Friday, February 14, 2014

Extinction of the One Percent, The Obscenity of massive wealth.

The nightmare for multi-billionaire Tom Perkins, that taxes are like the mass murder of Jews by the government, needs to be made a reality (not the murder part, the extinction part) Wealth as obscene as his deserves extinction. It's distortion of democratic process, it's celebration of pure greed and lust for bully control of the lives of others does deserve extinction. They don't have to be murdered in their sleep to accomplish this. They only need to be taxed, and taxed heavily. Let's start with the dreaded "Death Tax", or in more legal language, the "Estate Tax". If they knew it wouldn't be around after they die to impress their postmortem will on the world they think they own, maybe they'd spend some more of it when they're alive. Perhaps, there should be a cap on how wealthy  you can get. Say, a progressively higher marginal tax rate topping off at 96%  on any and all income above 50 million.  These suggestions are no more harsh than ones that have actually been law in the past, before the hoarding of massive wealth allowed them to buy enough politicians to destroy democracy.
OK, so if we're revising the tax code let's bring back income averaging. If a hit album earns an artist $100 million one year and only $1000 each of the next 4 years let them average it for tax purposes (this used to be the law). Oh, and tips to waitstaff or street performers are not earned income. They are gifts. If it's optional, it is a gift! (A personal peeve I've always had with the IRS. What? Waitresses and street beggars are sucking the life out of the economy by not paying taxes on their millions from tips and charity).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We the People and Our Pursuit of Happiness




         Since moving to Chicago I’ve given much more consideration to the teaming diversity of humanity. We push ourselves together onto the trains and buses. We are not isolated in our personal vehicles as in Columbus, Ohio or Cincinnati.  We share spaces and much more.
          I know there are people out there who have known utter despair, whose lives have always been a struggle with demons, real and imagined, or people who suffer in real physical pain, or those lives filled with gnawing regrets. Our wounded believers in America, lives crumbling, lives walled off and regretting awful choices. 
         Our prisons are certainly filled with them, disposable lives. Thieves, psychotics, sadists, bullies, animalistic shadows of unfulfilled human beings, pitiful spiritless thugs, addicts and drunks who have no memory of sober days in recent years except in prison. All know despair quite well even if their awareness seldom extends beyond themselves. They had lived their lives in ignorance, in worlds of threat and evasion, some driven by risk and adrenaline. Unlike in the movies and Christianist millionaire pastor's sermons, few of them see their life’s purpose as devotion to evil, a lot of them see it all as “self-defense,” or accurately assessed “stupid moves”, and a few see it as defiance of authority. And, also contrary to some movie depictions, very, very few of them are evil geniuses like in action movies. For the most part the prison population represents a very low percentile of the intelligence curve. A lot of this is self inflicted from drug and alcohol use, trading their intelligence for the excessive self indulgence of misspent youth or trading intelligence for a numbing stupor for escape.
          Our prison population does not have a very large population of greedy people. This human failing doesn’t seem to fully kick in until someone has more income than they know what to do with. They evade punishment much more than they should. And, there's where the evil geniuses lie, in the board rooms and CEO offices of  Corporate greed. And, now our "greed is good" infected Supreme Court has destroyed the last vestige of democracy in its ruling that money is speech.  This American Plutocracy thrives on human suffering. Where indoctrinating children is a profit center, where physical pain is a profit center, and of course, the biggest government profit center selling munitions and drones to the military for an endless war on those who hate us. (be careful, Rush Limbaugh thinks "liberals" hate America. He would gladly send the liberals to concentration camps) 
         So, for every criminal whose life in prison and before is filled with desperate circumstance, there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of Americans who know despair intimately. Certainly sales of antidepressants would indicate despairing Americans number in the tens of millions. All American Sadness is not the result of the Obama Presidency (as the Republicans would have it.) Nor is it from personal moral failure and sin (as the compassionate right would have us think.) It’s not always the result of bad faith or evil demons (as the religious further right insists.) And, of course, it’s not the fault of people with darker skins (as the farthest, stupidest right preaches.)
      “The pursuit of Happiness,” It’s such an admirable goal for us as individuals and as a society. Why do so many of us fail at it?
           For one thing, many of our maps down that road are hopelessly antiquated. They weren’t made for a world as diverse and complicated as ours (the American Right’s extremist  map repudiates diversity and does not believe in complication or scientific truth, there is only right and wrong, good and evil, us and them. Their map points only in the direction of copious amounts of personal wealth and the physical pleasures it can buy.) This map impairment, in itself, accounts for some considerable amount of grief. People trapped in lives chosen based on the wrong assumptions, children enslaved by parents who don’t care enough for them. There’s the source of a lot of emotional pain.
           But, of course, our society has made choices based on wrong assumptions. It’s been a mantra of the Right that the failure of individuals in our society to be responsible for their actions is a fundamental social flaw. It’s your fault that you can’t take the blame for your unemployable  personality. "Blame yourself", as Herman Cain famously said, specifically talking about the unemployed. This idiotic philosophy is a symptom of a society that's falling apart. No longer a democracy, America has seen it's better days. If we can't end the political power of that money obsessed Koch infused Gollum party that stirs resentments and hatred to bury our democracy, then we don't deserve to call ourselves a democracy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Occupy America.

I’ve been away for awhile, contemplating Occupations,

“Johnny's in the basement mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat, badge out, laid off
Says he's got a bad debt, wants to get it paid off.”

The multibillionaire Mayor of New York uses his private army, the NYPD, to stifle protests of his corruption, and our multimillionaire Mayor of Chicago (pre-corrupted by making millions in a couple of years as a wall street trader between gigs as a political operative) prepares new laws to thwart protesters at his party of worldwide one percenters this spring, the G8 summit. It should be obvious to all that a government owned by business interests is not a government of, by, or for the people.
OCCUPY!! OCCUPY!! OCCUPY!!

They have not corrupted democracy in this country, nor have they thwarted it, or high-jacked it, or circumvented it. They have destroyed it, and intend to replace it with what, Rick Santorum’s Christian Taliban, Romney’s survival of the fittest free-market dystopia? Obama's Wall Street infected Treasury department isn't enough for them. They want it all, they want us all to serve them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Shame on us.

    The last time I was evacuated from anywhere was at the Victoria's Secret Warehouse and Distribution Center in Columbus. It was on 9/11/2001. We had spent the morning in the break room watching the World Trade Center Towers go down (over and over as they did that day on on the news loop) and by about 11:00-11:30 am, someone had called in a bomb threat to Victoria's Secret. We were evacuated. Our department and several others went to the truck pad behind Shipping. It was a cloudless warm day and we spent three hours out there while the bomb squads searched the 200,000 sq.ft. distribution center. Being only a couple miles from the Airport, the lack of air traffic was noticable and very eerie. People with radios reported the third plane going down in Pennsylvania. and the details of the attack on the Pentagon. I went through most of a pack of cigarettes while we waited. I remember thoughts of dismay that we had such an inept president. Little did I know then that the shock of that day would do so much self-inflicted damage to our country.   Within hours of the revelation that Bin Laden was behind the attacks, viscous racist rants against Muslims were all over the  right wing radio call-in shows with racist moderators like Limbaugh encouraging them. Limbaugh, the known racist and newly anointed leader of the republicans, daily claimed to know the thoughts of anyone to the left of Pat Buchanan (another known racist) and proclaimed them anti-American and Evil.    These kind of attacks would become standard fare on Fox News. After Mr. Cheney's wars, meant to claim the world as America's Dominion at any price, the racism could be seen as the new heart of the republican party when it tried to paint Obama as the uppity black man who didn't know his place. Caricatures of Obama as a half naked native witch-doctor, a dancing Sambo, or a monkey were proudly waved at tea-party rallies and they flooded the internet. The plan by the nation's right wing wealthy to drive down the cost of labor has driven down the standard of living for most americans but these racist citizens are willing to pay that price in order to be able to publicly express their hatred with the new coded language  they've learned from Limbaugh, Beck, Palin and their ilk.  To avoid paying television writers more money, we are pushed a swill of drunken adults behaving like whining 2 year olds, contestants encouraged to lie and conspire for money, and news presented by Bozos with monstrous egos, small intellects, bigotry and bully bravado. Now they're running candidates for the American presidency with about the same qualifications. So, as we remember those lost that day and honor heroes lost among them, let us shame those leaders who used it as an excuse for political gain and to denounce the war mongering administration that harnessed racial hatreds to murder half a million Iraqis for no reason but bully bravado. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Paranoid Control Freaks

My working experiences lead me into the clutches of Les Wexner's empire. I started there at Victoria's Secret Catalogue during Christmas rush on the midnight shift replenishing the picking floor, removing empty merchandise boxes to the conveyors feeding the compactors, then replacing them with full boxes (30-50lbs.) in the aisles of shelving where the next day’s orders would be pulled. It was brutally physical work for someone nearing 50 years old (I was the oldest one on that crew). I started at $8.35/hour (considerably less than my union steelworker’s pay 30 years earlier) and that was with a shift differential. My day job, selling insurance (don't get me started about how corrupt that business is.) was going nowhere so I stayed on after the Holidays and by the next Christmas rush I was a "group lead" at $11/hour. The year after that, I was a supervisor in the returns inspection and repackaging department. Mr. Wexner had built his "Limited" brands with clothing designed in New York but manufactured offshore, mostly Asia and the third world for penny wages. His rise closely aligned to the destruction of the American garment industry (not a coincidence).
As a supervisor, I was indoctrinated into the paranoia of the Emperor’s fear of the living wages Unions may force upon him. I attended supervisor indoctrination sessions one day every two months. This became the “VSC Institute of Management Excellence”, and after two years of it I was rewarded a certificate of completion. Actually, it was occasionally useful with sessions on ways to conduct job interviews, motivational and coaching skills, and stress relief. I found the “teambuilding” sessions as demeaning and as airheaded as the ones on “The Office”. I found the one on how to pigeonhole people by personality type for easier exploitation to be particularly offensive.

Once a year, a session was held for all supervisors and managers across the Limited organization on labor relations. A team of lawyers from the largest law firm in Columbus, Ohio would present a 3 or 4 hour lesson on recent labor law and how to deal with Union activity, how to spot it, how to approach it, how to talk to subordinates about it (apparently if I said it was my own opinion first I could present the company line in detail so we were rehearsed on what to say.)  We were given a special phone number at the law firm to report the names of any “associates” seen organizing on behalf of a union (very secret, don’t let anyone see you writing down names). By my estimation, the billable Lawyer hours to make up this presentation and give it to all Limited management would probably be in excess of a couple hundred grand. It was really slick with a senior partner leading it. In reality it was probably part of a multimillion dollar annual retainer paid for legal services of all kinds for the corporation. The impression given was that to have to recognize a Union would destroy the organization. It was hinted that Mr. Wexner would rather move his operations to a southern “right to work” state than recognize a union. He saw cheap labor as the secret of his success.
My perspective on this was considerably different. I worked and supervised these people trying to live on under $10 an hour. Their lives were not easy. The work was often unpleasant. Personnel turnover was constant. In a department of 85 people there were always a dozen new hires in their 3 month probation, sometime as many as 25. They had to meet production, attendance and accuracy standards at the end of three months or be fired.   I fired a lot of people as a VSC supervisor. My job wasn’t pleasant either, sometimes. This kind of turnover in personnel was expensive, in terms of productivity and in terms of quality control. When I supervised returns inspections product not properly inspected would be repackaged and returned to stock to be sold, undergarments that smelled of body odor, product with stains or rips. Any of this merchandise being sold to a customer as new would damage the brand’s reputation. With the pressure to process higher quantities, quality was the price. Fewer than 1 in 1000 items were reinspected for quality.
One of the most satisfying parts of the job was the diversity of the workforce. Immigrants from other countries were a sizable portion of the workforce. We had people from Russia and the Eastern Block, Slovakians, Hungarians, Rumanians. We also had a few Asians. Most of these were longer term employees, hired before I was a supervisor. Bilingual Spanish speakers were being hired for the Arizona call center but I encountered few Hispanics at VSC. While I was a supervisor there was a large influx of Somalis hired. Provisions were made for their Muslim religion and translators provided if they didn’t speak English. After a few racially charged incidents at other Limited distribution centers, I volunteered to conduct “Diversity” training classes for the rank and file. I had thought it very progressive of the “Limited” brands to provide this to all their employees. It wasn’t until that year’s “labor relations class for supervisors” that I realized it was also part of the anti union strategy. The larger the percentage of immigrants the harder union recruitment would be. The low wages didn’t seem so to newly arrived immigrants and the language barrier would make union recruitment difficult.
It is probably true that paying Union wages would have cut into the profitability of Mr. Wexner’s business. But, I don’t think it would have been all that bad. For the Bra he paid $2 to manufacture and ship to Columbus Ohio from overseas he was charging his customers $30 and $5 shipping and handling (the profit from excess shipping fees alone almost covered the cost of labor at the distribution center). A Union wage would have cut way down on the cost of employee turnover and training. Large scale businesses do manage to thrive with workforces represented by unions. UPS does quite well, as does Kroger, Ford, and others. I’ve come to think sloppy management quick to blame union “greed” for their own lack of foresight. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

The "Great Repression"

I know, I know the "Great Recession" is supposedly over. Wall Street is back to pre-recession numbers. We're adding all these great low paying part time no benifit jobs to bring that unemployment rate down under 9%. The sticky problem is that the human suffering has not abated at all. Indeed, reprehensible schemes to pad the wealth of the richest (who do not live among us, but rather apart unto themselves), at the expense of the  middle class and the old and the poor, are introduced in Congress daily by the "Chosen Ones" paid representatives (Reference the republican budget plan introduced by Paul Ryan this week that would end Medicare) . I would rename the class warfare being waged by the John Birch /antidemocracy billionaires upon us, "The Great Repression". Sure, it's only a label, but, it captures what they are doing.

In other news, I'd like to point out a phenomena I've noticed on the rise here in Chicago. I'm sure it's nothing new, but, I'm noticing it more. I'd refer to it as "homeless hoarders". This morning in a steady Chicago rain, I saw a homeless woman at a bus stop with her two-wheeled shopping basket piled shoulder high with her shoddy belongings, she also had three canvas laundry bags stuffed full, each with the draw strings threaded through the handles of numerous plastic bags, also full. I didn't see how she moved this now wet pile to the bus stop, but when the bus stopped and she tried to load it on, the driver, understandably, wouldn't let her board. The Clark street bus is one of the longest routes in the city. It would have gotten her out of the rain for a couple of hours. When I pointed this out to Marsha she mentioned having seen another homeless hoarder downtown who took two or three trips to get her hoard across the street to the other corner. Lives filled with despair and clinging to shabby memories are the downtrodden whimpers of a selfish society.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arrogance in America.

In my  junior or senior year of high school, as part of the Middletown High School Marching Band, we were trotted out to an open field east of Armco's south gates. In full uniforms we played Sousa marches to the arrival of Governor Jim Rhodes and the local dignitaries, including Armco's top brass. They used gold and silver shovels to turn some loose dirt (the ground was too dry and hard for these old guys to actually dig in and get a real shovel full). Photos were taken. The shovels were collected to be engraved and hung on office walls. Speeches were made. The occasion was the groundbreaking for Armco's "Project 600", a construction project to build the world's most automated rolling strip mill to produce carbon steel. It would replace Tytus's mill that would still run till the project's completion. The "600" in the title represented the projected cost of 600 million dollars (it ended up costing a billion and a half). This mill would use half the men to produce more than twice the steel of the old facilities. The speeches that day tied the event to America's business genius and future prosperity. The American steel industry forsaw no limits to its growth, none.

A couple years later, while I was at school between Armco summers, the steel industry agreed to the most lucrative union contract in history, they were making so much money the thought of a slowdown from a strike caused their  quick compliance to union demands. As always the unions had included items they would deal away for extra pay but they didn't have to. My pay, the bottom rung, went up a dollar an hour. But, the real kicker was a provision that after 12 years with the company each employee was entitled to 13 weeks of vacation once every 5 years with the normal 4 weeks they had earned for the intervening years. As it turned out, many of the old-timers didn't even like this and returned to work after the regular 4 weeks and drew double pay for the other nine. The provision was dealt away the next contract for even greater wage increases. When I was there it did open up work for guys like me in the summer replacing vacationers.

My dad's Armco stock value was approching a quarter of a million dollars in value (as head of Industrial Engineering he was making a salary under $30,000 but he'd been with them a long time and was nearing retirement).

So, my first summer at Armco. I'm in labor reserve. On mondays we go down in the trench under the hot strip (it shuts down a shift on mondays for maintenance) to shovel the scale into a water stream to carry it out into a collection pool for reclaimation. The furnaces are left on so the temperature down there is about 110 degrees F, we work in shifts, three teams 20 min. at a time each. When we come up we're given salt pills to avoid heat stroke. We rest 40 min. before going back down and it takes at least half that to stop sweating.

My actual first day on the job another summer worker and I dug a 5' by 5' by 5' pit down to a pipe that was leaking, using a jackhammer to break up the concrete on top and then shovels and pick axes to dig the pit. But, most of the time I was pushing a broom, sweeping the red-brown dust that covered everything into piles and shoveling it into wheelbarrows. That's what I was doing on this one particular day, I was sweeping up in the huge cavern of a warehouse where overhead cranes lifted the steel coils, several tons each, hot off the mill and moved them to pallets to cool. This space was part of my regular routine by late in the summer. On another day in this same space I had watched a crane leader (the guy on the ground who put the hook into the coil, or out) direct the operator to drop the coil and it came down on the leaders own foot. The next day the big sign at the mill entrance read "0 days since the last major accident". He lost his foot. But, on this particular day, things were normal. I always paid attention to where the crane was and where it was going. A group of guys in suits and hard hats came in, about 30 or more. I recognized a couple of them as guys from my dad's engineering department.They seemed to be leading a tour. The rest were Asian. They were talking to everybody. One came up to me and in perfect English asked how I liked working here and what my duties were. He asked how often my supervisor checked in with me and what encouragement I was given. I answered and he took notes.

I latter asked my dad about this tour. He told me they were Japanese engineers who had paid Armco several thousand dollars for an engineer guided tour. He had, under instructions from the top brass, personally shown them the scale model of Project 600 on the floor of the big conference room and they had poured over blueprints for the new mill  with upper management on hand to answer questions.

Before Project 600 was finished several small automated mills were rolling out steel in Japan and offering it to Detroit at unmatchable prices. By the time the new Armco mill came online they didn't have enough orders to fill more than one shift a day. It would be several years before the mill would run at full capacity. Within 6 years of dad's retirement his stock was worth $40,000, that's when he finally sold it. It would have gone down from there. The steel industry was betrayed by Detroit. They went to Washington to beg for quotas on foreign steel. The Nixon and Ford administrations were deaf to their pleadings. Steel executives blamed their expensive Union workers for their inability to compete, never admitting the part played by their own arrogance.