible cars which required hours of attention to serve as the most basic of transportation.

But he had a job to go back to. Eventually the strike would end. Insurance policies may have been cashed in, loans taken out, funds given as charity by the union. The house remained ours. I am not sure how but Dad always kept the house. So I can understand the depression and the fear that is felt by the long term unemployed. Perhaps they use up their savings first. They load up their credit cards. They can’t borrow because they have no jobs. They cash in bonds, they cash in 401K’s, they cash in their insurance policies, they lose their houses, they eat less. They may even have to move in with their families if possible. It’s bad enough losing a job when there are jobs, but to lose a job when jobs are scarce must fill you with a terrible dread. How far down the “ladder” will you, or even worse, you and your children, go.? Where will you end up? What will your life be like? Not everyone is out of work. You become part of this “underclass” of unlucky people who have lost their jobs. Your self-image suffers which makes it harder and harder to get a job. If there are any jobs.

This sounds like an old circular refrain from my teen years?

“What’s Life?”

“A magazine.”

“How much does it cost?”

“It costs 20 cents.”

“But I only have a nickel.”

“That’s Life.”

“What’s Life?”

Please settle your issues soon, Washington. Get a plan, because, we need jobs.

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Nostalgia v. Reality

We’ve been talking a lot in my family about the old days since Mom is turning 93 in August. The old days means all the family history since my Mom was born in 1917. She does not know much family history before then. My Mom’s mom defied her well-off (not rich) family to marry a poor man of Scottish descent who apparently was very entertaining, but never earned enough to lift the family above the poverty level. He was a mason but would not join the masons because he was not a “joiner”, I guess. Mom’s mother worked very hard and seemed to produce delicious meals out of thin air and water. Some of these meals were probably not quite so wonderful, however, because there are still foods my mom won’t eat (like fish, which her Dad caught and her Mom cooked). As if the family was not poor enough along came the Depression. Mom tells stories of walking with her dad all across Onondaga County. She says her dad used to work at Onondaga Lake (probably for a park’s project) and walk to and from work every day. But she holds no rancor towards her father. She always speaks of him fondly as though they are still walking by the side of some dusty old Syracuse road hand in hand. Her parents, her sister and her brother all died quite young. Where her long-life genes come from is a mystery to her.

My dad also came from a very poor, and apparently dysfunctional family. His mother put the fear in him and leaned on him a lot. He had two sisters and three brothers. One brother spent his life in a mental institution, one died in a bicycle accident, but the others grew up and had families. My dad didn’t stop supporting his parents until he was 30. Then he married my mom and they started their own family.

Although my dad only had an eighth grade education, he was very smart. He was an electrician and he taught himself calculus. Every one of us, all eight, finished high school and many went to post secondary school.

So they climbed the “ladder” of American success as high as they could go given their circumstances.

Mom remembers how poor we were but she doesn’t really seem to resent it. My dad did leave her with her house, free and clear, and a small pension. She certainly can’t fly to Majorca or shop for much except groceries and gifts. But she is quite content at almost 93. I, on the other hand, feel I would have been miserable living my mother’s life.

When my mother experienced this it was happening to everyone. Rich and poor alike felt the sting. It was a no blame, no fault situation, although people did experience personal shame. This 2010 recession has not hit everyone. People are pointing at the jobless as if they have done something wrong. There is more stigma attached. So, in spite of all this nostalgia about poverty, I am not suggesting that any one should enjoy this recession, or unemployment, or scary financial insecurity, or foreclosure or bankruptcy. These stressful things that made good memories for my mom, probably contributed to the early deaths of her parents. We need to do all we can to create enough jobs so that everyone who needs a job can get one. I would rather see employers whistling for employees, than employees whistling for jobs.

The Chicken or the Egg

Cover of "Chicken Little"Cover of Chicken LittlePath 1 – We must work on the national debt.

No more programs,

no more spending.

Until we pay down the debt we should not even have

spending for jobs and the unemployed.

Just cut taxes for business owners and

tighten our belts and pay our debts.

Path 2 – Yes we are deeply in debt as a nation

but we must improve the economy first.

If our business sectors are strong

and if our consumers can spend,

then prosperity and the paying down of the debt

will naturally follow.

Who’s right? I believe Path 1 would appeal mainly to Republicans and Path 2 to Democrats. This is the partisan divide.

We can’t pursue both paths. We have to choose one. Do both paths lead home? If they do we will be much more uncomfortable in the short term on Path1 than on Path 2. Even the experts disagree and seem unable to tell us which path to pick. How dangerous is it to not choose a path, and just continue on as we are going, a sort of keep arguing and let the chips fall approach? Is it a matter of “Chicken Little”, or is there really a “Big Bad Wolf’?

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Because Bathtubs and the Family’s Toddlers are Delightful

Bathtub Sonnet II

Oh White Oblong, you Plaything for young Gods,
The rubber duckies, boats, and washcloths ride
Your tepid tides with pleasant dips and nods.
Inert with promise of caprice, you bide.

From meal or play at tub-side we arrive,
His toddler tummy Buddha-round and sweet,
His skin pure silk, small fingers reach and strive.
Now set midstream, up pop the chubby feet.

My slippery seal cavorts with giddy glee,
Toes curl, hands splash, drops fly, cheeks gleam, eyes smile,
As ducks collide, boats dive on stormy sea.
To shock from tears, I dunk his head with style.

Then wrap in loopy towel to dry and hug,
Dip nose to nape, breathe innocence, air drug.

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Books, Mid July – 2010

Here is a list of the books picked by The Daily Beast as Best Summer Fiction:

One Day by David Nicholls (Odd ball romance)
Walks with Men by Ann Beattie (NY ‘80’s, only 100 pages)
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love With Beautiful Maria of My Soul by Oscar Hijeuelos (Havana)
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross (Death by peanut)
The Swimming Pool by Holly Le Craw (Cape Cod infidelity
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (third in the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy
The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg (another Swedish writer)
The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien (saved from the gallows
Deliver Us From Evil by David Balducci (Stalinesque violence)
61 Hours by Lee Child (Jack Reacher thriller)
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (on almost every list)
The Passage by Justin Cronin (vampires)

Oil Spill, Reprise

Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico (NASA, International...Image by nasa1fan/MSFC via FlickrIt was surprising to find myself spending a day (once again) wondering what was going on with the spilling oil. I did not expect any action until August except for the daily cleanup of beaches and sad animals. Suddenly they were going to fit a new oil cap and test it for pressure to see if the oil line is whole or if it is leaking elsewhere. But, as is often the case with constant news coverage, on Wednesday it was “much ado about nothing”. For safety reasons the pressure tests were postponed for 24 hours. Now they decide to be cautious! It’s OK, as long as they will remember to choose safety over cost cuts going forward. We’ll see. Our long term memory is really bad.

So it’s Thursday, the cap has been fitted and the oil has stopped leaking into the Gulf. There is no oil leaking into the Gulf. Even though we know it is a temporary cessation we will take one minute to celebrate that beautiful absence. Hooray! The oil has only been shut off for about two minutes and someone with a Southern accent is asking if we can now end the moratorium on drilling.

Stage Directions: Smack your forehead with your open palm and say, “duh.”

I know these guys are really talking about jobs. I know we will go back to drilling, although perhaps not in such deep water. We have not replaced oil with other energies yet. Let’s at least wait to start drilling until we get this oil spill stopped for good and until the Gulf is well on it’s way to being clean. Let’s wait for the day when that ugly cloud of oil stops pouring from that well head for good.

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“No” to John Boehner

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), S...Image by talkradionews via FlickrJohn Boehner is a Republican. He is the minority leader in the House. You probably already know this. He is planning to become the new majority leader in November. I’m sure that he would really love to become the Speaker of the House. John Boehner drives me crazy. I have met other men like him. They always sound reasonable. They never raise their voices. In fact, when they want to give an idea or statement more weight they talk so quietly that everyone has to physically lean towards them to hear what they have to say. This does not mean their ideas are always better than anyone else’s, it means that they are either masters of strategy or they really think their ideas are better than anyone else’s. Either way there is a level of arrogance and manipulation involved that, as I said, makes me crazy. I do not see women using this tactic, but a woman certainly could use it.

Maybe I’m just ornery, but I cannot understand why people say such negative things about Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They both seem so guileless and straightforward. However, I do not hang out in Washington so I do not know any of these three in the sense that I cannot observe how they interact with their peers on a day-to-day basis. Still I would rather have Nancy Pelosi at the head of the house than John Boehner. Women in top positions in Washington seem to catch an awful lot more flak than men in the same positions. There is still a huge amount of “sexism” in Washington.

I love the way Nancy Pelosi is so respectful to Barack Obama and looks so happy that her party has the majority. Harry Reid looks like he raised “Babe”. Let’s keep these two people who seem more like regular people. Let’s say “no” to John Boehner, who has said that word a lot this year, and who presents as a career politician. In case I haven’t been clear – please keep voting for Democrats.

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Raising Age is not the Answer

Scanned image of author's US Social Security card.Image via WikipediaSome genius has suggested that we can save Social Security if we make people wait until they are 70 to collect. How can we change the age to 70 when already there are not enough jobs to allow people to work until they are 70? This sounds like some kind of tricky Catch-22. It is difficult to get or keep a job after the age of 55. What will people do between 55 and 70? No wonder people think America is on the wrong path. Social Security is failing and it sounds like our government cannot think of a way to save it that allows people to actually collect it. Our jobs are gone and our government cannot think of a way to find more. We can’t always solve our own problems, that’s why we have our government. What will America be like without Social Security? It’s so American. Isn’t there a way to infuse some money into the system and then revamp the system. I’m nervous about an America with no Social Security.

Private investment plans are really “iffy” for most of us. Last year my annuity dipped 38%. This year I got 84% of that back, but it is hard to plan a budget with these kinds of income swings. My Social Security, on the other hand, remained stable. If you’re self-employed you can work until you are 90 if you’re able, but we can’t all be self-employed.

Add up how many years our Congress people have spent in college. Add up the cost of all that education. Surely with all that talent and brain power in Washington you folks can figure out a way to save Social Security without setting ridiculous age requirements which bear no relation to what happens in reality.

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Instant Gratification

Obama promised to make government more transparent. He promised to try to lessen the power of special interest groups. He did not promise that he would do these things immediately because I’m sure he knew he couldn’t. Washington has done business in certain ways for many years. Washington has always had a love affair with business. After all, there was, first and foremost, the matter of campaign financing. Business has always had money politicians need. Very difficult to pass up money even it if comes with expectations of favors. The money gets delivered before the favors come due and it is, therefore, easy to pretend there is no connection.

Secondly, there is always the matter of attracting business to your home state. If you keep your state prosperous, you keep getting reelected. You get the plush committee appointments. You get to tuck little presents for your constituents back home, little projects (earmarks) into the bowels of bills and use your influence to get them to pass. These “you oil my palm and I’ll oil yours” tactics have been used successfully for decades. What will Congress switch to? How is business to be accomplished? Pocketbooks will suffer if these strategies go away, all kinds of pocketbooks; the government’s, the politician’s and the citizen’s. Can we afford to become transparent and above-board? We can see that our economy gets unhappy if our corporations all go away. If we really want transparency and above-board politics, all these financial issues must be addressed. The Supreme Court just ruled that a corporation is a citizen, just like any other constituent. This makes it Congress’s duty to consider a corporation’s needs and rights. I don’t think we’ve experienced the full implications of this ruling. Our tight economy makes it especially difficult for Obama to fight this fight right now.

People say they were carried away by the excitement of the campaign. They are acting like they were tricked into voting for Obama. Now he’s so boring, they say. Governing is never as exciting as campaigning. Obama had a lot of charisma during the campaign. Perhaps he doesn’t get to sparkle quite so much in the world of recessions and bank bailouts and stimulus packages and oil spills.

Did we really believe that things in Washington would change, boom, overnight? The Republicans have been running scared. They have been blaming any and everything on the Democrats and they have used this game plan before. Because they are not happy unless they are the party in power they have been trash-talking the Democrats and creating obstacles to any progress in the Democratic agenda. And many people seem to be falling for all this. Even though most of us are not rich enough to be Republican. They have used the deficit to put themselves in position to resume stealing our money for special interests and big business and to end services to American citizens. And people are falling for this. We are thinking of abandoning Obama already and sending masses of Republicans, who have promised to lower the deficit, back to Congress They will control spending by redirecting it right back to big business, special interests, their own pockets, and their campaign chests.

Maybe we will be disappointed by Obama, he doesn’t seem as liberal as I would like him to be (but he didn’t even when he was campaigning.) He still is more liberal than any Republicans. I don’t think we have given Obama a fair chance yet. We need to keep a Democratic majority in Congress for at least two more years.

It’s our fault. I guess we like a good dog and pony show better than the daily tasks of governing a country. Minute-to-minute thrills are our current addiction. Government as entertainment.

House Shopping V

I thought house shopping would be fun but I was wrong. It isn’t. Every used house has some problems; some structural, some cosmetic, some that can be overlooked, some that cannot. Even in this down market houses are selling quickly. If you waffle you lose your dream house (or your approximate dream house.) Last time I shopped for real estate the internet allowed totally easy access to information about houses. If you just browsed, or if you knew the neighborhood or the address or the MLS # you could access all the information about the house. Now it is more difficult to search by neighborhood. When you see a house you think you might like you can only print out the most basic information about the house. The companies hold back the complete listing specs. Sometimes they hold back the pictures of the interior. You cannot retrieve all the info from a real estate company unless you register and allow the company to contact you. Companies are hoarding data to drum up customers. It makes searching very frustrating and it’s difficult to choose a good house when so much information is being withheld. If you have signed with an agent you must bother the agent for every house you wish to study, no matter how casual your interest might be.

I have a property I need to sell before I can buy so my real estate agent does not want to show me properties until I have a firm offer. So even though I have signed with an agent, I have been conducting my search by myself and running into all this chicanery. It is not pretty to see the “business” techniques being employed to sell real estate in this crazy market and to compel customers to commit to an agency.

The crisis in the housing market has hurt home buyers in almost every way, except the interest rates.