Another Job Interview (December 7, 2010)

This afternoon I will suit up and take the train downtown for yet one more job interrogation. I know precious little about the opportunity except that it’s some form of copywriting contract work that will not get underway until after the first of the year. At 2:00, I am to report to a downtown Chicago office building and ask for Deborah. It is reflective of our desperate times that I am even making the trip on such a bitterly cold day with bare information. For all I know I am walking into a mob hit (and I can think of one recent ex-friend who’d have the motive), but on the slight chance that this conversation could lead to employment when so many others have not, I’ll take the risk.

This may sound arrogant and smug, but I assumed I’d have the last laugh over my former boss by now. Fired for having an opinion and a voice, I consoled myself with the absolute certainty that I’d land somewhere else before she hired my replacement. Yet I heard through the grapevine yesterday that her fresh victim has arrived, while I continue to file a bi-weekly unemployment insurance certification and waste time providing writing samples for part-time jobs I don’t get offered. Yes, I know what the unemployment numbers say, but I figure someone has to be the exception right? Why not me, especially after such an episode of karmic injustice? I am relatively young but have a decade of experience and an advanced degree. Somehow this makes me too green for mid-career jobs, yet too institutionalized for entry level positions.

If this is my story, what are the prospects for a high school educated individual in a smaller market? I am ok. I am surviving. I don’t have any children to provide for and my husband has a stable career. It would be nice to be able to start saving again. But I wake up at least once a night wondering about families with scanter resources.

This is a rhetorical question that obviously can’t be answered with an easy sound bite, although politicians from both parties are sure doing their best to try: what is being done about this crisis? How can corporations post record profits, while the middle class worker posts record decline: home ownership, employability, personal savings? The math doesn’t add up at all, and I for one am ready to declare that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. We can’t turn on CNN and hear about “good days” on Wall Street without looking around and wondering where the hell that run is for the regular guy.

Last week, network anchors were positively gleeful about the “93,000 jobs” added to the economy in November. Except that we need to be adding upwards of 300,000 every 30 days to even begin to recover from the employment hole blown in the economy from 2007-2009. The unemployment rate is now estimated at 9.8%, although many of us are aware that the true figure is closer to 20%, when you take into account the underemployed and those who have simply given up trying.

With so many depressing figures on the horizon, it is tougher than ever for the average job seeker to keep morale up, yet those of us on the dole have to try. The alternative is to take to the bed and wait for the repo man. So I will wear a hairstyle that meshes well with a winter hat, dust off a smile and the scattered remnants of my personal charm and have another go.

How DADT Makes America Less Safe (November 30, 2010)

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This morning as I booted up the computer, I took my typical perusal of the Yahoo headlines, and came across this feature from the Associated Press:

Pentagon Study: Gays Could Serve with No Harm

Ladies and gentlemen, we have just wasted 10 months and untold millions of taxpayer dollars “investigating” good common sense. While badly needed unemployment insurance extensions are in the process of being hijacked AGAIN by Republicans lobbying for the retention of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, we have no problem dithering and wasting scant resources “researching” an issue which almost every other democratic society has resolved by now. In short: if you are fighting two long, costly and unpopular wars, with brave soldiers who have been on three, four and five tours with little rest, you need all the enlisted men you can get and it shouldn’t matter who they’re shagging when the lights are off.

But will the release of this study finally be enough to silence the pandering savants in Washington, such as Senator John “Shill” McCain, who has appeared on every Sunday talk show and it’s brother arguing that a lift of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell restrictions could be “dangerous?” The former Maverick has repeatedly called pressure to promote equality within the armed forces “politically motivated.” Yet how is forcing well-trained and patriotic men and women underground on the basis of pleasing homophobic voters any less so?

As a matter of fact, the outdated debate surrounding this issue of basic human respect is what’s becoming a danger to our national security.

Multiple sources, including The Wall Street Journal, are reporting that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, who may have jeopardized a number of international relationships with his document dump to WikiLeaks, is a gay soldier “frustrated” over the treatment of homosexuals by the U.S. military. Now I don’t mean to suggest that this was his sole reason for releasing the documents, but it doesn’t seem that DADT and an open culture of harassing closeted gays helped make us safer in this situation. By all accounts, until his recent break with military code, Manning was a young and brilliant soldier, exactly the kind of man of which recruiters dream.

Or how about former Army infantry officer, Lt. Dan Choi, an openly gay solider who served two distinguished years in Iraq combat operations before being transferred to the New York National Guard? America can no longer avail itself of Choi’s loyal services, because after coming out on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, the Lieutenant was summarily discharged. In response, Choi penned an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress where he queried not only the morality, but the wisdom of the policy, “a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.”

How are we safer by releasing sharp, intelligent and passionate people because of some archaic, uninformed and backward looking trepidation that gay sex will overtake our army bases and combat zones? It’s ludicrous, and I have news for fear mongers like McCain and the Fox News crew: they’re queer and they’re already here. Manning and Choi are nowhere near the first or only Friends of Dorothy to don combat fatigues.

Although military recruitment numbers are climbing, owing in large degree to a terrifically anemic job market, we as a nation simply can’t afford to let a policy that seemed ill-advised even in 1993 stop our armed forces from functioning at their highest capability. And to that, we don’t need divisiveness or discrimination. We have enough problems on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a travesty. I was disappointed with Bill Clinton’s cave to the right wing to pass it, even as a 15 year-old high school student. Now a 32 year-old woman, I am disappointed in President Obama’s heavy footed failure to show it the door. Mr. President, listen to the Pentagon, listen to your conscience, listen to the pragmatic good sense you seem to cherish so much.

Let Them Eat Bitterness (August 12, 2010)

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I live in a nice building in a not always so nice neighborhood. Two nights ago, an intoxicated member of the “99 Weekers” club took it upon himself to smash the exterior intercom unit of my residence with a baseball bat. “99 Weekers” is a cute name for a tragic situation facing growing numbers of Americans, who have exhausted the maximum unemployment insurance benefits available to them, 99 weeks, without the end result of finding new and meaningful employment.

These individuals don’t want a handout, they want a job, but with increasingly anemic private sector growth, face the prospect of finding themselves permanent members of the new underclass. Without income and with dwindling marketable skills, the disenfranchisement of these former members of the middle is slowly turning to misplaced anger, directed not at the government or corporations, who are ultimately responsible for the nation’s tailspin. Instead we are witnessing the beginning of a modern day class war, waged between the frustrated and desperate “have nots” and the perceived “haves.”

Let me be clear: I am not a “have.” I experienced a childhood of abject poverty marked by abuses and neglect of the most harrowing kind. Be that as it may, I get that my comparatively fancy rental can offer an easy target to a drunken individual who has spent another fruitless day looking for work. On his way home to face an expectant family, knowing he must check his ever diminishing manhood at the door once again, I can understand the urge to displace on an inanimate object. Intercoms can be repaired and I hope that this hasty act provided some form of comfort.

In discussing this incident with a co-worker, the subject of the palpably rising anger of ordinary Americans came up. My office mate astutely observed that we appear to be on the verge of a modern day French Revolution. Only viewed through the cracked prism of America’s toxic partisan politics “holy war,” we are miscasting the players with dangerous consequences.

For example, Michelle Obama is being pigeonholed by the right as the 2010 understudy to Marie Antoinette. The chum being tossed to the public by members of the Republican party, are the images of Michelle’s lavish private vacation to Spain that made the viral rounds last week. Mrs. Obama is a private citizen and does it come as a surprise to anyone that the first family has money enough? Before moving into the White House, both of the Obamas had thriving legal careers and a beautiful home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. If the First Lady can afford some time away from the relentless stress of being Barack’s wife, why should we draw erroneous conclusion that she is somehow ignorant of the suffering of normal Americans? This is a logical fallacy being peddled by those who would love it if we could be distracted enough to take our eyes off the real problem: legislative paralysis enabled by corporate kowtowing.

The real Marie Antoinettes in our story are people like former Nixon speechwriter and TV personality Ben Stein, who was quoted recently as saying “The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities…I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work.”

Out of touch much Mr. Stein?

Or how about GOP Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who called a $20 billion victims’ fund negotiated by the Obama administration for those who have been put out of work in the Gulf, and funded by BP, “extortion.”

No wonder our most currently beloved pop cultural hero is former Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater, who assumed his rightful place in the media zeitgeist this week by engaging in the most flamboyantly fabulous resignation of all time. After being hit in the head with a piece of overhead luggage one time too many, Mr. Slater decided he couldn’t wait for the plane to taxi to the gate before telling passengers and co-workers where to stick it. Instead he grabbed the microphone and a beer, saying his piece before deploying the emergency slide – sailing out of the plane and into the hearts of millions of Americans – who applauded Slater’s actions with enthusiasm that only be described as wish fulfillment.

However what really crystallized the idea that we may in fact be headed toward a massive, violent populist uprising was a recent article I read by David Stockman, President Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. Yes, the following words came from a disgusted member of old guard, “true” and fiscally conservative Republicanism:

“The day of national reckoning has arrived…we will see a class rebellion, a new revolution, a war against greed and the wealthy….It’s a pity that the modern Republican party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach – balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline – is needed more than ever.”

In other words, my building’s intercom box is only the beginning…

Polar Vortex Underscores Frozen Congressional Activity (January 23, 2014)

Deep Freeze Washington

Oh the weather outside is frightful this winter, and this year there are very few places to hide. Last weekend as I boarded a flight to Nashville, visions of 50-degree temperatures danced in my head. The normal January range in the Music City is between 28 and 47 degrees, infinitely more tolerable than the climate in my hometown of Chicago. Alas, I deplaned in a disappointingly similar environment, where the thermometer struggled to reach the freezing point. Mother Nature is bitter and unforgiving all over.

Maybe she’s taking her cues from the inert members of Congress, who at the close of 2013 dared to make us consider the possibility of action. Briefly scared straight by the public backlash over the fall’s disastrous and ill-reasoned government shutdown, intransigent Republicans in the Senate (and to a lesser degree, the House) suddenly seemed in the mood to get things done. This led to the production of a bipartisan budget agreement, followed by feckless House Speaker John Boehner’s better-late-than never repudiation of right wing groups such as the Heritage Foundation, which have egregiously encouraged GOP games of chicken over the last six years. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid finally found the political courage to change the broken chamber’s filibuster rules so that an enormous backlog of Executive Branch appointments could begin to be cleared. It was a heady time when actual work once again seemed possible.

But the spirit of compromise didn’t last. Early into the New Year, thousands of long-term job seekers were cut off from sorely needed unemployment insurance benefits. No sooner did the holiday bills and winter’s cruelty roll in than the Republican Party doubled down on the suffering of the jobless. Despite the fact that respondents to a Fox News poll (!!!!) overwhelmingly favor the extension of benefits, to the tune of 69 percent, Congressional Republicans have continued to ignore the will of the people. Washington Post writer Aaron Blake rather charitably reports that “Congress is deadlocked over whether and how to continue funding unemployment insurance beyond that 26-week period.”

I would offer that there’s no deadlock about it. Democrats maintain some human empathy for the Great Recession-ravaged unemployed while Republican Party standard bearers like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul leverage pretzel logic to avoid helping that wretched 47 percent of “takers.” Paul famously said, “the longer you have it [unemployment insurance], that it provides some disincentive to work, and that there are many studies that indicate this.”

I am betting that these “many studies” were conducted by conservative research groups. As someone who has been on the layoff dole more than once in the course of a relatively short career, I can safely say that six months of roughly 30 percent the usual take home pay did not result in leisurely champagne and caviar consumption.

Only the party that brought us two budget and deficit busting wars, tax cuts and an unpaid for Medicare prescription drug benefit under the Bush II regime could have the absolute, unmitigated gall to demand fiscal responsibility when it comes to helping suffering workers. And naturally, the GOP has brushed aside numerous credible reports that extending the benefits actually creates jobs and saves the government money in the long run.

But let me not consume the entire column railing against Republican opposition to helping once hardworking Americans survive. As the great Gail Collins of The New York Times wrote today on her end of “The Conversation” with David Brooks: “to be honest, if the president told a reporter that he had great confidence this would be the year we’d see immigration reform, better gun control, tax reform and a hike in the minimum wage, I’d probably be less excited than worried about his mental health.”

Anyone who believed that late fall’s sudden flurry of activity would extend past the New Year, or counted upon the Republican obsession with opposition to die along with the party’s shutdown approval rating, is discovering that the polar vortex is both metaphorically and literally in charge.