Monday, August 20, 2012
Over the past two weeks or so, I have been inundated with potential subjects for an opinion piece. From the election cycle to foreign affairs to global warming to banking to just about anything at all, my mind has been abuzz. Yet nothing has been put to paper until this moment. This feeling of being overwhelmed leads me to once again re-think my continued efforts along these lines (figuratively and literally).
Cyberspace allows each of us the opportunity to express ourselves. Unfortunately, the same could be said for attending a sports event. In such cases, the voices are so numerous and diverse that a cacophony results offering little or no organized pattern. So, as we each post our opinions, it becomes increasingly difficult to garner the attention of the reader.
I’ll be honest: I never considered myself to be any kind of Messiah, but did think that my approach and “It’s NOT Just You”-ology might strike a nerve that could well lead to some small revenue stream of public speaking and the like. Much like those in many parts of the country today, the stream is dry. As a matter of fact, it has seen little, if any, monetary moisture.
So, while my effort costs nothing (other than the effort itself) I find myself lacking the drive to continue. Maybe retirement has affected me in such a way where I am no longer regularly subjected to the insanities of society. I live far from the madding crowd at the end of a one lane road on 40 acres. I venture out occasionally, but rarely to venues that offer a complete immersion into the daily challenges most have come to call home.
I am financially secure and in good health. Many of the decisions made today by my political leaders will have little or no impact upon me or my wife. And with no children to inherit the messes created today, my worries are few. While still able to get passionate about some of the greater contradictions going on about me, I’ve come to realize that my two cents are lost in the din of others more strident and/or flamboyant.
So I bid you, once again, adieu. I do not ask for validation nor will I be convinced to begin yet anew upon receiving any urgings from the few that enjoy my ramblings. I can’t help but think that others can fill the small void I leave quite admirably.
We live in a crazy world at a crazy time. No surprise, though, since each generation has lamented the same words. But don’t let the bastards get you down. Expect more...demand more...and don’t for a minute ever think that you, alone, are frustrated. Share your feelings with others at every opening and soon you’ll see that it, in fact, is NOT just you!
All the best...
Sunday, August 5, 2012
One needn’t look too far to see that the unionized workforce in America continues to shrink. According to the US Department of Labor, it has decreased from 20.1% in 1983 to 11.8% in 2011 with most of those being public sector workers. And we know that many state and local workers are now being asked to accept draconian cuts to their existing contracts.
Few remain that can give a first-hand account of labor’s foray into organization. A quick search of the internet will provide ample anecdotal evidence, though, that it was far removed from scholarly debate in a wood-paneled boardroom. No, it was more brick-bats and fisticuffs in the streets and back alleys surrounding the plants in question. The desire to have a voice was equally met with a solid resistance from managements and the desire to maintain the status quo. Why not? After all, with no union, bosses could hire and fire at will while holding the threat of job loss over every employee as they sought higher and higher productivity.
The blood spilled in those battles led to management’s eventual capitulation in the name of labor peace and the unionization of much of the work force led to a higher quality of life and the Middle Class. And this, in turn, led to an economy that rose all boats.
In the last several decades, though, unionization became passé and many took the pay, benefits, and working conditions they enjoyed as a given rather than acknowledging the sacrifices made by those before them. “Union dues? We don’t need them. Hell, we’ve got a great job!”
This relaxation was well received by management teams and the politicos that supported big business bosses over worker bees. Thus the mantras began: good, hard workers don’t need unions...our door is always open...right to work legislation. Seemingly overnight, unions found themselves on the defensive and strikes were met with eager applicants ready to cross a picket line to get one of those once-great jobs. As it turned out, many of those replacement workers (scabs) abandoned their positions soon thereafter due to the onerous conditions under which they toiled.
So here we are today with a disappearing middle class that covered up the erosion of their pay and quality of life by dipping into the equity of their homes. Until, at least, their home values sunk to a point where they had none to draw. And, sadly, many jobs lost in the past five years are not coming back largely due to automation and even higher productivity from unionized and non-unionized workers alike.
Strikes have become a tool of the past. Back to work decrees and the uncertainty of success have combined to neuter labor’s biggest weapon. And without the threat of a strike, management can extend negotiations ad infinitum without fear of any work stoppage. Organized labor’s heyday lies in the past, at least for the time being.
As I write this, my former colleagues at American Airlines are deciding which devil to dance with: a contract that is far worse than the present one or the abrogation of it altogether through the bankruptcy court. Abrogation has occurred only once in the airline industry when Frank Lorenzo used Chapter 11 proceedings to throw out the contracts at Continental Airlines. Even though Congress closed the loophole, Lorenzo tried it again at Eastern, but the employees decided that one swift stabbing was more desirable than a death by a thousand cuts and struck, en masse.
American’s management is exhorting the employees to support the LBFO (Last, Best Final Offer) and the union leaders are echoing that sentiment in claiming that it is the lesser of the two evils. My opinion is moot since I am no longer in the arena and immune from suffering the consequences of either option.
Nevertheless, I can say with a high degree of certainty that until labor, in general, decides to once again oppose the continued degradation of contractual rights their ranks will continue to diminish. And by “opposition” I do not suggest long-winded bargaining sessions in wood-paneled boardrooms. No, the fight will once again move to the streets and back-alleys and blood will be shed. It may not be the kind that is spilled from split heads, but rather a financial blood letting whose consequences may be longer lasting while leaving deeper scars.
There is a point where even a union job has been decimated to the point where it no longer offers any meaningful reward. It is at this point where the union is rendered meaningless, too. I could say, with a cavalier wave of my hand, that the time has come for workers to once again embrace the power of an organized employee group, but to what end? It is now, as it always has been, up to each individual to decide just how much can be given away until a job’s worth has evaporated. And until that tipping point is reached corporate and public leaders will continue to nibble away at the pay and benefits of their employees hoping that the thought of “it could be worse” will result in yet another concession.
Interesting times, to be sure. Isn’t that a Chinese curse?
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The shaggy dog in question is Rocky, a Belgian Malinois. OK, shaggy may be a bit of an overstatement, but the rest of this story is the truth. Rocky was in Afghanistan, employed by the US Army as a land mine detection dog. His job was to locate IED’s before a soldier found one with a boot and his longevity speaks to his ability.
Unfortunately, Rocky developed glaucoma and suffered a detached retina in one eye. As a result, the Army “retired” him from the force. But there was a rub: military working dogs are considered equipment and, as such, do not enjoy a free ride back to the states when their service is complete. As a matter of fact, the military has the option of putting dogs down that fall into this category.
CDH International is a world-wide, self-funded charity (CDHInternational.org). Among it’s many efforts is bringing dogs like Rocky back home. This is anything but an easy chore due to endless red tape, bureaucratic “not-my-job” clerks, and other obstacles. Finding airlift outside of military craft usually entails large sums of money for chartering and “handling charges” (others might refer to this as extortion, bribery, and so on).
In this particular case, CDH reached out to the Puppy Rescue Mission (ThePuppyRescueMission.org), another charitable effort to reunite soldiers with the many strays they had adopted while serving in the war zones. Chandi (from CDH) and Michelle (from PRM) collaborated in getting Rocky to Los Angeles last week.
In the meantime, they had posted his photo on Facebook in the hopes of finding him a “forever home”. This posting was seen by Jason, a retired Sheriff’s deputy in Northern California. Jason was a canine officer and paired with another Malinois also named Rocky. In quick succession, Jason was involved in two events involving an armed suspect. One had a knife and the other a handgun. Rocky was instrumental in minimizing the harm to his handler, but Jason was medically retired after the shooting.
Rocky, on the other hand was still available for duty. Normally, when a canine retires his handler is able to purchase the dog for a dollar. In this case, Jason would have had to pony up $3500 and having just lost his job could not spare the funds. Needless to say, Jason quickly responded to the post and offered to adopt the “new” Rocky.
Last Tuesday I received a call from Michelle. I am a volunteer pilot for Pilots n Paws (PilotsnPaws.org) and she found my bio on their website. Since I am in Northern California, too, she thought that I might be able to help in getting Rocky from LA to NorCal. Having a Malinois myself, I was all too happy to assist, but didn’t have the availability to go all the way to LA to pick him up. Mike, another Pilots n Paws volunteer pilot, offered to pick Rocky up and deliver him to San Luis Obispo, on the central California coast.. In the meantime, Jason would drive to my airport and we would fly down to San Luis to make the exchange.
So last Friday that is exactly what happened. Jason and I were waiting on the ramp at the San Luis Obispo Jet Center when Mike, his daughter, and Rocky arrived. The meet and greet was one of those “goose-bump” moments. The “new” Rocky was almost a twin to Jason’s ex-partner and I thought for sure that Jason would begin to cry when they met.
The flight back was conducted with Jason and Rocky occupying the back seats. You see, Rocky, as most others of his breed, is what we call high energy. That means they can get into mischief in a New York minute and the last thing I needed to explain to my airplane partner was the chewed up back seats. All went well, though, and we landed without any interior damage.
As I write this, Rocky is settling into his new home with Jason and his family. The end? Maybe, if we include the happily-ever-after part, but that’s not today’s point. You see, I’ve often been critical of the time wasted on social networking, but now I’m not so sure.
My story brought six principals together. Five folks and one dog that knew nothing of the others until cyberspace united them for one common cause. And now those lives have been forever changed. And that is nothing to sneeze at.
I guess that since the beginning of time there were those that under-appreciated the true value of the latest and greatest invention of the day. So why be surprised that the social network is no different? While many idly text and tweet while conjuring up only the simplest, most menial thoughts, others see the possibility of unfettered communication and use it to advance noble causes that otherwise would fall by the wayside. Take the Arab Spring, for instance. Or Rocky.
I’ve received some comments as of late regarding a recent post in which I lamented how people have evolved little over the past 500 years, or so. Maybe I was too hard on mankind. Maybe there is hope for a world where wealth is invested in causes far beyond personal gain and political differences give way to a common interest in making our world a better place. Rocky and his many advocates sure made a believer out of me.
(And should you be as outraged as I in learning of the fate in store for retired canine forces abroad, let your representatives know about it.)
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
How about a few independent topics with one common element: nuts!
While Syria is mired in, for all intents and purposes, a civil war, Russia and China continue to oppose any UN resolution for a cease fire. Are they nuts? Of course not. You see, they know that should their citizens decide to oppose the established government they’d be ready to open fire upon them, too. At least they’re honest, but if you think they’ll ever get behind such an idea you’re nuts.
Folks continue to moan about the high cost of air travel. Adjusted for inflation, it is about the only item that hasn’t kept pace. Bad management decisions resulted in over capacity which resulted in fare wars. And low fares were subsidized by employees through concessions or bankruptcy courts. That wasn’t enough, though, so now your ticket price includes a seat, period. Other “amenities” are offered, but as additional charges (nuts are still free). We know this as “a la carte pricing” and the airlines are raking in big bucks as a result. So much so that hotels are considering individual utility meters in each room. In that way, we’ll pay for our water and electricity on usage rather than having such “luxuries” bundled into the room rate. Nuts? Maybe, but don’t be surprised if it comes to pass.
You’re nuts if you think that the realism in today’s movies and video games does not allow the nuts within our society to dream up nightmare scenarios similar to the one recently played out in Aurora, Colorado. The connection may not be a direct link, but one does feed the other to be sure. And anyone who thinks that banning assault weapons somehow infringes on our Second Amendment rights is equally nuts. We don’t need them for hunting or household protection and we sure as hell don’t need them in the hands of other nuts looking to make a name for themselves.
And, on a related note, you’re nuts if you think that either political party will consider the limiting of assault weapons. They’re not nuts, necessarily, but they both know that some in the NRA are. And those nuts vote! So don’t count on any changes from our supposed leaders anytime soon.
If your city is financially strapped and reducing the numbers of cops, firemen, and other municipal service providers to save money you’re nuts if you think that will help. Who would want to move into an area with little or no police or fire protection? Conversely, everyone that can get out of town is doing so. And the city leaders that support such moves? You can bet your ass they don’t live in town or, if they do, are looking to move in the near future. Such plans to meet expenses result in nothing but the continued decay of the community and an ever deepening financial hole.
Oh, and if you think that airline pilots never take a 10 minute power nap during cruise, you’re really nuts!
Monday, July 16, 2012
I’ve returned safely from a two week sojourn abroad and, after three restless nights, have finally readjusted to my local time zone. Most of the time away was spent on a Rhine River cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. The Rhine is replete with castles and, while most of my fellow passengers delved into their historic significance, I found myself focusing on something altogether different. (What a surprise, huh?)
Back in those days of old a castle was, indeed, a fortress. Most contained a moat and were built on higher terrain with limited access to their front gates. These locations and their accouterments were not by accident, you know. It seemed that most folks were hated by most other folks and so, to protect what was theirs, they constructed these fortified “homesteads”. Turrets, battlements, and gun ports were erected to fend off would-be invaders.
Even then, I thought, everyone with wealth concentrated on keeping it from others. And when they weren’t doing that, they concentrated on how to gain more wealth from others. One would think that over the past five hundred years or more the human race would have evolved a bit. Apparently, it hasn’t.
The only thing that has significantly changed is the technology employed to keep our stuff safe from other ne’er-do-wells interested in acquiring it. Moats have gone the way of gated communities, privacy walls, and electronic security systems. The limited access feature remains and still ends up at a gate of some kind (possibly with a sentry). And I’d venture to say that we are every bit as paranoid as our ancestors in devising ways to keep our riches safe while thinking of ways to get our hands on more. Guns and cannons are no longer required as they once were. Now we use computers and complicated investment schemes to enrich our coffers.
Yes, I generalize, but a glance at any daily newspaper proves my point. I cannot think of one facet of our society that has not betrayed the trust it once enjoyed: government, church, education, banking, and business to name just a few have an abundance of anecdotal evidence pointing to scandal and the attempt to cover-up or carry out plans to either maintain wealth or create even more surreptitiously.
If mankind has not gotten past the practices of medieval times, then what hope can we have for the problems facing us today? Any leader who wants to maintain control fully realizes that hope is the key ingredient in maintaining calm among the masses. Without it revolution is sure to occur. Today in this country the hope of advancement through working hard and being recognized appropriately has given ground to overnight success stories of lottery winners and reality TV celebrities. Do you think this is by accident? I don’t.
After all, it’s about the only dream most of us can lay claim to anymore. Many have no job at all and others are so terrified of losing one that they fall prey to the unreasonable demands of their bosses. Not much hope for that to improve anytime soon so we might as well dwell on how we’ll spend our lottery winnings. It’s something, anyway.
We look to our leaders to make things better by challenging the status quo. But that is the last thing they want to do because the status quo guarantees them of a continued flow of wealth and power. They’d be nuts to consider that or think with a grander vision than their own advancement. And there’s the problem: for over three years I have encouraged the thought of corporate conscience and the like and, until I saw the castles of the Rhine up close and personal, I thought it was a possibility.
No longer, though. And that saddens me for if we cannot have faith in those who lead there is no reason for them to do so. And so, instead, they continue to laud the good old USA as the last shining example of society on the world. “We’re number 1”, they chant as we chant along. Only, though, if we’re talking about defense spending or incarceration rates. We’re not number 1, folks, and haven’t been for a good while. But it makes us feel good in the absence of any substantive change in our lives, doesn’t it? Kind of like the citizens of ancient Rome in its last days of glory, perhaps.
“Where’s the ray of sunshine?” you might ask. After all, I usually find one straw to grasp. Not today, though. Nope, I’m left with a feeling of helplessness because I’ve held fast to the concept that the human race can rise up and do great things. Maybe we still can, but as wrapped up as we are in scandal and partisanship I think it will take either major upheaval outside of established institutions or some other external stimulus. We don’t have the power to change things and those that do don’t want to. Except, of course, in providing the perception that they want to. And that provides cold comfort as prospects for improvement grow dim.
So here I sit wondering why I continue to hold out hope for deliverance through established methods when I’m no longer dealing with the mindset of folks, but rather their DNA seemingly unchanged over the past few eons. We’ve all seen the tee shirt that says “SSDD” (Same shit, different day). I can now visualize one that says “SSDC”: Same shit, different century.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Do you remember the television series “The West Wing”? If so, do you remember the feeling of optimism wash over you in witnessing politics as it could be? Well, Aaron Sorkin is at it again with HBO’s “Newsroom”. I watched the first episode last night and feel the same waves of wistfulness in witnessing news as it could be.
There’s nothing wrong with such nostalgic emotions, you know. How can we envision a better tomorrow without tying that vision to some quixotic crusade? What’s wrong with a world of “us” instead of “you” and “me”? Or a world where leaders share a common goal of the advancement of our society as a whole? Impossible? I think not, although unrealistic might apply in the realm of today’s events.
But we have to start somewhere and where better than a television program where ideals outweigh pragmatic agendas. And profanity is allowed, to boot! I urge you to watch this show regardless of your political persuasion. It could well cause you to reflect on a time in this country when we did great things rather than resting on our laurels. For those without access to HBO, episodes can be downloaded. Please?
OK, that’s it for now...short and sweet. The next two weeks are filled with traveling abroad so you won’t be hearing from me until my return. Something tells me that little will have changed thus providing ample fodder for my future musings.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
“Much obliged” is a term that historically refers to a statement made by someone receiving a favor from someone else. It infers that the first person is now obliged to return the favor at some future point in time.
I’m going to bend that phrase a bit by interpreting the “obliged” as an obligation (or promise) made by one person (or entity) to another. And the more numerous the obligations the more appropriate to use the word “much”.
The public and private sectors alike have made promises to those they employ to ensure an uninterrupted effort in providing a particular service. You know the drill: pay, benefits, and so on. And a big part of the benefits package was the pension that all the worker bees could plan on receiving after dedicating a career to the Golden Goose.
It has now become almost ordinary to read that some company or municipality has chosen to abrogate those pension promises through the bankruptcy courts or, at least, the threat of such legal action. And you know this drill, too: “We can no longer guarantee lifetime payments to an ever expanding number of retirees when our workforce has remained stagnant or decreased.”
Economically, it makes sense. But an obligation is an obligation, isn’t it? Apparently not and the biggest source of angst is the fact that both sides (labor and management/politico) knew that it was unsustainable when they signed it! And they also knew that they would both be lounging on a beach somewhere when the house of cards came crashing down. And, in an effort to make up the shortfall, those charged with keeping the pension funds reasonably secure chose to invest in riskier opportunities that resulted in even greater losses when the bubble burst.
“Well, it serves labor right, you know. I’m not a union person, anyway.” Yet another opinion voiced all too often today. But our system is rife with similar obligations: how about Social Security? Or Medicare? These, too, are unsustainable as more retirees look to a shrinking workforce to fund the promises made in the past.
No, we all have a seat on this boat regardless of our age, income, or social standing. But what to do about it? Well, the popular thing is the aforementioned bankruptcy option for corporate America while city, state, and federal legislators seek to redefine and readjust obligations that they no longer care to honor. Bankruptcy, too, is in their bag of options and we have seen cities waltz down the aisle to that tune, too. And that’s bad for a number of reasons.
First of all, many folks have planned their lives around the promise of a set amount of dollars coming in every month. They’re not greedy nor selfish. They simply operated in good faith and expect that the quid will appear for their quo. Now, at the last possible moment, that revenue stream may be curtailed if not eliminated altogether.
In addition, and perhaps more important, a message is sent that past promises can be ignored when times change. “Kings X...and my fingers were crossed, to boot!” How can we expect the next generation to have any grasp of integrity or ethics when they watch their elders routinely disregard pacts that were made in good faith, but ignored when it became expedient? And we wonder why the kids today seem to have no respect for established institutions or figures of authority.
While pension obligations and such should still be adhered to, the fact remains that the systems under which they exist must be altered. Forward thinking leaders in the private sector (both labor and management) have recognized this and adopted new agreements that provide for limits on pensions while offering self-funding options. Different? Yes. Not as lucrative? Perhaps. But, if given enough advance notice, manageable. So we grandfather everyone within, say, 10 years of retirement and then slowly reduce the guarantees available to the younger workers. Graduated through the ranks of the workforce, significant cost reductions can be achieved without cutting the legs out from underneath anyone.
The public sector, unfortunately, relies on political will (i.e. leadership) for such changes to the various pension provisions and social programs. Such leadership has been in short supply of late and the political polarization we currently see gives little hope for progress.
Answer this for me: in any given stalemate with your spouse or your kids or your boss has a mutually agreeable solution ever been found in one of the extreme views held by one participant? I doubt it. No, the answer generally lies somewhere in the middle. No one can declare outright victory, but no one is left holding only shitty end of the stick, either. Compromise, in other words.
Maybe instead of voting for far left or far right candidates, we should seek out those residing more to the middle of the road. They are the ones most prone to find a reasonably amicable solution to the financial challenges faced by every citizen. We’ve all got a dog in this fight, folks. Let’s remember the myriad of obligations while finding ways to adapt to tomorrow’s reality. Unless, of course, you’re not interested in progress. Then just stand in your corner, holding your breath, and giving the guy in the opposite corner the finger. That should solve our problems now, shouldn’t it?