Saturday, November 27, 2010

Trickling Down: Theory and Practice

Glop Down Economic Theory
Trickle down economics hasn't worked for thirty years. That's the period where we've dumped huge amounts of largess into the top of the hopper to stimulate growth from which everyone was supposed to benefit. Only we didn't benefit. Middle class earnings have actually fallen during this period. The largess enriched the rich, but it didn't trickle anywhere. Instead it fueled a series of bubbles that deluded us into thinking things were going great right up until they burst and stripped us of our wealth our delusions and our hope.


Now we're getting some trickle down, but you couldn't call it a benefit by any stretch. While Wall Street is turning in record profits and policy makers are touting the recovery the stuff dripping out of the pipes at the bottom of our economy doesn't smell so sweet. Today in the Washington Post there is an article about community colleges not being able to fill the needs of workers trying to gain new skills in the hopes of finding work. Classes are full and budgets are shrinking. Community colleges are not able to meet the needs of real people in real trouble because they are in trouble too. Everyone knows, or should, that the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession are not coming back anytime soon...if at all. There may eventually be more jobs, but they will not be the ones we lost. Getting a job at the individual level, the level where economic benefits are supposed to trickle out of the pipes, is going to be a matter of having the skills the market wants. Community colleges and vocational education programs are at the forefront of providing these skills, but find themselves with shrinking resources at precisely the time that they are most needed.


Meanwhile the Fed is trying to stimulate growth by printing money and buying Treasury securities. They call this quantitative easing. This is supposed to drive interest rates down and accelerate the flow of money into the economy. Eventually, they say, it will result in the creation of new jobs. Of course if they let the markets decide where those jobs are going to be, they are likely to be in China.


I don't know were the easing is, but I know down here at the bottom there's a prodigious clog when it comes to benefits and what does manage to seep out onto us is extremely unpleasant. Nothing the geniuses at the top are doing has been any help at all. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Open Letter to Congressman Tom Rooney of Florida

I received your e-mail regarding your decision to vote against extending unemployment benefits. I can't help but think that this decision was taken along party lines and represents further Republican obstructionism calculated to make the Obama administration look bad. While I applaud your sense that we need to put an end to failed strategies and do something constructive to create jobs, I can't believe that punishing the victims of the economic collapse is the correct way to accomplish this.

I'm a registered Republican. I've voted a nearly straight Republican ticket for as long as I can remember. I'm not a Tea Party protester or a crackpot. I'm a pragmatist who believes we need sensible compromise to work our way out of the fix we're in. I've had it up to here with partisan bickering and overwrought idealogues. You guys need to work together to move us forward, and you need to do it now.

You can't wait until you have a Republican in the White House and a majority in the Senate as Well. America does not have that long. Furthermore, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have demonstrated that they are able get anything meaningful done in that happy circumstance anyway. We need viable solutions now, and that means there are necessarily going to be some ideas from the Democrats included in the mix. Please find us a way forward, and, while you're at it, try to find one that does not sacrifice me and thousands of other long term unemployed citizens on the altar of fiscal responsibility. We didn't do anything to deserve this, and so far you haven't done anything to help.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Divine Retribution and Karmic Comeuppance



 
Saturday I got two pretty good retribution stories from my brother-in-law. These are not tales of personal revenge, but rather of the kind of divine retribution that leads one to believe God is on one's side in a particular matter. These are instances where karma is visited in unmistakable fashion on someone who clearly has it coming.
In the first, my brother-in-law and his wife, who is my wife's sister, were towing their boat to Lake Cumberland in southern Kentucky. They were on a narrow, winding country pike that had more to offer in scenic vistas than it did in travel efficiency—especially in the case where one was towing a large boat. So while the view was pastoral, and the mood pleasant, the pace was leisurely at best.
All seemed right with the world until a fellow in a battered pick-up truck came up behind them and started trying to pass. The frequent bends and hills and the resulting profusion of double yellow lines on the tarmac made this a dicey proposition, and the inability to get around my brother-in-law's rig apparently worked havoc on the other driver's capacity for patience. When he was finally able to pass, he did so with more commotion and speed than was probably necessary. He also felt compelled for some reason to flip my in-laws the bird as he came by—final evidence that he was ripe for a comeuppance.
Now after this fellow passed, my brother-in-law noticed a brand new gas grill in the bed of the truck, tethered to one side by some twine and several bungee cords. We surmise now that the fellow was in a hurry to get the appliance home so he could begin cooking a Sunday repast. Perhaps he was having friends and family over for a barbecue. Perhaps he had stolen the grill, and thought he was being pursued by its rightful owners, or the local constabulary, or both. Whatever the reason for his haste, it continued unabated after he had passed...unabated that is until the truck hit a bump in the road. At this point things started to come apart, quite literally, in the pick-up truck.
The lid of the grill flew open and caught a great scoopful of air at something north of 60 miles per hour. The resulting pressure over-strained the twine and elastic bindings holding the grill to the side of the truck. At the same time bits and pieces from inside the grill started flying about, taking wing like so many celebratory doves released at an elaborate wedding. The grill itself slid backwards and crashed into the tailgate with such force as to cause it to unlatch and fall open. By this time the driver had realized what was happening and slammed on his brakes. The grill, now unfettered and free as the still flying bits and pieces, skidded forward in the bed and crashed headlong into the back of the cab, shattering the back window in the process.
The flying debris settled, some of it on the roadway, and my brother-in-law picked his way carefully through the mess, passed the now parked truck, and proceeded on his leisurely way to the lake. The driver of the pick-up truck did not flip him another bird as he passed. He was, it would seem, sufficiently chastened by the karma he had invited.
The second of my brother-in-law's tales also has to do with his boat. In this story he had arrived at the lake on another occasion and was backing the boat on its trailer down the incline to the ramp where he would launch the boat. He stopped some yards short of the water to prepare the boat for launching. He inserted the plug into the drain hole in the stern, and loosed the straps that secured the boat to the trailer.
While he was thus engaged another driver backed another boat and trailer down the incline next to him. Now, while there was more than sufficient room on the ramp to launch two boats at the same time, the other driver, owing either to lack of skill or a level of meanness that would be unusual in most week-end boaters, jackknifed his trailer behind my brother-in-law's rig in such a way as to take up twice as much room as he needed and thus deny my brother-in-law access to the ramp and the water.
My brother-in-law is not one to suffer fools lightly. He has no patience for incompetence. He has even less patience when that incompetence manifests itself in ways that are also inconsiderate. He was ready to launch his boat, and this fool was in his way. He was not about to give the guy a pass.
Hey,” he protested as the guy got out of his SUV, “you're in my way. You need to pull your boat back up the ramp so I can launch.”
The guy, for reasons we can only guess at, was not agreeable at this point. “I'll only be a minute,” he said.
My brother-in-law did not like this answer very much, and so he suggested again,  this time with a righteous peppering of expletives, that the fellow needed to get the hell out of his way so he could launch his boat, that he had been there first, that any fool could see there was room for two boats to launch, but this particular fool had managed to botch a simple operation like backing a boat trailer down a ramp in such a fashion as to render the commodious facility useless to anyone but himself.
I already told you,” the guy said, “I will be through in a minute.”
So my brother-in-law watched with mounting fury while the guy launched his boat, tied it up to the dock, and left his wife watching over it while he finally pulled his trailer out of the water and drove off to the parking area about a hundred yards up the bank. Able at last to launch his own boat, my brother-in-law left his wife in charge of their boat, which was tied to the opposite dock. As he was pulling his trailer up the incline toward the parking area, the other fellow's wife came frantically pounding on my brother-in-law's window. He rolled it down.
Catch my husband,” she said, “and tell him he forgot to put the drain plug in our boat. It's filling up with water.”
My brother-in-law nodded as he processed this information. He probably didn't mean to convey to her that he would do what she asked. He was just doing what men do when they are confronted by hysterical women—nod while they search for the quickest way to extricate themselves from the immediate vicinity. The woman went back to watch her boat sink further into the lake along with any hope she might have held for a pleasant afternoon on the water.
Women who are married to callous and ignorant men cannot themselves be prideful. Pride will not suit their circumstances nearly so well as humility. These poor creatures spend a lot of time swallowing their pride and throwing themselves on the mercy of those whom their husbands have wronged. If they do not, nothing much good will ever happen for them. Even if they do, a good outcome is not a forgone conclusion.
My brother-in-law decided, on his way up the hill, that the fellow who's boat was filling up with water had already demonstrated a singular lack of willingness to take suggestions. He had already made my brother-in-law suffer consequences from this lack. My brother-in-law did not see any profit to be had in supposing that the fellow had somehow changed his stripes on the way from the boat ramp to the parking lot. He supposed, rather, that the fellow would still be loathe to take any direction from him, especially as it was likely, my brother-in-law not having changed his stripes either, that any further direction would also be laced with profanity.
By this time the other fellow was walking back down the hill to join his wife at their boat. My brother-in-law, having reasoned all the forgoing out to his satisfaction, passed him by, careful to ignore the scornful gaze the fellow cast his way, and careful as well not to assume any expression that might be construed as gloating. He had to continue this non-gloating demeanor as he walked back down the hill and passed the fellow once more, coming up the hill, this time with a great deal more panic than scorn in his expression.
Eventually the fellow was able to rescue his boat before it went to the bottom, although getting it back onto his trailer and getting it out of the water so that it could drain provided my brother-in-law a lot more entertainment than he had expected when he had hitched the boat up to his SUV earlier that morning. Presumably the fellow and his wife did not enjoy their karma nearly so much.
Proverbs 24:17 says, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice." Whether you take this as a commandment or merely as sound advice, this may be the hardest proscription in the Bible to follow faithfully. I know I can't do it. I can try to love my enemies, and I pray for them regularly, but if I ever see them come to what I think are their just deserts, I will be hard pressed not to let my heart rejoice.
And when I think of all the misery I've suffered at the hands of the fools I've worked for, the bastards who took my job, and the thieves who've robbed me of the possibility of getting another one anytime soon, I'm equally hard pressed not to pray Psalm 35 that they may become “like chaff before the wind,” or Psalm 58, that my God might “break the teeth in their mouths.” All retribution ought to be biblical in proportion, don't you think?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Acknowledgement

Something unusual happened this week. I got e-mails from two places that I had submitted resume's to, telling me that they were moving forward with another candidate. Although I'm no closer to getting a job, at least I won't be wasting any time following up with these employers to see if they got my application and what its status might be. It is rare to get any kind of acknowledgement at all in this market, and by rare I mean that I have been sending out dozens of resume's and letters every week for two years now, and this week marks the first time that I have received anything indicating that a potential employer knows I exist. That I am encouraged by this indicates how low my expectations have sunk.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quantitative Easing II

Bernanke and the Fed are taking a lot of heat, and deservedly so, for their proposed new round of quantitative easing. It's a lot like this picture of the Flash Fire Jet Truck. Although capable of 375 mph, when they haul this thing out for demos at air shows and whatnot, it's all about the smoke and the noise. It's a crowd pleaser, but it doesn't do anything useful. Bernanke is trying to look like he's stimulating the economy to produce jobs, but he's likely to have the opposite effect. Round 1 didn't work. Why should round 2? It's just smoke and noise, and it's not nearly as entertaining as the jet truck.

Neal Darnell and the Flash Fire Jet Truck at 2010 Stuart Airshow.


For a brilliant, concise, insightful and hilarious explanation of QEII in an XtraNormal video that seems destined to go viral, GO HERE.

Warbirds



T-28 fusilage detail - 2010 Stuart Airshow.



Monday, November 15, 2010

Progress

Have about 32,000 words assembled and edited from my 120,000+ written total. Probably 1/3 of the way there. Going slower than I hoped, but still making progress. Also designed a new WebSite using Flash designer at Wix. I'll put this site up when the book is ready to release. Wix is a very cool app with intuitive user interface. Check it out.

Calling the book 40 for Naught. I like it for a title, but would appreciate input. Agreement is best, but constructive criticism will be tolerated. Use comments below to rattle my cage.

Spent most of Saturday at the Stuart Air Show thanks to my sister-in-law scoring tickets by calling into a radio show and remembering that the line, "Play it again, Sam," came from Casablanca. BTW the script for Casablanca was written on the fly as the movie was being shot. Still regarded today as one of the best scripts ever written.

Got some good pics at the air show...about a dozen out of 700 snapped. Okay, I think, when you consider most of the 700 were rapid fire shots of the actual aerial acrobatics. Didn't realize before this how hard it is to catch an F-16 at low altitude with a telephoto lens. The P51 below was hard enough.

TF 51 dual control Mustang in aerial loop at 2010 Stuart, FL Air Show. The sound from the Rolls Royce Merlin engine is unique and awe inspiring. It is apparently the precise pitch to maximize testosterone production. You can fly this gem if you're so inclined. Orientation flights available even if you've never flown before. Details, history, videos, and more pics here. I so want to do this!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tin Foil Hat Republicans

          A couple of months ago a guy posted on Freep (Detroit Free Press Online) that there needs to be a spokesperson or champion for the unemployed. The people commenting on his post think he didn’t have a right to say anything at all because he wasn’t from Detroit. They also took exception to his lack of proof or corroborating evidence for the observations he made when in fact all he did was recount his own personal experiences from being unemployed for 17 months. One commenter even faulted his math because he said he’d worked for 22 years and been a journalist for 23—like make up your mind dude which is it? The commenter wasn't smart enough to realize that it could in fact be both. Why do people this ignorant insist on being heard? They’re just clogging up the bandwidth.
          I note this morning, in the same vein, that the new Republican House majority is already throwing its weight behind a cut in jobless benefits. I guess I knew this was going to happen. Even so it saddens me that millions of displaced workers are going to suffer further in the name of fiscal responsibility when it was fiscal irresponsibility in the form of deregulation and shortsighted policy making that cost them their jobs in the first place. I say this even though I am a freaking Republican. I'm all for deficit reduction and judicious spending cuts, but when we undertake these things in service to an overarching ideology rather than common sense we have the capacity to do a lot of harm to innocent people.
          If you see a guy wearing a tin foil hat sitting on a street corner with a cup and a sign that reads “please help,” or “homeless and hungry,” or even “unemployed and beerless,” and you are motivated by the sight to remark that he should get a job, then I would suggest to you that it is already too late for you to don a tin foil hat to protect your brain from being stolen by aliens. That ship has sailed. Honestly I don’t know why I’m bothering to tell you this. That ship has sailed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Transitions

I posted with some enthusiasm the other day that the time for personal reinvention is upon us. I meant of course, specifically, that it's upon me. I need to follow my own essential three steps:

  1. figure out what's making me miserable and excise it
  2. figure out what's my bliss and embrace it
  3. make a plan to get good at what makes me happy
I've already done all of that. I did it before I wrote about it. I'm not finished, but I've made a good start. I know I'm miserable working for fools and charlatans. I got rid of them. (Actually they got rid of me, but who's splitting hairs at this point?) Writing makes me happy. I write a little every day. I made a plan to get better. I've been working the plan with some evidence of success:



Highest score possible in every category! First time this had ever happened in this particular contest. I didn't win. I came in second. The final judge was not one of the initial evaluators. Some subjectivity naturally came into play. Even so I won a cash prize, and came away with some validation that I'm good enough to at least pursue this course.

I'm telling you all this because it's time for me to concentrate on making something happen in my new career. It's time for me to take all my disjointed scribblings and to make a book. I've given myself until the end of November to make this happen. I actually started last month. That's why my blog posts have been sporadic and infrequent. I'll keep those of you who are interested in my progress updated here as I go. When I'm finished, this blog will take on a new direction. Up until now it's been about me and my struggles with my circumstances. I'm changing my circumstances. I intend to succeed. Then this blog and my online presence will be all about my new work and the new guy I work for.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Taking Wing

Even the skillful and attractive sometimes have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

          I’m not kidding, and I’m not making this stuff up. I’ve been looking for another job for just over 2 years now. I’ve known how difficult this is going to be for a long time. So has everyone else among the long-term unemployed. The rest of the world seems to be just waking up to the ugly truth. This includes many economists who should have predicted this months and months ago.
The economy is a different animal than it used to be. A lot of the jobs that were lost in 2008 and 2009 are not coming back, not ever. Every day you hear about companies doing more with less, getting the same revenues and higher profitability with fewer employees, and certainly with fewer high-priced American workers with their attendant benefits and tax burden.
Jobless saps like me might wish that these companies would hire Americans back to do the jobs they used to do. That would be crazy though. Why would they? If they staff back up with high priced labor, they won’t be able to compete in the global market place. They’d just have to let everyone go again when they were forced to idle capacity or even shut down for lack of sales. For the same reason it would be folly for the government to either mandate or artificially incentivize this kind of re-hiring. As a solution it only delays the agony.
This being the case, it’s up to us displaced workers to come up with a Plan-B that fits the new reality. For me this means becoming a writer as soon as possible. I can't wait for the economy to recover, not that that is likely to help me anyway, and I surely can’t wait for Congress to fix it for me. Those bozos seem committed to remaining mired in grid-lock forever. I have to do something now. How could I not?
A person possessed of deeper faith than I might rely on God to provide: “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt 6:26) I happen to believe this promise on principle, but I also believe that God provides wherewithal more often than he provides pure serendipity. He gave the birds keen eyes and quick wings to enhance their foraging. Me he gave a quick wit and a flair for words—maybe not to the extent He did for Shakespeare—but adequate to my needs I think. My job is to make something of it, and if I fail, well…there’s always that serendipity. Even preening little dandies like the painted bunting occasionally find that someone has hung out a great hulking bin of seeds for them.