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.


Obama’s “Bad Blood” with Business (August 5, 2010)

Much has been made recently of the strained rapport between the Obama administration and corporate interests. Various talking heads and opportunistic Republicans have seized upon the trumped up “war” between the President and Big Business as the cause of everything from the consistently high unemployment rate (“corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”), to hard times for small business (“Obama’s desire to let tax cuts for the wealthy expire harms entrepreneurship”), and even, to my incredulity, the fallout from the BP oil spill. For example, the UK’s new Business Secretary, Vince Cable has been quoted as saying of Obama’s rampant criticism of BP’s actions before, during, and after the deep well explosion, “the president talks in a cheap way about ‘kicking ass’. Whether or not the American president can kick our asses, he can certainly hurt our wallets and purses.”

Thank you Mr. Cable for your ever so enlightened inclusion of ladies’ “purses” in your corporate lament. We now see you for the truly forward thinking, fair-minded guy you are (cue laugh track).

Even the “liberal media” has enjoyed taking the issue apart. Sunday morning talk show Meet the Press featured a panel discussion this past weekend including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Greenspan, while rightly declaring the state of the economy to be “touch and go,” also added “The financial system is broke and I see we just stay where we are. There’s nothing out there that I can see which will alter the level of unemployment.”

As soon as the former Chairman uttered these words, I gleefully clapped my hands together and waited for host David Gregory to give him the what for. After all, that is what the incomparable and disinterested Tim Russert would have done. But the moment never arrived. How can Greenspan credulously state that he “sees nothing out there” to act as a positive force on current unemployment rates, at a time when Big Business is posting record profits, and holding onto wads of cash?

Companies like Adobe, AirTran, Honda – even the once shaky banks and mortgage lenders who needed a taxpayer bailout are suddenly right as rain. With all this good news, why isn’t a stronger bottom line leading to improvements for long struggling job seekers? As I perused The New York Times last week, suddenly the answer became clear:

Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts

Writer Nelson D. Schwartz declares, “Many companies are focusing on cost-cutting to keep profits growing, but the benefits are mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy, as management conserves cash rather than bolstering hiring and production.” On so very many levels, this makes me ill. Seems to me that instead of focusing on the trumped up antagonism between Obama and corporations, we should be talking about how Fortune 500 establishments have become the tormenter of American families.

So to return to my earlier question, how did the rumor that the Obama administration is the enemy of business get started, and more importantly, why is it being perpetuated? From where I’m sitting, it seems that it’s never been a better time to be a CEO, if not a regular working stiff. In addition to the record profiteering, I don’t recall Obama slamming the door in the faces of banks, automakers and other industries that showed up on Capitol Hill with a tin cup begging for change.

Probing a little further, it seems that the convoluted health care and financial reform bills could be the tacit excuse. Big Business would have you believe that the runaway regulations being passed by the “socialist” President are the root cause of its persecution complex (see first paragraph – “corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”).

Pardon my French, but what a bunch of horse shit. If anything, President Obama hasn’t done nearly enough to roll back the heady days of Clinton/Bush deregulation. I believe I am not alone in my frustration – having to listen to the tiny violin playing martyrdom of corporations, even as they pop champagne over record profits, commending themselves for delighting shareholders on the backs of the jobless masses.

If the Obama administration has been the arch nemesis of business, how much worse off would the nation be if he acted as a friend?

Too Big to Wail: Shameless AIG Sues Government Over Bailout (July 30, 2013)


I keep telling myself that there’s nothing left that Wall Street can do to surprise me. I know there are good guys inside the system (full disclosure: I am a Marketing Manager by day at one of the largest insurance brokerages in the world), and so my contempt is for the financial groupthink that drove the nation’s economy into a ditch in recent years, the disengaged fiscal roulette in which these corporations engaged, as if there were no real lives, homes and jobs at stake. Then of course, it continues to grate that when the misbehavior of some of our largest financial institutions brought their solvency to the brink, help in the form of taxpayer bailouts was the ready solution. While we collectively and resignedly understood that to do otherwise would mean a decisive and profound trickle down that would bring citizens and residents to the fetal position (when we were already on our knees), that really didn’t make the necessity feel any better.

In the years that followed the late 2008 housing bubble burst and stock market crash, the situation has only marginally improved for American families. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics would have us believe that the unemployment rate stands at just below eight percent, a figure lower than the summer following Republican patron saint Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, anecdotal evidence all around us disproves the numbers. Don Diamond, a contributor at Forbes, puts the real unemployed/underemployed figure at 14.3 percent. He writes, “But the ‘official’ unemployment rate doesn’t count men and women like G. — discouraged workers who have settled for part-time jobs or have given up looking altogether. Tracking those individuals, under what’s called the ‘U-6′ rate, gives a very different measure of the nation’s unemployment rate.”

Jobs have disappeared, millions of homes have been lost while those who managed to stay in them saw equity drop or abscond altogether, once-healthy 401ks bled money and newly minted college graduates discovered no place for them outside their parents’ spare bedrooms. While many of us on the left and in the center wonder why the Federal government failed to prioritize a bailout for the American people, we have soldiered on with far less complaining than we might have.

This resilience of the spirit is appallingly lacking in some of the corporate entities that, once broken, are now doing fine, thank you very much – courtesy of taxpayer generosity. I thought I’d mistakenly stumbled across The Onion’s website by accident this week when I encountered the following headline: Judge OK’s questioning Bernanke in suit over AIG bailout. From the Boston Globe, via the Associated Press, the first question this story brought to mind was: “Why on Earth would AIG be suing the government? We saved their asses!”

But it appears the company does in fact have the unmitigated gall to whine about the very loose strings that came attached to the money. Marcy Gordon reports, “Hank Greenberg, the former AIG chief executive, has sued the government over the $182 billion bailout, which AIG has since repaid. Greenberg claims the terms of the bailout were too onerous and is seeking at least $25 billion… [the suit] accuses the government of taking valuable assets from AIG’s shareholders without their consent or fair compensation, in exchange for the government’s 80 percent stake in the company. The government’s actions violated parts of the Fifth Amendment, the lawsuit contends.”

Yeah. Really. As if to belabor the irony, Gordon characterizes the government’s response as follows: “the allegations are groundless. AIG’s only alternative to not receiving federal aid was bankruptcy, which would have left shareholders with worthless stock, the New York Fed has said.”

It must be mentioned that this meritless lawsuit will waste the valuable time of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who will be deposed in service of this sideshow. Also, if I stop and think about the additional wasted resources attached to this complaint – court costs, legal fees, intern salaries, etc. – I succumb to unqualified rage.

Where do these people get off? The modern GOP loves to talk about the 47 percent and it’s fondness for the “nanny state,” the food stamps, Medicaid and other social safety mechanisms that barely keep families afloat as they try to struggle back to personal solvency. But what is this brazen biting of the hand from AIG if not the entitled display of the unforgivably coddled? The logic, like that of a spoiled trust fund baby goes like this: I was profligate and you saved me. Thanks but, I didn’t ask you to and even though I gratefully accepted the help, I think I should get a rebate on the toxic assets you took and converted into viable capital. So would you be a dove?

I am not a corporate attorney or financial expert, but I can’t fathom how this suit was even granted a judge’s hearing, let alone allowed to disrupt the day to day business of the Fed Chair who – apparently it must be said – is still looking for monetary solutions that will get the American people back to work.

Newsflash for AIG: when you loan money, you pay it back with interest. I am surprised I have to say this to an organization that you know, specializes in money management and insurance. You signed on the dotted line five years ago to save your shareholders the shame and expense of bankruptcy. It worked out well for them and you. How dare you ask for anything more?