Sunday, June 22, 2014

More on Tea Party and Voting

I have been "blogging" now for about four years.  During that time I have touched on a myriad of topics most often as a response to the news of the day.  Sometimes I imagine the course of a particular post in my head, driving in the car, walking the dog, taking a shower.  Many times, actually more times than not, the post evolves on its own and may not resemble the imagined essay that spurred the original idea.  Being a bit of a narcissist, I am often intrigued by my own creative process.  I will attempt to analyze the end result of a post as if it were written by another in an attempt to understand the motivation behind the writing.  This can be both amusing and disturbing when one thinks about the origin of inspiration.  When a particular post of mine just flows out, almost as if my fingers know which keys to hit without input from my brain, it can be very exhilarating.  When I have to work at a particular blog, typing, deleting, moving phrases, stopping and starting as if I don't know where the post is headed, it can be very frustrating.  I am sure I am not alone in these thoughts; many much more creative people than myself have both exalted and lamented in their own creative process.  Today I am wondering if in twenty years, assuming I still draw breath, will I understand more fully my own creative process?  Or is that the rub.  Creativity is best left alone, not to be fully understood, not to be overly examined, and especially, not to be taken for granted.

Perhaps, even more importantly, not to be taken too seriously.

It is easy to look at certain pop culture idols and shake one's head at their perceived self-importance.  It is easy to make fun of the one arena successes, whether it be sports, acting, or business, who believe that every utterance from their mouths is important, meaningful, just because they make a lot of money at their particular vocation.  But what about truly impressive people who have made a real contribution to society?  How self important are they allowed to be if they are truly important?  How much credence should we give to their opinions?  How much faith in their perspective?

How do we know when to respect or reject another's opinion?  Too often, the answer is, when it agrees or disagrees with our own.  When someone says that we can't possibly have all 7 billion people on earth come to our country, so all immigration is bad, do we examine the logic of the first premise before agreeing with the conclusion, or do we say YEA, to the speaker because we already dislike immigrants and aren't interested in facts to back our prejudice?

It is no secret that I believe that the tea party movement has been hijacked by wealthy individuals who were able to redirect the anger at the financial slugs who caused our recent recession against the government which stepped in to save our economy.  It is like blaming the cop for the crimes of those he arrests, blaming the doctor for the cancer she removes during surgery.  Yet, despite the minority of opinion that the tea party holds, despite the often ludicrous statements made by those claiming the moniker, the tea party inspires people to vote, especially in elections where turnout is light.  It should come as no surprise that they focus on these elections because that is where a motivated minority can be victorious.  The White House and US Senate are too big, too many votes to counter.  But local school board offices, state senate and representative seats, even Congressional House elections can won by candidates with a clear, one issue message, especially when that message places the blame for our country's troubles on an easy target.  What is truly sad, almost laughable in its irony, is that the majority of people who forego their voting rights, who claim their one vote doesn't matter, who say that they are all crooks, etc, they enable the minority to hold sway over the direction of the country by their apathy.  As if surprised when someone steals a running car, we wonder how it is that our public servants seem so unresponsiveness to our needs even though we've handed over the keys to our democracy by abdicating our responsibility to vote.

I am about half way through the Lapham's Revolutions issue so obviously I have revolution on my mind.  Throughout history, even today in many countries across the planet, there are people using violence to change their world.  Perhaps armed conflict, the literal death of one form of government for another is the only way for the oppressed to defeat the oppressors.  But just once, I would like to see Americans use their vote to change their government.  Can you imagine 75, 80, 85% turnout in November?  Can you imagine the silent majority getting off their butts and saying no to both those on the extreme left and right?  Can you imagine incumbents being held accountable for their actual votes in Congress?  Can you imagine candidates being asked specific questions, and then demanding specific answers as opposed to 5 second sound bites?  Can you imagine elected officials who emphasize the servant in public servant?

If not, then I recommend joining the tea party because by not voting you enable the extremes to win the day.  I heard someone say on TV that pre-World War 2 Germany was filled with good people, that most were not Nazi's, not believers in the Aryan Race.  But they allowed a vocal minority to rule the day and then had no way to bring it under control.  Unfortunately, this person was using the example to describe the raging Muslim radical minority which was hell bent on destroying Western civilization, and she was directing her anger at moderate Muslims who were allowing the radicals such power.  I use the example to remind Americans that we have the most powerful weapon ever devised to defeat extremism, the most direct method ever created to form a government responsive to its citizens needs without violence.  Our precious right to Vote. 

So Vote.  And, to be fair to my previous assertion about not taking ourselves too seriously,
vote early and often.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hail to the Tea Party

A few weeks ago after a number of primary elections, I commented that the tea party may be losing its attraction.  A number of establishment republicans had withstood strong challenges for the November midterm election, causing me to posit that perhaps moderate republicans had finally realized the no win scenario that tea party candidates presented in swing states, states with a growing percentage of independents, and states where registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans.  With the recent defeat of Eric Cantor by someone further to the right, and with the severe tilting to the right of many establishment Republicans as they fend off tea party challengers, it is clear that my supposition of the tea party's demise was premature.

So, I raise my glass to the movement and say well done.

Its' OK, calm yourself, I am not tearing up my Democratic party registration card.  On the contrary, the continued success of tea party candidates at the polls will re-energize me, and should do the same for those of you who recoil at some of their rhetoric. 

My praise is directed to their ability to get those who agree with their positions to the polls.  While it is true that Cantor's loss in Virginia was partly due to his arrogance and his taking for granted his constituents' votes, it is also true that David Brat spent hundreds of hours going door to door to meet the voters, while focusing his campaign almost exclusively on one issue; immigration.  The fact that Cantor was one of many Republicans who have fought any immigration reform bills that included amnesty or a way to citizenship, did not matter to Brat, or those who favored him.  Cantor did not adamantly oppose a path to citizenship for the children of illegals, even though a majority of Americans believe that children should not be punished for the crimes of their parents.  Cantor had the gall to agree with Obama that perhaps it was time to craft a bill which would allow those children a shot at the American dream and that was all it takes for the hard right who have been fed a steady diet of Obama as Muslim sympathizer, hater of America, etc, etc, to label Cantor as a traitor, and elect someone who will never agree with anything Obama. 

Think about it.  The number two guy in the House of Reps, the guy who has successfully stalled dozens of  Senate passed bills, while supporting House bills that fly in the face of the president's initiatives, this guy is defeated, rather handily, by a novice who spent pennies to the dollars that Cantor spent.

Of course, there was probably some celebration on the left at this loss.  Whether we choose to call it karma, just desserts, or the monster turning on its creator, many Republicans are feeling the wrath of the very movement that they supported when it was convenient to use them to defeat Obama's bills and policies.  Once painted as the devil himself, moderate Republicans have no way of turning back the clock when Obama proposes something they support.  The least bit of compromise is considered treachery by those who bought the years of character assassination that Fox News and right wing radio have perpetrated on the President and his Administration. 

Yet, despite that so many of the tea party's positions are poorly received by most Americans, the movement continues to gain traction.  They are successful at framing the issues, successful at communicating their positions on those issues, and successful at spurring those in agreement to vote.  It is long past time that the Democrats pull their heads out of the sand, stop pretending that this movement will sputter on its own, and learn and adopt some of the tea party's methods.

First, there are clearly some specific issues that will inflame the base and inspire independents (and perhaps even some moderate Republicans) to vote Democratic in November.  The easiest targets are the very tea party representative themselves who have voted repeatedly for budgets that would turn Medicare over to the private sector, budgets that continue to grant massive subsidies to corporations that earn billions but avoid their tax bill, budgets that slash government oversight which act as a deterrent to those who would cut corners in the manufacture of our food, cars, clothes, or befoul our air and water, budgets that do nothing for middle class Americans but everything for those with the money to buy campaign ads and politicians' largesse. 

Funny thing, initially the tea party evolved from those aghast at Wall Street's shenanigans which led in large part to the recession of 2008 and required a massive bail out.  Influence, power and growing economic strength of the 1% is an issue that, if properly framed, could produce an overwhelming voting edge for those trying to level the playing field.  The danger of course, is that many Democrats are just as guilty of pandering to the rich, but it is still fact that Democrats are the ones proposing equal pay for equal work bills, minimum wage increases, and laws which protect workers rights, all which are voted almost in unison by tea party republicans. 

We need to educate the voters about the actual votes being taken in Congress, all those votes which have done nothing to create jobs, nothing to provide assistance to the victims of Wall Street's ill advised money games, and nothing even to help prevent future Wall Street hedge fund managers and derivative creators to repeat the disaster of 2008.  Even disaster relief has been voted against by tea party representatives, until, of course, the disaster happens in their states. 

And let's not forget the complete disregard for the overwhelming evidence that climate change may make all our economic problems look like kindergarten issues as the earth continues to heat.  The proverbial Rome is burning while Nero fiddled is a perfect description of those in the tea party movement that are controlled by the energy companies that are the source of so much of the carbon in our atmosphere. 

Immigration reform, the assault on women's access to birth control and to make decisions about their own bodies, environmental changes, the rich buying our democracy, sensible gun controls, the ease at which we want to go to war, the right to marry the person you love, the denial of voting rights.  It is time to pick an issue, connect the dots of those voting on the wrong side, and present an alternative to just saying NO.

If the tea party can be successful with distortion of the facts, finger pointing and an avoidance of actual solutions, we should be smart enough to be able to use the truth, acceptance of our mutual problems, and a platform of ideas that will begin to address those issues.            


Monday, June 9, 2014

Bergdahl: Hero or Traitor

Just a quick note about my last post.  I forgot to mention in my list of jobs that I delivered newspapers.  Since I engaged in this activity just a few years ago, and considering that I mentioned delivering papers in many of my posts, I was surprised to realize I had forgotten. 

Anyway, on to the present.  A few weeks ago, I posted a similarly titled blog concerning Cliven Bundy.  In the end I concluded that "Ultimately, Cliven Bundy is a confused person".  I added my concerns that in his defense, some family or friends may be harmed or killed, or that a member of the BLM, a federal officer doing his duty, may be harmed or killed.  Fortunately, when it became clear that Bundy was a racist, support for his cause vanished.  As of today, I believe he is still in violation of the law, but my expectations are that justice will be served, and the news coverage of this event will be buried in the papers and be merely a footnote on the national media scene.  You would think that the media would vet their "heroes" a bit more thoroughly.

Which brings us to news of the prisoner exchange involving Sgt Bowe Bergdahl. 

While many of the players and their reactions are predictable, there is some bipartisan support and condemnation of this trade.  On the one hand, there are very serious questions about how Bergdahl came to be a prisoner of war.  There are also serious questions about the value of his release as compared to the value of the five terrorists that were traded for him.  And, there are some hurt feelings on both sides of the aisle that Congress was not adequately briefed on the exchange.

On the other hand, there is the long established tradition of prisoner exchanges, especially as hostilities are winding down.  And, the military credo of never leaving a soldier in enemy hands, even to the point of further bloodshed. 

As is usually the case, there is no clear cut wrong or right in this situation.  Anyone you see on TV or hear on the radio that tries to convince you of the "obvious" evaluation, is biased either for or against the President.  Here is my take.

First, of course the President should have pursued talks with the Taliban to gain Bergdahl's release.  He is an American soldier, who volunteered to place himself in harm's way by joining the military to serve our country and protect our freedoms.  Regardless of how his opinion of this service may have changed, there is no doubt that we should make every effort to return him to American soil.  I can't imagine any parent who would not expect the same of our government.

Speaking of parents, one of the rather odious reactions to this exchange was the attempt at character assassination that took place on FOX TV.  (I even saw part of an attack against Bergdahl on FOX Business News).  Not being a soldier, I guess I can overlook his platoon mates who skewered him but then again, I wonder if there weren't times when they may have questioned their own commitment or been just plain scared.  Worse than this though, was the character attacks against Bergdahl's father.  He has been cast as an Islamic sympathizer because he learned the language of his son's captors and grew a beard.  These type of attacks are shameful!  I dare anyone who opines in such a way to look me in the eye and tell me they would stop at nothing to gain the release of their son or daughter after five years of captivity.   If learning a foreign language will someway give me a path to communicate with those holding my son, count me in.  If growing a beard so I could more easily get a spot on Duck Dynasty would do it, I am also in.  It is a shame that some Americans hate our president so much that they would question the love of a father to free his son from prison in a foreign land.  As the details of Bergdahl's captivity become available and it is revealed that he was the victim of both mental and physical torture, I hope there are some apologies offered by those on the far right whose attacks were not only un-American but un-Christian as well.

But, I digress.

Despite my adamant belief that Obama did the right thing, he did not handle it properly.  I have to conclude that he knew about the questions surrounding Bergdahl's disappearance, so it seems that either he believed that the American public would place recovery above all else, or he underestimated just how far the right would go to discredit his Presidency.  Either way, he should have been more transparent with the plan, and he should have held a more low-keyed announcement than the Rose Garden show that occurred last week.

This is just another in a series of poor decisions that Obama has made in terms of appearance.  Ultimately, while I hope he will be remembered for his accomplishments, the killing of Osama, the economic recovery, the historic healthcare law, the winding down of two wars overseas, the repeal of Don't Ask - Don't Tell, I fear he will also be remembered for his lack of gauging the effectiveness of those opposing his decisions to always seem a step ahead of him, forcing him into damage control, even when his motives and decisions are right.  If you are always battling uphill, it is impossible to get everything done. 

As for Sgt Bergdahl, he appears to be another confused person.  Perhaps he joined the military truly believing in the moral correctness of our war in Afghanistan, only to encounter evidence that contradicted his original belief.  Perhaps he just got scared.  Whatever he was thinking that night he wandered from camp, he was clearly not thinking straight.  I imagine he came to regret that decision over and over in the past five years, perhaps even came to the more rational conclusion that America is not always right, war is not always right, terrorists are not always wrong.  The world is not black and white but rife with shades of gray.  But that in the end, leaving his platoon was the wrong choice and that American ideals, when cached in love, life and liberty are as good as it gets in this complex world we inhabit.

Let's hope that his convalescence includes emotional and spiritual healing in addition to any physical ailments he may have attained, and that he emerges from this ordeal a more whole human being.  Perhaps in that scenario, those who chose to demonize him will also come to realize there own deficits and become better Americans, and better humans.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Which work "pyramid" should you choose

My wife and I were recently contacted by friends to consider a multi-level marketing company as a way to supplement our household income.  We spent a lovely evening catching up with them as it had been a while since we saw each other, then we dove into the opportunity via a few videos, and some time for questions and answers.  As I am not unfamiliar with multi-level marketing businesses, much of what I witnessed on the videos and heard in my friends' answers were not surprising.  The question of course is, can you make some money with a multi-level marketing business?

In this case, the product is something everyone uses everyday.  It is not a fad item like trampolines,  not an item that someone would only buy once like life insurance, and not a get healthy item that may be replaced with the next popular get healthy item, or just discontinued if the person didn't "get healthy".  From that respect, I was interested in the opportunity.

But, like all multi-level marketing businesses, it is necessary to create a down line.  In other words, in addition to selling the product, you need to recruit other associates to sell the product and you need them to recruit still more associates.  Unless you get three or four levels deep, you will never earn an income worth the effort.  The good news with this particular company is that the number of "sales" one needed to make was minimal, and the number of associates one needed to recruit was less than fingers on your hand.  So, as with some multi-level marketing businesses, the problem of saturation. i.e. running out of friends and family to buy your product, was less of an obstacle.  To me, finding those people who might run with the idea and recruit other associates is the more difficult part.  And, while having one down line that becomes 4,5,6 levels deep would certainly produce some income, creating a 2nd, then 3rd line is where the real money lurks.  That is why so many of these organizations advertise for managers when they recruit because in the end, it is finding, then training a team that is the required skill. 

For my friends' part, they have already experienced some positive results.  Part of their approach includes the fact that they have been involved for over 6 months.  They have reasonable expectations as opposed to those opportunities that promise big bucks.  They have not drawn any lines in the sand as to when they expect big success, which is a bit unlike some of the high pressure tactics you might experience  from some of these opportunities.  Of course, the down side of that approach is that the guys at the top, the people who started the business in the first place, the people you meet at the seminars who have 6 figure incomes and large blocks of leisure time, they are smart enough to know when to get out and find the next big idea in multi-level marketing,  Once that happens, a new management team may be less successful or the company itself may shrivel and die away.

At this point you may be thinking that I do not intend to pursue this opportunity.   That I know the dangers of investing in a work pyramid of this type, know that upwards of 90% of those who jump in do not make a big splash, and know that there is no stability in these schemes.

But then again, how stable is any job today?  What company isn't really a pyramid in which those at the top gain wealth through the work of those below?

My current full time position with the PLCB is under debate in the PA legislature as to whether they will sell the stores for a one time windfall.  Truth be told, anyone who works for a large corporation faces potential job loss whether it be through a buyout/merger with a competitor, outsourcing the work to a more friendly area, (i.e. where labor is cheaper), downsizing the company itself or merely closing one location in favor of another.  As for small companies, upwards of 50% of new companies fail within 5 years.  Clearly, the days of getting hired out of high school or college and staying with one company for life have long since past.

Even a few seconds of research tells us that over the course of our lives we will likely have more than one career and certainly many different jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people born between 1957 and 1964 (that is me) held an average of 11 jobs from ages 18 to 44. On average, men held 11.4 jobs and women held 10.7 jobs.  25% percent held 15 jobs or more, while only 12% held four jobs or less.  In my lifetime I have worked in fast food (twice), as a telemarketer, making candles, making gang mowers, working for a wicker furniture importer, making jewelry, working for a bulk mailing company, working for a firemen's clothing manufacturer, working for a sporting goods wholesaler, working as a sales rep in transportation, and stocking shelves for a supermarket, in addition to my current position managing a wine and spirits store.  I even worked on the 2010 census.

I have spent my life working for companies at various levels of their work pyramids.  Sometimes I was at the very bottom, sometime towards the bottom but with some access to a few levels above me, and sometimes, in the smaller pyramids, in the middle with direct access to the top level.  But in the end, I have never worked my way to the top, never started my own pyramid so that I could be at the top.  And ultimately, that is where the vast majority of workers fall.  We are recruits, sometimes directly via the owner, but mostly we are associates hired by other associates of whatever work pyramid we call our job.  And, like those multi-level marketing organizations, much of our work rewards those above us, whether it be the top tier in a multi-level marketing company, or the CEO of the corporation. 

In the end then, the decision to work for a multi-tier marketing company should be based on the decision to work for any other kind of company.  Is it work that I like doing?  Is it work that will reward me for my efforts?  Is it work that will provide the opportunity for advancement?  Is it just work to provide myself and my family with a bit of breathing space?  If the answer to that last question is yes, I don't see any reason to elevate or disparage one type of work pyramid over another.

Coincidentally, this quarter's Lapham is called Revolution.  So often, it seems, revolutions are connected to work and feeling one's efforts are properly rewarded.  Whether it be land owners who tire of the king's edicts, business owners who tire of a far away governments' taxes or peasants who tire of living in poverty while the ruling class prospers, there have been many instances of revolutions in which the fruits of one's work were fought and died for. 

While I am sure that multi-level marketing opportunities existed in the 50's and 60's, (Avon, Tupperware), I wonder if the proliferation of them has something to do with the decline of the purchasing power of the middle class since 1980.  Is the next work revolution already in progress? 

Some say that the industrial revolution, the mechanization of our manufacturing processes, the assembly line nature of so many of the products we make, leads to job dissatisfaction.  We can't see a connection between what we do and the finished product.  We can't see a connection between our role in the process and the consumer who purchases the product.  We work for the weekend because we get very little satisfaction from the work itself. 

When so many people work 30, 40, 50 hours a week and still struggle to stay afloat, and are miserable in the effort, is it any wonder why a multi-level marketing opportunity, with its chance to be one's own boss, its seminars packed with happy associates, one might say its offer of finally reaching the American dream, is it any wonder why this type of work pyramid can be so attractive?

Perhaps the slow economic recovery will continue and the middle class will somehow gain its footing again either through the realization of those at the top that they can't continue to bogart the pie, or via legislation that will force the private sector to pay livable wages.  But if the trend does not start to revert itself, if 35% of the wealth owned by 1% of the people becomes 40%, then 50%, will the American worker continue the revolution of seeking income elsewhere?  Will that trend result in a new work pyramid, with less levels and less disparity between top and bottom? 

I imagine that I will have retired from the work force before these questions are answered but hope for my children that they will be able to boast that their generation created a new work dynamic without the bloodshed that previous revolutions required to change the system of their times.