Hope in 2011 for the Unemployed? (January 4, 2011)


As a long-suffering member of the long-term unemployed community, I look for any sign that career fortunes are about to change, and grab on with the tenacity of a starving rat. So when I encountered articles late last week, like this one from Daily Finance that claims “Signs on Wall Street Point to Job Growth Ahead,” I couldn’t help but get a little excited.

Yes, I realize there are risks in attenuating to the predictions of a group of money changers who wrecked our economy in 2008 while running off unscathed with the gold, but dammit, I need to believe!

The article states that “Internet job listings surged to 4.7 million as of Dec. 1, compared to 2.7 million from the same period a year ago, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. Many of the new jobs are in the retailing, accounting, consulting health care, telecommunications and defense-related industries”

Well I don’t work retail, am not an accountant or doctor and want nothing to do with defense, but bully for those sectors! And I am just chipper enough today to assume that a 50% increase in available jobs over a year must necessarily be good for almost all of us on the government cheese. More accountants will need up-to-date tax pamphlets, which will require more writers. I can buy into trickle down economics in this case. Why not?

So what we’ve got is quite a few more job openings, but are companies actually hiring? This is where the situation grows a bit murky. I have been on no fewer than seven face to face job interviews in 12 weeks, including one this afternoon for a travel outfit, and one on Thursday for a major player in the banking industry. In almost all of these cases, I am confident that I looked professional, spoke eloquently (for me anyway), and performed well on the myriad pre-employment assessments and writing tests that have become a de rigueur part of the process in the 21st Century.

But for all that work, I have little to show for it. In other words, I remain jobless. In some cases, I didn’t speak enough Spanish, in others my rate (twice minimum wage without benefits) was way too lofty for managers who knew they could take advantage of less experienced, cheaper labor. In a few cases, I am outright confused as to why I was not hired, but try getting answers from an HR department once they have written you off.

I have numerous friends and colleagues facing similar dilemmas. My question is then: are employers really ready to hire, to fork over a reason to get out of bed in the morning to the jobless and depressed, or is this just an illusion designed to create enthusiasm in the stock market? I said I was ready to believe again if presented with the right evidence, but that doesn’t mean I was born yesterday.

Consider this quote from the lead paragraph of Daily Finance’s article, “Still, with corporate profits booming and the stock market rallying, signs are piling up that employment may finally be poised for a comeback, too.” Oh, so after a full 12 months of hoarding stock piles of cash and the meteoric rise of the Dow, companies “may” finally feel benevolent enough to create some jobs for those who helped build these same companies, only to show them the door.

It’s a testament to the continued emasculation of the middle and class (male and female members alike) that we are forced to wait, and wait with smiles on our faces, for these dangled carrots to materialize.


The Homeless Woman Who Hates Me (July 15, 2010)

Each morning, I walk down the same side street in Rogers Park, en route to catch the Metra commuter train downtown to my office. Each morning, at exactly the same time, I pass a mentally unstable homeless woman who appears to have a standing, important appointment. Unwashed, slovenly and usually muttering to herself, our paths intersect at the same moment, and I have paused to admire her punctuality, given that I am a creature of habit myself. I know not where she goes, what her name is, or what her back-story might be.

However, this woman seems to be under the impression that she has me all figured out. I noticed this oddity about a week ago, but as a characteristically self-conscious person, I attempted to blow off the ideas creeping into my head, believing that I should not read too much into the actions of a mentally ill lady in a hurry. But when my husband, iPod permanently fixed to his ear, attentiveness of an unmedicated ADD patient, noticed the same phenomenon, I knew there was something there.

Last week, as Eddie and I traversed the sidewalk, I made an effort to step behind my husband, clearing a path for my unnamed acquaintance to pass by unmolested. Instead of appreciating my good manners, I was treated to a pause, followed by a purposeful look of scorn before she sighed heavily and resumed her rush down the pavement. What had I done? I took it in stride and went about my day.

This past Monday, a bright and sunny morn, I could see Lady Supersonic approaching for the better part of a city block, and evidently she could see me too. Again I attempted to clear a path for her to pass without Eddie and I acting as sidewalk hogs. To my utter astonishment, Lady S. took this movement on my part as an invitation to play an impromptu game of “Pavement Chicken.” After my first move, she made a move of her own to align head-on with me. I stepped again to the left, and she followed. As we came closer to each other, I began to wonder if she was seriously intent on crashing into me.

Seems so. After two tries at waltzing out of her way, I held my ground, leaned forward and vowed to deal with whatever happened next. We were less than three feet apart when Eddie grabbed me roughly by the arm and shoved me behind him. He then asked me if I had gone mad myself. What was I to do? I don’t WANT to have a collision with Lady Supersonic, but ought I to allow her to continue acting as my sidewalk bully?

And exactly what is this all about anyway? Why me? My husband is handsome, well-dressed and looks every bit the part of a Wall Street player (though he is, in reality, just an anomalous IT hottie). Why doesn’t she hate him? I realize that sounds childish, my wanting Eddie to get sucked into Lady S.’s vortex of hate, but seriously, it’s not fair!

Supersonic knows nothing about me. She doesn’t know that I spend my working days fighting for human services in Illinois, making twice minimum wage in the process, when there are certainly other jobs I could take. I suspect Supersonic’s morning appointment may in fact have to do with some kind of outpatient services she is receiving – services I devote my life to funding and protecting.

Lady S. also has no idea that the image she chooses to see each morning, that of a corporately attired woman in sunglasses with a fabulously attractive husband, belies my background, where I rose above growing up in the most dysfunctional and abusive of homes, to become a responsible citizen (of sorts).

As I say, it is wrong of me to expect clarity of mind from someone who has her own problems to deal with, but if there is any sensation I find most uncomfortable in life, it is that of being egregiously misunderstood. I long to stop Supersonic and ask her what it is about my person or mien that immediately strikes her with such disgust. But my husband says that would be crazy. Would it?

Consequential Disparity (July 13, 2010)


In a 2010 reality of rising costs, flat wages (for those lucky enough to have a job), foreclosures, 401k loss and just about every social, political and environmental ill you can dream up, one of the few free sports left to us “small people” is the amusement of watching the rich, famous, powerful and greedy stumble over their own hubris and excess to fall on their pretty faces.

Admit it people – last Thanksgiving was a real downer for a lot of us. But witnessing the fallout of Tiger Woods smashing into a fire hydrant before the world became aware that he was an epic manwhore, was good clean fun for those not named Elin Nordegren (side note: I wonder if she noted the irony before she decided to place a well placed swing at her hubby’s cranium). Tiger, as we have all seen by now, will be more than OK, even if he lost his family in the process. His wealth, fame and prestige are (largely) intact. Tiger is definitely not one of us, is he?

Because for the rest of the world, the ones who swim upstream in the ever thickening sludge of actuality, had we made even one of Tiger’s mistakes, our lives would be effectively over. Had we been the ones to crash our vehicles in the fog of an Ambien coma, I think arrest, if not a heavy fine, would follow in short order. If we made a mockery out of our own image as a solid, sober family man, only to be exposed as a total hack, we would not be able to pick up business as usual after hiding from the media for a couple months. Respect would be lost, prospects forgone, and a broken family in the “real” world cannot be atoned via a large alimony payout.

And now we get to the heart of my post. Is anyone else demoralized by the consequence-free environment in which the top 1% of the American public lives? I extend benefactors’ rights to corporate and non-human entities, as well as the golden ones who enjoy society’s free ride. I realize it is not good for my soul to root for the downfall of anything, but it feels cold and alone out here sometimes in the place where the laws of physics rule. In my world, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But not so for the banks, BP, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Roman Polanski, or our favorite whipping boy of the moment, Mel Gibson.

Charlie Sheen held a knife to wife Brooke Mueller’s throat last Christmas. We are now approaching mid-August while Charlie decides which option he likes best from the probationary roulette wheel. Meanwhile, he has gotten a huge raise from CBS for the next, and possibly last season of his hit sitcom Two and a Half Men. Our man Charlie was hardly a choir boy before this. Anyone want to wager on the fortunes of you or I had we found ourselves in a similar scrape?

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year-old girl in the 1970s, and has enjoyed 30 years of freedom as a European citizen and Oscar winning film director. On Monday, Switzerland effectively closed the book on any hope of justice served, by denying the U.S. government the right to extradite the pedophile. Let’s just say I had been caught en flagrante with a grade schooler. Mary Kay LeTourneau anybody?

Wall Street is hiring again. The very charlatans who led us into this prolonged economic predicament are back and feeling better than ever, while the rest of us choose between groceries and filling our prescriptions. BP has been allowed to lie and fuck up everything it touches for months, but we all know that in the end, they will survive, even if the same may not be said for the Gulf of Mexico. If I went to the shores of Lake Michigan right now and dumped even one gallon of crude into the bay, I would be arrested as an eco terrorist (rightfully so) before I had time to get back to my car.

What I am trying to get at folks, beyond the larger, obvious and unchangeable circumstance of life not being fair, is that it isn’t only the financial gulf that widens perceptibly between the haves and the have nots. There is, quite literally, a whole separate reality for the privileged, that may go a long way toward explaining the seemingly disproportionate current anger of the middle and lower classes. We are so helpless, even after playing by the rules, while those who flaunt every one of society’s guidelines, fly away unencumbered, free to continue worsening the lives of those around them. And they will, because unlike the rest of us, they haven’t learned a damned thing

What Great Recession? Wall Street Remains Unoccupied By Ethics (May 23, 2015)


Nearly seven years after the American economy foundered under the worst global recession since World War II, it seems nothing much has changed with regard to the behavior of those that brought us collectively to the brink. While the nation’s bankers and mortgage lenders were certainly assisted in their shenanigans by the middle and working class-looting policies of George W. Bush, which resulted in a 35 percent decline in median household wealth, Bush 43 has long since been shuffled into retirement. Meanwhile according to report this week fromThe New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin, Wall Street malfeasance is alive and well.

In Many on Wall Street Say It Remains Untamed, Sorkin mines new data from a joint survey conducted by The University of Notre Dame and Labaton Sucharow LLP. The project, entitled The Street, The Bull and The Crisis: A Survey of the US & UK Financial Services Industry, engaged “1,200 traders, portfolio managers, investment bankers and hedge fund professionals both in the United States and Britain” in an effort to find out how the culture has changed in the wake of the Great Recession.

The results, for the overwhelming majority of us who would like to avoid such painful, debilitating economic calamities in the future, are not encouraging. Ross summarizes the Notre Dame/Labaton report as follows, “Rather than indicating that Wall Street has cleaned itself up, it suggests that many of the lessons of the crisis still haven’t been learned. And the mind-boggling settlement numbers, as well as stringent new rules, like the of Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul in 2010, appear to have had little deterrent effect.”

Among the data highlights of the survey:

  • A third of Wall Street workers who earn more than $500,000 annually self-report that they “have witnessed or have firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.”
  • “Nearly one in five respondents feel financial service professionals must sometimes engage in unethical or illegal activity to be successful in the current financial environment.”
  • Almost half of the over $500,000 crowd shared that law enforcement and regulatory bodies are ineffective “in detecting, investigating and prosecuting securities violations.”
  • A third of respondents “believe compensation structures or bonus plans in place at their company could incentivize employees to compromise ethics or violate the law.”

Though America has voted itself a much more competent and empathetic POTUS in Barack Obama versus the reckless mismanagement of “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush, the data from the study makes clear that the conditions are ripe for a crisis similar to the subprime mortgage scandal to occur. It’s only a matter of time. The unchastened criminals, having suffered nothing personally as a result of their misbehavior, are going about business as usual. As Sorkin writes, “Wall Street is…risk-taking and those who seemingly do it most successfully find that edge of the line and get as close to it as possible without crossing it.”

But as we know, the experts have crossed that line and in a culture where power, money and recklessness have a sexy image, in a regulatory climate where repercussions rarely go beyond a light wrist slap, there is little reason to reform.

But perhaps all hope is not lost. After all, thanks to Bernie Sanders, the 2016 Presidential campaign conversation includes ideas for balancing the “all gimme while the working man suffers” imbalance between Wall Street and the proletariat. Our own Jason Easley wrote Bernie Sanders Plans To Make College Free By Raising Taxes On Wall Street this week. She quotes Sanders as saying, “At a time when the wealthiest people in this country have made huge amounts of money from risky derivative transactions and the soaring value of the stock market, this legislation would impose a Wall Street speculation fee on Wall Street investment houses and hedge funds.”

Wall Street looted the country by operating in the shadows, conducting transactions so complex and murky that most lay people couldn’t understand them. Meanwhile, the Republican political establishment of the Bush II years was all too happy to look the other way. Discourse and study are not synonymous with action of course. But they offer an enormous advantage versus the willful ignorance of the early aughts.

Democrats Need To Rally Around the Issue of Income Inequality in America (December 23, 2013)


In late 2011, when the promising Occupy Wall Street protests began to fizzle out – a combination of government/police intervention and an internal lack of organized leadership, my heart sank. The movement, which began in Zuccotti Park, ground zero of New York City’s Wall Street financial district, deserved much more than a historical footnote, the status of a fleeting trend.

Most of us outside the one percent sphere of privilege don’t need data to reinforce the certainty that things have gone downhill for the middle class, beginning long before the 2008 onset of the Great Recession. We are being squeezed every possible way: mass unemployment, stagnant wages for those lucky enough to have jobs, depreciated home values, skyrocketing household debt and college tuition prices, rising property taxes. You name it and it hurts. Meanwhile we’ve been forced to sit on our hands and watch as no one responsible for the loss of our 401ks and property is prosecuted and even worse, Wall Street salaries remain 5.2 times higher than that of the average New Yorker. I won’t even get into wages outside the Big Apple or executive pay. It’s too depressing.

Inequality and the divisions between the have and have nots is not a new conversation. Every relevant civilization throughout history has struggled with these tensions. I beganto be of the opinion that in order to have any real traction, the dialogue had to mature. Rather than a simple “us vs. them” discourse, I felt like Democratic leadership ought to challenge itself a bit more. Because frankly, it’s not only the GOP that has lurched to the right. In an effort to begin winning elections again after the drubbings of the 1980s, the left made a great “moderate” leap to the center, bringing some economically disastrous policies with them.

This is one of the themes of New York Times columnist Bill Keller’s December 22 Op-Ed, “Inequality for Dummies.” In it, he writes: “Inequality is in. The president, you have probably heard, has declared income inequality to be ‘the defining challenge of our time…’ Liberals of a more centrist bent — notably the former Clintonites at the Third Way think tank — have refused to join the chorus and been lashed by fellow Democrats for their blasphemy.”

As sick as we might all be of partisan infighting, this is a battle we need to have. This isn’t a pointless test of ideological purity to source a base pleasing candidate. As much fun as it’s been to watch the Republican Party look for its way with all the grace and finesse of a blind rhinoceros, it can’t be that we got into our current situation because of the wretched ideas and decision making of one party alone. 11 months before the 2014 midterm elections, and nearly three years before the 2016 Presidential contest, seems like a fine time for the Democratic Party to ask itself a few critical questions. Do we want to continue letting the GOP set the agenda (and anyone who thinks the most recent budget compromise wasn’t a near-complete victory for the conservative platform, just isn’t paying attention), or do we want to be a little bit more proactive about restoring the American Dream?

Keller goes on to write, “The alarming thing is not inequality per se, but immobility. It’s not just that we have too many poor people, but that they are stranded in poverty with long odds against getting out. The rich (and their children) stay rich, the poor (and their children) stay poor…

A stratified society in which the bottom and top are mostly locked in place is not just morally offensive; it is unstable. Recessions are more frequent in such countries.”

Is it any coincidence that every year since Bill Clinton left office, including the Bush terms, rife with deregulation, outsourcing and bursting bubbles of several varieties (which liberals, let’s be entirely honest, were causes championed by the Clinton administration as well), has felt like one continuous recession?

I caution my fellow lefties: Let’s not be afraid to take a good look at ourselves, our history. We can and should do better to create policies that might begin to redress these spiraling socioeconomic ills. After all this is the season of reflection and we have been, at minimum, G.O.P enablers. Accessory to the destruction of the middle class is still a crime.