Actually, “the Rich” Don’t “Create Jobs,” We Do May 14, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: Adam Smith, capitalism, dave johnson, democracy, economics, job creation, jobs, karl marx, labor, labour, roger hollander, taxation, taxes
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Roger’s comment: the article below correctly debunks the false notion that capital creates jobs; it is a philosophy that is aggressively promoted by … you guessed it … those who own and control capital. Interestingly, it was not Karl Marx but rather the founder of capitalist ideology, Adam Smith, who first developed the “the labor theory of value,” that is, the notion that new value is created by human labor. Marx built upon Smith’s work to show that capitalists who employ living labor skim off from the sale of goods and services what they call profits, what Marxists call “surplus value.” Since all value is created by labor, this skimming off is nothing less than pure and simple theft. But what, you ask, of the poor capitalist who takes the risk of starting a business, using his capital to employ workers? The answer is that the capital owned by the capitalist belonged to the workers who created the value in the first place, what Marx called “dead labor.” He explained that the present era of capitalist relations in production was ushered in by the “primitive accumulation” of capital.
Here is how he explained it: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlandsfrom Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c. The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In Englandat the end of the 17th century, they arrive in a systematic combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with the new one. It is itself an economic power.” (Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. ?, Chapter 31).
Adam Smith saw it differently: “In the midst of all the exactions of government, capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress ofEnglandtowards opulence and improvement in almost all former times. …
It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense. … They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.” (Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter II [cited in Toronto Globe and Mail, April 5, 2008])
It is no wonder that the fat cat capitalists and their running dog Republican pimps love Adam Smith’s way of looking at the picture. Unfortunately, it is pure unadulterated BS.
You hear it again and again, variation after variation on a core message: if you tax rich people it kills jobs. You hear about “job-killing tax hikes,” or that “taxing the rich hurts jobs,” “taxes kill jobs,” “taxes take money out of the economy, “if you tax the rich they won’t be able to provide jobs.” … on and on it goes. So do we really depend on “the rich” to “create” jobs? Or do jobs get created when they fill a need?
Here is a recent typical example, Obama Touts Job-Killing Tax Plan, written by a “senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth,”
Some people, in their pursuit of profit, benefit their fellow humans by creating new or better goods and services, and then by employing others. We call such people entrepreneurs and productive workers.
Others are parasites who suck the blood and energy away from the productive. Such people are most often found in government.
Perhaps the most vivid description of what happens to a society where the parasites become so numerous and powerful that they destroy their productive hosts is Ayn Rand’s classic novel “Atlas Shrugged.” …
Producers and Parasites
The idea that there are producers and parasites as expressed in the example above has become a core philosophy of conservatives. They claim that wealthy people “produce” and are rich because they “produce.” The rest of us are “parasites” who suck blood and energy from the productive rich, by taxing them. In this belief system, We, the People are basically just “the help” who are otherwise in the way, and taxing the producers to pay for our “entitlements.” We “take money” from the producers through taxes, which are “redistributed” to the parasites. They repeat the slogan, “Taxes are theft,” and take the “money we earned” by “force” (i.e. government.)
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner echoes this core philosophy of “producers” and “parasites,” saying yesterday,
I believe raising taxes on the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to hire people is the wrong idea,” he said. “For those people to give that money to the government…means it wont get reinvested in our economy at a time when we’re trying to create jobs.”
“The very people” who “hire people” shouldn’t have to pay taxes because that money is then taken out of the productive economy and just given to the parasites — “the help” — meaning you and me…
So is it true? Do “they” create jobs? Do we “depend on” the wealthy to “create jobs?”
Demand Creates Jobs
I used to own a business and have been in senior positions at other businesses, and I know many others who have started and operated businesses of all sizes. I can tell you from direct experience that I tried very hard to employ the right number of people. What I mean by this is that when there were lots of customers I would add people to meet the demand. And when demand slacked off I had to let people go.
If I had extra money I wouldn’t just hire people to sit around and read the paper. And if I had more customers than I could handle that — the revenue generated by meeting the additional demand from the extra customers — is what would pay for employing more people to meet the demand. It is a pretty simple equation:
you employ the right number of people to meet the demand your business has.
If you ask around you will find that every business tries to employ the right number of people to meet the demand. Any business owner or manager will tell you that they hire based on need, not on how much they have in the bank. (Read more here, in last year’s Businesses Do Not Create Jobs.)
Taxes make absolutely no difference in the hiring equation.
In fact, paying taxes means you are already making money, which means you have already hired the right number of people. Taxes are based on subtracting your costs from your revenue, and if you have profits after you cover your costs, then you might be taxed. You don’t even calculate your taxes until well after the hiring decision has been made. You don;t lay people off to “cover” your taxes. And even if you did lay people off to “cover’ taxes it would lower your costs and you would have more profit, which means you would have more taxes… except that laying someone off when you had demand would cause you to have less revenue, … and you see how ridiculous it is to associate taxes with hiring at all!
People coming in the door and buying things is what creates jobs.
The Rich Do Not Create Jobs
Lots of regular people having money to spend is what creates jobs and businesses. That is the basic idea of demand-side economics and it works. In a consumer-driven economy designed to serve people, regular people with money in their pockets is what keeps everything going. And the equal opportunity of democracy with its reinvestment in infrastructure and education and the other fruits of democracy is fundamental to keeping a demand-side economy functioning.
When all the money goes to a few at the top everything breaks down. Taxing the people at the top and reinvesting the money into the democratic society is fundamental to keeping things going.
Democracy Creates Jobs
This idea that a few wealthy people — the “producers” — hand everything down to the rest of us — “the parasites” — is fundamentally at odds with the concept of democracy. In a democracy we all have an equal voice and an equal stake in how our society and our economy does. We do not “depend” on the good graces of a favored few for our livelihoods. We all are supposed to have an equal opportunity, and equal rights. And there are things we are all entitled to — “entitlements” — that we get just because we were born here. But we all share in the responsibility to cover the costs of democracy —
with the rich having a greater responsibility than the rest of us because they receive the most benefit from it.
This is why we have “progressive taxes” where the rates are supposed to go up as the income does.
Taxes Are The Lifeblood Of Democracy And The Prosperity That Democracy Produces
In a democracy the rich are supposed to pay more to cover things like building and maintaining the roads and schools because these are the things that enable their wealth. They actually do use the roads and schools more because the roads enable their businesses to prosper and the schools provide educated employees. But it isn’t just that the rich use roads more, it is that everyone has a right to use roads and a right to transportation because we are a democracy and everyone has the same rights. And as a citizen in a democracy you have an obligation to pay your share for that.
A democracy is supposed have a progressive tax structure that is in proportion to the means to pay. We do this becausethose who get more from the system do so because the democratic system offers them that ability. Their wealth is because of our system and therefore they owe back to the system in proportion. (Plus, history has taught the lesson that great wealth opposes democracy, so democracy must oppose the accumulation of great, disproportional wealth. In other words, part of the contract of living in a democracy is your obligation to protect the democracy and high taxes at the top is one of those protections.)
The conservative “producer and parasite” anti-tax philosophy is fundamentally at odds with the concepts of democracy (which they proudly acknowledge – see more here, and here) and should be understood and criticized as such. Taxes do not “take money out of the economy” they enable the economy. The rich do not “create jobs, We, the People create jobs
How the McEconomy Bombed the American Worker May 9, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: andy kroll, Economic Crisis, economy, fast food workers, gas prices, housing market, jobs, labor, labor history, labour, mcdonalds, mceconomy, mcjobs, roger hollander, unemployment, unions, wages, workers, working class
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www.tomdispatch.com, May 8, 2011
While President Obama has seen a sizeable jump in his approval ratings in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, scratch beneath the surface of those polls and you’ll find another story entirely. Check out his figures when it comes to the economy, and there, Osama bin Laden and all those “USA! USA!” chanting crowds aside, his approval rating just hit a new low.
Killing bin Laden, Libya’s Gaddafi, and Iran’s Ahmedinejad, for that matter, isn’t likely to win an election for an American president these days. As in Bill Clinton’s famed 1992 election campaign against George H.W. Bush (who also garnered headlines for foreign policy “successes”), the mantra is still: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The job market (or lack of it), rising food and gas prices, a housing market that remains in a state of collapse — you know the story. Right now, it looks as if someone had flown a hijacked plane directly into the economy. For example, among young people, a key Obama demographic, more than four million Americans ages 16 to 24 are out of work.
And if you think that the usual numbers are dismal, just wait until you dig under them with TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll and consider the way the American economy and its workers are being Third-World-ized. This remains a wealthy country with significant resources, which makes it all the eerier that it’s beginning to feel as if the phrase “banana republic” might one of these days apply. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Kroll discusses what grim news lurks under the monthly unemployment figures, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
How the McEconomy Bombed the American Worker
The Hollowing Out of the Middle Class
By Andy Kroll
Think of it as a parable for these grim economic times. On April 19th, McDonald’s launched its first-ever national hiring day, signing up 62,000 new workers at stores throughout the country. For some context, that’s more jobs created by one company in a single day than the net job creation of the entire U.S. economy in 2009. And if that boggles the mind, consider how many workers applied to local McDonald’s franchises that day and left empty-handed: 938,000 of them. With a 6.2% acceptance rate in its spring hiring blitz, McDonald’s was more selective than the Princeton, Stanford, or Yale University admission offices.
It shouldn’t be surprising that a million souls flocked to McDonald’s hoping for a steady paycheck, when nearly 14 million Americans are out of work and nearly a million more are too discouraged even to look for a job. At this point, it apparently made no difference to them that the fast-food industry pays some of the lowest wages around: on average, $8.89 an hour, or barely half the $15.95 hourly average across all American industries.
On an annual basis, the average fast-food worker takes home $20,800, less than half the national average of $43,400. McDonald’s appears to pay even worse, at least with its newest hires. In the press release for its national hiring day, the multi-billion-dollar company said it would spend $518 million on the newest round of hires, or $8,354 a head. Hence the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “McJob” as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.”
Of course, if you read only the headlines, you might think that the jobs picture was improving. The economy added 1.3 million private-sector jobs between February 2010 and January 2011, and the headline unemployment rate edged downward, from 9.8% to 8.8%, between November of last year and March. It inched upward in April, to 9%, but tempering that increase was the news that the economy added 244,000 jobs last month (not including those 62,000 McJobs), beating economists’ expectations.
Under this somewhat sunnier news, however, runs a far darker undercurrent. Yes, jobs are being created, but what kinds of jobs paying what kinds of wages? Can those jobs sustain a modest lifestyle and pay the bills? Or are we living through a McJobs recovery?
The Rise of the McWorker
The evidence points to the latter. According to a recent analysis by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the biggest growth in private-sector job creation in the past year occurred in positions in the low-wage retail, administrative, and food service sectors of the economy. While 23% of the jobs lost in the Great Recession that followed the economic meltdown of 2008 were “low-wage” (those paying $9-$13 an hour), 49% of new jobs added in the sluggish “recovery” are in those same low-wage industries. On the other end of the spectrum, 40% of the jobs lost paid high wages ($19-$31 an hour), while a mere 14% of new jobs pay similarly high wages.
As a point of comparison, that’s much worse than in the recession of 2001 after the high-tech bubble burst. Then, higher wage jobs made up almost a third of all new jobs in the first year after the crisis.
The hardest hit industries in terms of employment now are finance, manufacturing, and especially construction, which was decimated when the housing bubble burst in 2007 and has yet to recover. Meanwhile, NELP found that hiring for temporary administrative and waste-management jobs, health-care jobs, and of course those fast-food restaurants has surged.
Indeed in 2010, one in four jobs added by private employers was a temporary job, which usually provides workers with few benefits and even less job security. It’s not surprising that employers would first rely on temporary hires as they regained their footing after a colossal financial crisis. But this time around, companies have taken on temp workers in far greater numbers than after previous downturns. Where 26% of hires in 2010 were temporary, the figure was 11% after the early-1990s recession and only 7% after the downturn of 2001.
As many labor economists have begun to point out, we’re witnessing an increasing polarization of the U.S. economy over the past three decades. More and more, we’re seeing labor growth largely at opposite ends of the skills-and-wages spectrum — among, that is, the best and the worst kinds of jobs.
At one end of job growth, you have increasing numbers of people flipping burgers, answering telephones, engaged in child care, mopping hallways, and in other low-wage lines of work. At the other end, you have increasing numbers of engineers, doctors, lawyers, and people in high-wage “creative” careers. What’s disappearing is the middle, the decent-paying jobs that helped expand the American middle class in the mid-twentieth century and that, if the present lopsided recovery is any indication, are now going the way of typewriters and landline telephones.
Because the shape of the workforce increasingly looks fat on both ends and thin in the middle, economists have begun to speak of “the barbell effect,” which for those clinging to a middle-class existence in bad times means a nightmare life. For one thing, the shape of the workforce now hinders America’s once vaunted upward mobility. It’s the downhill slope that’s largely available these days.
The barbell effect has also created staggering levels of income inequality of a sort not known since the decades before the Great Depression. From 1979 to 2007, for the middle class, average household income (after taxes) nudged upward from $44,100 to $55,300; by contrast, for the top 1%, average household income soared from $346,600 in 1979 to nearly $1.3 million in 2007. That is, super-rich families saw their earnings increase 11 times faster than middle-class families.
What’s causing this polarization? An obvious culprit is technology. As MIT economist David Autor notes, the tasks of “organizing, storing, retrieving, and manipulating information” that humans once performed are now computerized. And when computers can’t handle more basic clerical work, employers ship those jobs overseas where labor is cheaper and benefits nonexistent.
Another factor is education. In today’s barbell economy, degrees and diplomas have never mattered more, which means that those with just a high school education increasingly find themselves locked into the low-wage end of the labor market with little hope for better. Worse yet, the pay gap between the well-educated and not-so-educated continues to widen: in 1979, the hourly wage of a typical college graduate was 1.5 times higher than that of a typical high-school graduate; by 2009, it was almost two times higher.
Considering, then, that the percentage of men ages 25 to 34 who have gone to college is actually decreasing, it’s not surprising that wage inequality has gotten worse in the U.S. As Autor writes, advanced economies like ours “depend on their best-educated workers to develop and commercialize the innovative ideas that drive economic growth.”
The distorting effects of the barbell economy aren’t lost on ordinary Americans. In a recent Gallup poll, a majority of people agreed that the country was still in either a depression (29%) or a recession (26%). When sorted out by income, however, those making $75,000 or more a year are, not surprisingly, most likely to believe the economy is in neither a recession nor a depression, but growing. After all, they’re the ones most likely to have benefited from a soaring stock market and the return to profitability of both corporate America and Wall Street. In Gallup’s middle-income group, by contrast, 55% of respondents claim the economy is in trouble. They’re still waiting for their recovery to arrive.
The Slow Fade of Big Labor
The big-picture economic changes described by Autor and others, however, don’t tell the entire story. There’s a significant political component to the hollowing out of the American labor force and the impoverishment of the middle class: the slow fade of organized labor. Since the 1950s, the clout of unions in the public and private sectors has waned, their membership has dwindled, and their political influence has weakened considerably. Long gone are the days when powerful union bosses — the AFL-CIO’s George Meany or the UAW’s Walter Reuther — had the ear of just about any president.
As Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum has written, in the 1960s and 1970s a rift developed between big labor and the Democratic Party. Unions recoiled in disgust at what they perceived to be the “motley collection of shaggy kids, newly assertive women, and goo-goo academics” who had begun to supplant organized labor in the Party. In 1972, the influential AFL-CIO symbolically distanced itself from the Democrats by refusing to endorse their nominee for president, George McGovern.
All the while, big business was mobilizing, banding together to form massive advocacy groups such as the Business Roundtable and shaping the staid U.S. Chamber of Commerce into a ferocious lobbying machine. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Democratic Party drifted rightward and toward an increasingly powerful and financially focused business community, creating the Democratic Leadership Council, an olive branch of sorts to corporate America. “It’s not that the working class [had] abandoned Democrats,” Drum wrote. “It’s just the opposite: The Democratic Party [had] largely abandoned the working class.”
The GOP, of course, has a long history of battling organized labor, and nowhere has that been clearer than in the party’s recent assault on workers’ rights. Swept in by a tide of Republican support in 2010, new GOP majorities in state legislatures from Wisconsin to Tennessee to New Hampshire have introduced bills meant to roll back decades’ worth of collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions, the last bastion of organized labor still standing (somewhat) strong.
The political calculus behind the war on public-sector unions is obvious: kneecap them and you knock out a major pillar of support for the Democratic Party. In the 2010 midterm elections, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent nearly $90 million on TV ads, phone banking, mailings, and other support for Democratic candidates. The anti-union legislation being pushed by Republicans would inflict serious damage on AFSCME and other public-sector unions by making it harder for them to retain members and weakening their clout at the bargaining table.
And as shown by the latest state to join the anti-union fray, it’s not just Republicans chipping away at workers’ rights anymore. In Massachusetts, a staunchly liberal state, the Democratic-led State Assembly recently voted to curb collective bargaining rights on heath-care benefits for teachers, firefighters, and a host of other public-sector employees.
Bargaining-table clout is crucial for unions, since it directly affects the wages their members take home every month. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers pocket on average $200 more per week than their non-union counterparts, a 28% percent difference. The benefits of union representation are even greater for women and people of color: women in unions make 34% more than their non-unionized counterparts, and Latino workers nearly 51% more.
In other words, at precisely the moment when middle-class workers need strong bargaining rights so they can fight to preserve a living wage in a barbell economy, unions around the country face the grim prospect of losing those rights.
All of which raises the questions: Is there any way to revive the American middle class and reshape income distribution in our barbell nation? Or will this warped recovery of ours pave the way for an even more warped McEconomy, with the have-nots at one end, the have-it-alls at the other end, and increasingly less of us in between?
Andy Kroll is a reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine and an associate editor at TomDispatch. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a firmly — and happily — middle-class household. His email is andykroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Kroll discusses what grim news lurks under the monthly unemployment figures, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Andy Kroll
Where’s the Outrage Over Workers Getting the Shaft? March 31, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
Tags: afl-cio, anti-union, arlen specter, Bush, club for growth, congress, conservatives, deomcrats, economy, elections, employee free choice, financial crisis, free choice act, house, jobs, labor, labour, law, marie cocco, Media, pat toomey, politics, president obama, republicans, roger hollander, senate, unions, workers rights
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By Marie Cocco
www.truthdig.com, Posted on Mar 30, 2009
No cable television rants. No congressional hearing staged to publicly whip those responsible for so transparent a betrayal. Not a pitchfork in sight.
You would be hard-pressed to know that American workers suffered a cruel defeat last week when Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter—the lone Republican to have once supported a measure that would make it easier for workers to form unions and more likely that employers would negotiate in good faith—effectively killed the effort for this year.
A Specter vote for the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor’s top legislative goal, was needed to break the expected filibuster by his fellow Republicans.
The immediate cause of his flip-flop was a primary challenge that Specter is expected to face from former Rep. Pat Toomey, a card-carrying member of the vast right-wing conglomerate. Toomey, who came within a breath of toppling Specter in the 2004 primary, is president of the Club for Growth, an organization of conservatives that has as its guiding principle a fealty to pretty much every economic precept that has gotten us where we are today.
The club’s view of sound economics is to make permanent the Bush tax cuts, which drain $2.2 trillion from the treasury over a decade and which, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, bestow the largest benefits on the top one-tenth of 1 percent of households—those with incomes of $3 million or more. The club also wants to permanently repeal the estate tax. This year, the Tax Policy Center found, about two-thirds of this tax will be paid by about 700 estates. The inheritors of these estates represent 0.03 percent of all anticipated heirs in 2009.
Indirectly but indisputably, Toomey and the ideological brain trust that has given us such skewed policies have also managed to kill the most significant chance American workers had to push back against decades of job losses, benefit cuts and stagnant wages.
But neither Toomey nor Specter did this alone. Business made defeat of the pro-union measure its top priority. It argued, deceptively, that it was ardently in favor of workers maintaining the right to vote for or against unions in secret-ballot elections when, in truth, such elections under current law are called not by workers but by employers who refuse to accept initial results of card check-offs that favor unionization.
Nonetheless, the economic downturn swiftly shredded the cloak of rhetoric about democracy. Business reverted to arguing that allowing workers to bargain for decent wages and benefits is a cost they should not bear. Even Specter took up this cant, arguing against “adding a burden” to business at the wrong time.
So here is the essence of it: Largely unencumbered by unions, which now represent only about 7 percent of private-sector workers, American businesses have shipped jobs overseas, unilaterally cut benefits, kept wages stagnant or falling for most of the decade and laid off millions. The doctrine of nonintervention in the marketplace that is now the central argument against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act is the very same dogma that led us into the current financial crisis and the worst recession in at least three decades.
Workers who did nothing to create the current economic crisis must now be kept powerless lest they create some future economic crisis we cannot yet imagine.
The public—Pennsylvanians among them—voted against this sort of illogic just four short months ago. The AFL-CIO spent $250 million in last year’s elections on behalf of Barack Obama and many other Democrats it believed would be sympathetic to labor. But Obama, who endorsed the free choice act as a candidate, began obscuring his position almost as soon as he took office. And though Specter’s about-face is the most visible backstabbing, a handful of Senate Democrats worried about their own re-elections also were uncertain in their support and almost hostile in their public statements. It is unclear whether the measure would have passed the Senate even if Specter had voted to break his party’s filibuster and allowed a vote.
American workers do not need friends whose subservience to the politics of self-preservation makes them indistinguishable from enemies. Remember this the next time these same so-called leaders join the frenzy over an irresponsibly greedy corporate culture—and then act decisively to keep it in place.
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group
Yes, we can’t February 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
Tags: Afghanistan War, alternate energy, bailout, banks, change, climate change, education, gaza, gaza genocide, geithner, healthcare, hillary clinton, israel, israel nuclear proliferation, jerry mazza, jobs, middle classes, pakistan, poverty, racism, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, sec, Stimulus, working classes
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Online Journal Associate Editor
February 13, 2009
When I say we can’t, I mean the big WE, the US government, the president, his fellow would-be change-makers and the forces of reaction and retribution that just can’t seem to get their fear, stinginess and partisanship under control or pandering to the worst in the people of the US.
For instance, this latest stimulus plan has proved to b far less than stimulating than it should have been for education, health care, climate change, pursuit of alternate energy and reforming the balance of wealth towards working and middle classes.
Once again, its stimulation buzzes towards tax cuts, keeping in $70 billion on the Alternative Minimum Tax, which cuts would have been forthcoming later in the year anyway. But the right just couldn’t help sink their teeth in now, right now, and into $35 billion for the state fiscal fund. So, yes we can’t do the right thing; can’t do what we have to do, not now. So when?
Moreover, the would-be followers in the footsteps of FDR, today’s “yes we can” folks, from the top down, did not display the fire, sense of empowerment or will to win for the common good. Instead, they caved too quickly, too willingly to make nice with the savages on the right. Yes we can’t, it seemed they were saying, fight you tooth and nail to the ground. We’re here to build bridges, not to tear them down, which was what is about to happen with or without them.
And, when it came to the next day, the Obama-touted Geithner-designed, new bank bailout, it was another case of yes we can’t. Yes, we can’t tell you exactly how we are going to punish the pampered bankers. Yes, we can’t tell you what new laws we can create to regulate the financial excesses that brought us here. Yes, we can’t even tell you how much this is going to end up costing.
Yes we can’t even tell you what old banking laws should be should either rescinded (like the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, CFMA, which included “The Enron Loophole,” signed by Bill Clinton in 2000), or reinstated (like the Glass Steagall Act repealed in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) to create the kinds of protections we had even before Clinton, both signed around Christmas when Congress was dipping in the grog and a gift from Santa came down the chimney for the bank and securities industries. And on and one we go . . .
Yes we can’t tell you who will clean out the Sleepy Hollow of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to get the folks awake, up and running to can the next bad guy, like Bernard Madoff (now under penthouse arrest), or how to put the fear of god into the banking and investment industries for even the hint of future scams.
Once again, corporate protectionism, lack of transparency, specific regulation of specific financial WMD, like subprime lending, derivatives, credit swaps, hedge funds, and CDOs quietly ruled the day. Yes, we can’t echoed through the walls of Congress, the press and living rooms of America, the once bountiful and beautiful. Yes, yes, we can’t has been a couple of truly downer days. And for all those who take pleasure in that, may you burn in hell. In fact, you’re already there.
On the other hand, the president couldn’t seem to say yes we can’t to a barbarous war in Afghanistan and their Pakistani neighbors. Or yes, we can’t to threatening Iran with nuclear warfare. Or saying yes, we can’t to continuing the annual multi-billion dollar support for Israel’s nuclear proliferation or to supporting its Gaza genocide.
President Obama couldn’t even seem to say yes, we can’t to Rahm Emmanuel for yanking the job of U.S. ambassador to Iraq from Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, as Wayne Madsen reported, along with Emmanuel sidelining the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. So, it’s been a yes, we can’t holiday so far, which I’m waiting for someone in the White House to dispel like a bad headache.
What else is new? Well, yes, we can’t stop loving you, America that is, and all that you need, industry built, rebuilt to supply jobs; elites run out on poles; corruption eliminated; losing the still lingering stink of racism and creation of poverty. Until we can lose all the yes, we can’ts, yes, we can won’t be anything but a bumper-sticker. And one party will continue to look and sound just like the other after the illusion of an election. And the orthodoxy of both will rule our lives singularly like a political religion, with little room for question or change. So it goes. Or maybe not.
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What I Want to Be When I Grow Up December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.
Tags: 519 church, atomics international, autobiography, bus boy, careers, Ecuador, golden bull, grocery store, irvington, jobs, la free clinic, metro council, montreal, NDP, new jersey, newark star ledger, newspaper delivery, pancakes, plastic arts, princeton, rocketdyne, roger hollander, toronto, tv ontario, usphs, wedgwood, wycliffe
(My father wanted to be a lawyer and so did I. After graduating from Mercer Beasley School of Law in Newark, my father failed in his first attempt to pass the New Jersey Bar; and he never again pursued law as a career. I, too, thought that law would be a good profession for me, and I seriously considered enrolling in law school upon graduation from U.C. Berkeley with a B.A. in Political Science. But my “big brother” at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, Garold Raff, urged me to spend ten years out in the real world before consider going back to school. I took his advice, and, apart from doing one graduate year at Princeton Theology Seminary when I was wrapped up in Christianity, I never pursued further studies towards a profession or career. I am 67 years old as I write this, and it may be too late for me to enter law school. Of course, you can never be sure.)
What I want to be when I grow up.
I wish I knew.
There were two small grocery stores in the neighborhood where I grew up. In between Saturday family forays into the supermarket, we picked up odds and ends at Babbitt’s, which was on the corner of Lyons Avenue and Ball Street. The other grocery, Benny’s, was just two or three doors further down, but to my memory, it wasn’t “location, location, location” that motivated us to patronize Mr. Babbitt (and his sidekick, Karl) exclusively. Not only was Mr. Babbitt friendlier, but he didn’t have the detested habit that characterized Benny’s marketing approach. When you finished telling Benny what you wanted and he pulled it down off the shelf or from a display case, he would proceed to ask if you needed any cigarettes, bread, milk, butter, etcetera, ad nauseum. This drove our family crazy and into the less aggressive arms of Mr. Babbitt (and his sidekick Karl).
(To this day I cannot abide pushy salespeople. This is an occupational [habitational?] hazard of living in a third world country. People are desperate, really desperate for a sale. If you show any interest in a particular item at all, perhaps only a mild curiosity about the price, in the mind of the sales person you have made a commitment to purchase; and getting away hands free often can be most unpleasant. Ten years ago, and I am not exaggerating, I bought some chunks of giant squid from a man in the Playas mercado. Once. We did not really like it and have had no desire to try it again. Nevertheless, every time I run into him he comes up to me expecting to make a sale and goes away angry when I decline.
(I rush to add that I sympathize with such people, who live on the economic edge and for whom each and every sale can make a big difference in their daily lives; and I confess that occasionally the strategy works on me. Either to get someone off my back – the lottery people are the worst – I might break down and make a purchase, or I often do so out of pity for a young child or an elderly person who appears particularly desperate.)
Back to Babbitt’s. Or rather, back to Benny’s. I believe it was a neighbor who was a regular patron of pushy Benny who told my family that he was looking for a delivery boy and recommended me for the job. It was at this time that my father told me the “parable” of the Devil and the Angel. On one of my shoulders was a Devil telling me to steal when no one is looking. On the other shoulder was an Angel telling me – you guessed it – to be a good boy and not yield to temptation. I was urged, to say the least, to give favorable consideration to the counsel of the latter.
Which I did. I would have been about ten years old at the time, and my sense of moral values was in the embryonic stage. I will not deny that the fear of being caught wasn’t the chief, if not the determining factor, in my decision to do the right thing. But the job was a total bore. Delivering groceries turned out to be only an occasional (if lucrative, tip-wise) oasis in a desert that consisted of sweeping floors and dusting shelves. And listening to Benny’s annoying attempts to try to sell that extra pack of cigarettes. I don’t remember how long I lasted – weeks or months at most – and if I had been fired I surely would have remembered that, so I conclude that I must have just up and quit at some point.
On to bigger and better things. Somehow I got word that good dough could be made delivering the Newark Star Ledger and that our neighborhood route was up for grabs. It was a small and dark office in downtown Irvington where the old and decrepit male human being who coordinated distribution held court. He was overjoyed to see me, but he gave me the chills, calling to mind Hansel’s relationship with the old witch. He spoke too fast for me to understand everything, but I left with a pretty accurate idea of what was going to happen: to wit, a bundle of papers was to be dropped off in front of our apartment building every morning, and I had a list of addresses to which they needed to be delivered, once I had folded them and packed them into the bag which I would attach to the handle bar of my bicycle. Then, once a week I was to make the round of my customers and collect for the delivery.
The delivering of the papers, despite the requirement for very early morning rising, turned out to be by far the easiest part of the deal. Collection was another matter. People either were not home, and you had to keep going back, or when you caught them they didn’t have what they owed and promised to pay double the following week.
At the end of the first week I made my pilgrimage to the old warlock’s office, handed the meager proceeds from my collection to same, and asked for my salary. No, no, no, I was told. That is not how it works. Again, I didn’t understand and had to go home and get my father to accompany me to find out why I had worked my butt off for an entire week, and the old man told me that I owed him some money!
Well, it turns out that unbeknownst to me, and the term was never used, but it turns out that I was an “independent contractor.” I purchased the newspapers from the Newark Star Ledger at forty cents for a week’s supply and “sold” them to my customers for forty five cents. That meant a nickel “profit” per week per customer, which amounted to about $2.50 since I had about fifty customers. Not bad money actually for a kid my age. But the Newark Star Ledger took no responsibility whatsoever for the honesty or the capacity of my customers to pay up. But what had happened in my first week of work was that I had collected from my clients less that what I owed the newspaper for the purchase of the papers.
I was thoroughly disillusioned when my father explained all this to me, and was ready right then and there to throw in the towel. But my father urged me not to quit, and so reluctantly I continued to wake in the wee hours of the morning to make my deliveries before going to school, then spent a good part of my Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings doing my best to leverage that precious forty five cents out of each of my customers.
It turned out to be a wise decision. In time I got to know when to catch people at home and eventually became the beneficiary of my persistence and reliability. My customers had become tired of inconsistent delivery service and constant paper boy turnover; and they gradually came to appreciate my diligence. This began to translate itself into tips and an average total weekly take of about $3.50 (plus a sizable bonus at Christmastime!). To put this in perspective and give you an idea of what this meant to a ten or eleven year old, my father at the time was earning fifty dollars a month selling commercial real estate.
If I recall correctly, I continued the paper route pretty much until our family moved out to California. As the route expanded due to my diligent efforts at recruiting new customers (for which there was a bonus), I brought my older brother Neil into the business, and we shared the route. The winter was the hardest. When it snowed there were days when we had to make the rounds on foot as bicycling was out of the question. When the weather was really bad, we woke up good old Charlie (my father), and he drove us around. He later claimed that we made him climb the stairs of apartment buildings to deliver papers for us. This story, I believe, was Apocryphal.
Our move to California interrupted my career in daily newspaper distribution and left the Newark Star Ledger bereft of its star paper boy. Somehow, although it is beyond my ken to understand, the enterprise did not go belly up.
Other minor entrepreneurial activities before leaving New Jersey including selling candy bars to raise money for baseball uniforms (Teddy Goldberg’s father who was in the wholesale candy business, provided the merchandise), which turnout to be a disaster when most of the money “disappeared,” something I never understood. There was also a stint selling jams, jellies and peanut butter to raise money for the PTA.
In California I was too lonely and depressed at first to think of remunerable occupation. Not that I couldn’t have used the money. But my father had a good job, and I could walk to Northridge Junior High School with adequate lunch money in my pocket.
Neil’s high school friend, Chuck Henriksen, somehow had a connection with an egg rancher in Simi Valley. Chuck, a CPA who lives in Bakersfield and does our taxes for us, recently told me that he met his wife, Sue, selling eggs door to door. I had no such luck when I tried my hand at it. Ironically, although my father had spent much of his adult life as a salesman, hawking everything from cookies to Mack trucks to commercial real estate, I never had the gift. Even when I believed in the product. They were really good and fresh ranch eggs.
My first big economic break came via “Aunt Sally,” who was not my aunt at all, but my father’s cousin. She and her daughter, Kathy, a year younger than me, had lived in the same apartment building as we did in Irvington, and then they moved out to California and settled a couple of blocks from where we lived in Reseda. Sally was the kind of person who did wild and daring things, like “going out for dinner.” One evening we accompanied her to the Golden Bull Steak House in Chatsworth. Sally brazenly asked the owner/manager, Mr. Nesbitt, if he could use some good help: me. To my surprise I was offered the job of bus boy on the spot.
Old man Nesbitt was a skin flint and a womanizer, but he treated me more or less like a son; especially when he realized that in hiring me he had solved the bus boy turnover problem. The Golden Bull was a whole new world for me. Example: the only salad dressing I have ever tasted in my life was vinegar (not oil and vinegar, just plain vinegar, which was what my mother habitually served with ice berg lettuce). At the Golden Bull there was Blue Cheese, Thousand Island, and French dressing to go on mixed green salads. Although my title was bus boy, I did the dual function of bussing tables and kitchen pantry work. I made salads, sundaes, and strawberry shortcakes; and when Nesbitt wasn’t looking, I actually got to sample them. Baked potatoes were served either with melted cheese or sour cream and chives. I had never realized how deprived I had been, at least from a culinary perspective when it came to American style food (I am not complaining, my mother was a good cook, in spite of the vinegary salads and dry roast beef; and she more than made up for any deficiencies with her ethnic dishes – pierogies and stuffed cabbage, to mention only a few – and her delicious pies and other baked goods).
Then there were the shrimp cocktails. I got hooked on them at the Golden Bull and remain a hopeless addict to this day. And I learned that as delicious as cold cooked shrimp can be when served with the traditional cocktail sauce of ketchup and horse radish, there is nothing like those indescribably scrumptious shrimp cocktail bathed in Thousand Island dressing. Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings all through my last two years of high school. I earned something like a dollar and a bit per hour, but with the tips my earnings were well above the minimum wage. On a good weekend I might pull in as much as fifteen or twenty dollars; and holidays were a gold mine. There was nothing to compare with Mother’s Day. We served both lunch and dinner (normally it was only a dinner restaurant, serving from about six to eleven); there were huge line ups of families waiting to treat Mom to her favorite steak or pork chop. I would arrive before noon, have a bite to eat (we were only allowed hamburger or the cheapest steak, the Delmonico, but that wasn’t so bad), and then start to prepare by setting tables and chopping lettuce. From noon to maybe twelve or one in the morning, I would literally be running non-stop. It was exhausting but rewarding work. And it was topped off in the wee hours of the morning with a meal prepared by our Philippine cooks which consisted of hamburger, green pepper, and a seasoning I would kill for today.
When I got to Berkeley for my freshman year, thanks to savings and a small scholarship, I had barely enough to get by. But joining a fraternity upped my housing cost, so that I had to work to make ends meet. I did that by working in the kitchen of the fraternity; official title: hasher. My responsibilities included setting the table, serving, clearing the table and other sundry kitchen duties. I did this for three of the four years of my undergraduate tenure; and, as with my stint at the Golden Bull, my real life education in the “real world” of the kitchen was in many ways superior to that of the class room.
Summer jobs. After my freshman year at Cal, thanks to his buddy in “human resources,” Norm White, my father was able to get me a job working on the “Hill” for Rocketdyne. The “Hill” was a site tucked into the Santa Susana Mountains that border the San Fernando Valley. It was where they tested rocket engines. I worked on the Mercury project and the F-1 rocket that sent the first men to the moon. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have got there without me. I had the all important job of working in the mail room helping to sort and deliver inter-office communications. This job did not require security clearance so I could only handle documents up to the “confidential” level of security classification. Those marked “secret” or “top secret” would start screaming if I even looked at them. When no one was looking, my co-worker and I had a good laugh about what we considered the absurdity of the security system.
Every once in a while I got to watch a test firing. This was an amazing experience. The engines were attached to structures embedded in god knows how may thousands of tons of concrete at the bottom of various canyons. You stood in a glass enclosed observation room to view the firing. Think of enough thrust to get a rocket into outer space and on its way to the moon. The sound it made was ear-splitting. One had the sense that the entire mountain was about to come apart and fly off into outer space. The test firings would last for about a minute, and then tons of water came gushing down the mountain side to cool everything off.
My memories of that summer include getting up at an ungodly (or unathiestically, if you will) hour of the morning to be picked up by a car pool and having to fight all the way during the half hour drive to work to avoid throwing up as a result of the most sickening perfume that was worn by one of my fellow car poolers. It smelled like the cross between a fart and the odor of a skunk. I believe it may have been called Polecat Flatulence. The other memory was lunchtime outside of the building I worked in overlooking a scenic valley. What I will never forget is the size of the squirrels, who were the beneficiaries of our largesse. They were the size of overfed raccoons.
Just recently while spending time in Los Angeles, I read in the newspaper about residents of the area suing Rocketdyne for contaminating the area with radioactive waste. Apparently there was a spill the very summer I worked there. Rocketdyne was at the time a division of North American Aviation, and its partner division was called “Atomics International (AI).” Despite that name, it had never occurred to me that anything related to radioactivity was going on. I cannot be sure, but this may explain why my ears seem to glow at night.
The summer following my sophomore year proved to be interesting, to say the least, but not remunerative. During the school year I had fallen in love with our fraternity’s “Queen,” Colleen Young, and we were actually “pinned,” a sort of engagement (involving a ceremony in which both my fraternity and her sorority are involved and whereby she receives and wears my fraternity pin). In any case, toward the end of the school year I had begun applying for jobs and received an offer to work in a hotel at Big Sur. What an experience that would have been if I hadn’t been too stupid and love struck. For Colleen had invited me to spend the first weeks of the summer with her family at their cottage on Lake Tahoe; and like a dope I accepted. This necessitated my turning down the Big Sur job.
The weeks at Lake Tahoe were divine, but they turned out to be my last hurrah, Colleen-wise. Somewhere toward the middle of the summer I received my Dear John letter. Following an unsuccessful trip to the northern border of the State of California where Colleen lived, in an unsuccessful attempt to win her back, I had the great fortune to be able to attend the Democratic Party National Convention at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and see John Kennedy nominated to run for the presidency. I followed that with a two week stint at the Campus Crusade for Christ camp somewhere on a lake near Minneapolis, where I learned how to reap souls for Jesus and to hate Communism. As I say, it was an interesting summer.
There was no summer job either after my junior year for that was the summer of my “deputation” in Ecuador with the Wycliffe Bible Translator missionaries. I came home that summer with a nice case of malaria, of which I experienced four “attacks” over a one year period. When I graduated from Cal in June of 1962, I was engaged to Linda, who had one year left before graduating from Mills College. So I had a year to “kill” before the two of us got hitched and headed off to Princeton.
Linda did a year of graduate study at Princeton University and was then able to finish her Ph.D. from a distance. I did a year at Princeton Theological Seminary and then became a seminary drop-out. The year in Princeton was sandwiched between two years teaching at the First Lutheran School in Northridge, where I taught math, history and social science to grades 7-9 and Spanish to sixth graders. I left First Lutheran in the Spring of 1965, and exactly 40 years later, I returned to teaching (in the conventional sense) in Ecuador for the Catholic University of Guayaquil, which sponsors a high school in Playas (for you science buffs in the audience, I can report the two major technological advances I noticed over that 40 year period: to wit, the use of non-indelible markers on white “blackboards” – but with the same old felt erasers; and liquid paper – pronounced “lickypaper” in Spanish – or what I used to know as “white-out,” instead of ink erasers. The latter coming in the shape of pens that you squeeze as you “write” with the liquid paper over what you wish to erase).
My next job was integrated with my need to do civilian service in lieu of military service as a result of my conscientious objector draft status. I was taking an adult ed. course at U.C.L.A. in writing and came across an ad in the student newspaper, which I answered. It was to do Syphilis epidemiology for the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) division of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), assigned to the Los Angeles County Health Department. I did this for a year before I go myself fired for insubordination, during which time I worked in the communities of Watts (in the year following the 1965 Watts Rebellion), West Hollywood (a gay Mecca), and the San Fernando Valley (my home town).
Out of a job and living the life of a Hippie, while at the same time participating with a passion in the political movements of the 1960s, for a short while I teamed up with Pete Flint in establishing and running the “I-Thou University of Young People” (which gets my vote for “most pretentious name for a do-it-yourself project”). We modeled ourselves after A.S. Neill’s “free school,” Summerhill (Pete’s kids had been involved with a Summerhill knock-off somewhere in the Valley), and I believe we had all of five or six students, two of whom were Pete’s children. We did a lot of political stuff, we had a kiln and did pottery; and I still have somewhere a vase that I made at that time.
My stint as a non-traditional teacher/administrator ended abruptly when I was arrested by the F.B.I. for violation of the Selective Service Act (failure to perform civilian service in lieu of military service) and flew the coop for Canada.
I had the best of luck in landing a job almost immediately upon arriving in Montreal. I was hired by Julian Wedgwood, of the Wedgwood China family, to assist him in running the Montreal Paperback Book Store, which was located in Notre Dame de Grace (NDG), a largely English speaking western suburb of Montreal. Working in a book store is a common fantasy amongst writers and intellectuals, and I would say that for the most part the experience lived up to its promise. I got to read a lot and meet and shoot the shit with a lot of interesting people, including “regulars” who would come by periodically to chat about politics or literature. Of course there was both the business side and periods of boredom which were much less romantic than the fantasy.
In spite of the fact that Julian Wedgwood came from enormous wealth, he had gone off to the colonies to seek his fortune based upon his wits rather than the lucre; and he was no great businessman. The biggest problem was that the business was undercapitalized. We never had enough stock and were always in debt to publishers, who would sometimes cut us off. To make up for the inadequate retail sales, Julian got us into wholesaling paperbacks to local high schools. The problem with this is that we gave up a full half of the 40% discount we got from the publishers, and there wasn’t enough volume to make it worthwhile.
After about a year Wedgwood decided to go back to England, from whence he shipped us huge supplies of certain cheaper paperbacks published by Penguin, which had no publishing rights in Canada. We were selling contraband to the schools! This helped a bit, but it was our used book business that kept our heads above water. On the sidewalk in front of the store we had a huge paper mache bear and portable book cases that contained used paperbacks that we sold for either ten cents or a quarter (mostly the former). We would buy any paperback in reasonable condition for a nickel and sell most of them for a dime. Mysteries, Harlequin romances, science fiction and popular novels were the mainstay of this trade; the volume was enormous, and we invariable had higher sales in this “sideline” than we did with our retail paperbacks. The fact that we often sold paperbacks at a quarter that were worth many times that amount was counterbalanced by our purchasing for a nickel books that too were worth a lot more. It was a formula that worked for us, and I am convinced that in the right neighborhood it has the potential of a gold mine.
When Julian went back to England, our old friend, Linda’s former student and my former draft counselee, Jim Falconi, aka Giacomo Falconi, joined with me to co-manage the store (he had moved to Montreal from Vancouver and was working in Classics Book Store, one of Canada’s major chains). For some reason, Julian wanted us to move downtown, so we abandoned our NDG cubbyhole of a store and rented a much larger step-down on the same street as Sir George Williams University (which today is known as Concordia). Julian, who eccentricities knew no limits, had found an old barn, had it torn down, and use the old weathered wood to line the walls of the store. As for sales, it was déjà vu all over again. We did a landfall business the first week of school selling required reading to the Sir George students. After that, our non-academic stock in its usual state of depletion, sales slowed to a trickle. Given that we were paying triple the rent downtown that we had paid in NDG, it wasn’t long before the business went kaputsky.
Another one of Wedgwood’s eccentricities was his ability to make the strangest contacts. There was a massive dam project in Churchill Falls, Labrador, and the catering company that provided meals and sundries to the workers contracted with us to send them paperback books for their company store. What they really wanted was soft core porno, which we were able to supply for a while, until those publishers cut us off when our accounts went unpaid for months. Then we had to look for books from our regular stock that had “suggestive” covers, including classics by such authors as Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austin and George Eliot. What a worker thought or did when he opened his copy of “Wuthering Heights” only to be disappointed for its failure to deliver more than its cover of bulging 19th century bodices, I’ll never know. There is always the hope that we contributed to the cultural refinement of macho working class mercenaries. In the end, though, the caterers wanted the real thing, which we couldn’t deliver, and we lost that contract too.
At one point, however, I had been sent flying up to Churchill Falls to get a first hand look at our “market.” It is a trip I’ll never forget. That part of Labrador is almost literally at the end of the world. For hours we flew over the most god-forsaken dreary tundra before reaching the dam (damn?) site. It gave me a whole new perspective on the notion of “barren.” It was April, and spring had just begun to show signs of arrival in Montreal. At Churchill Falls I encountered the most wicked weather imaginable. The wind-chill factor must have been a hundred degrees below zero. I remember that crossing the fifty or so meters that separated the barracks where I slept from the dining and commissary area was so treacherous that I did it only when absolutely necessary. I don’t know how the workers were able to survive there, and I had a new appreciation of their desire for pornography.
After the demise of the Montreal Paperback, a year or more of unemployment followed. We were living in our commune at the time, and I spent most of my time at our “vacation” chalet in the Laurentians until we up and moved to Knowlton, which is located in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, about 50 miles southeast of Montreal.
From there I made the decision to return to the United States, and this involved negotiations with the government since this was about a year before amnesty was granted to Vietnam War resisters. Ken Cloke, my Reseda High School and Berkeley comrade, is a lawyer and former president of the lefty National Lawyers Guild. He negotiated a deal with the U.S. Attorney that included my obligation to complete the civilian service in lieu of military service, which I had abandoned. There was no question of my getting my old job back with the U.S. Public Health Service, so I had to look for something else.
I ended up spending the next three years at the Los Angeles Free Clinic as the Administrator of the Medical Department (which was the core of the Clinic’s services, which also included dental care and psychological and job search counseling). When the clinic received additional federal funding, I also served as Family Planning Coordinator. I took over those responsibilities just as the clinic was getting well established and expanding its services. In addition to managing the Medical Department’s core primary care services (one third each, venereal disease, women’s health care, general family medicine), I tried to concentrate on prevention and health education (including family planning and pregnancy counseling); and, although I faced considerable resistance, I was able to slowly introduce continuity of care to supplement the clinic’s emergency orientation.
After three years at the LAFC, I headed back to Canada (Green River, just outside of Toronto), where there was a year of house husbanding, where I tried unsuccessfully to establish myself as a free lance writer. When Barbara and I separated and she returned to California, I moved into bachelor quarters in Toronto (with space, of course for Malika and Chantal) and did a series of patch work jobs before landing my position at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. These included selling advertising for theatre programs, working the box office at the Music Hall Theatre on the Danforth, and working in the kitchen that catered film companies (the one movie I remember working on was “Circle of Two.” which starred Richard Burton and Tatum O’Neal). The cook for this catering operation was German, and he had a recipe for beef in a creamy horse radish sauce that I would give anything to be able to reproduce.
The most interesting and long lasting of these short-term employments was the work I did as the field representative for the Province of Ontario’s (Ontario Educational Communications Authority – OECA) Educational television station, T.V. Ontario. I visited four remote northern communities (Owen Sound, Geraldton, Marathon, and Manitouwadge) to promote participation in experimental satellite educational programming. I also wrote a successful grant application for T.V. Ontario, a project called “Art is Real,” which was implemented in Thunder Bay (one community organization refused to participate because they wanted nothing to do with Jewish art; they had misinterpreted the name of the project to be “Art Israel.!”).
When my application for permanent employment with OECA was rejected, I began a serious search for stable work in Toronto and was short listed for two community organizations. I had two interviews with the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, but the job went to Liz Feltes (who retired from it a couple of years ago). My future wife, Cathy Crowe, was working there at the time, and who knows what would have happened if I had landed that position.
At the 519 Church Street Community Centre, I was one of 200 applicants for the position of Executive Director. In the covering letter to my application I had used the phrase, “method to my madness.” Two of the five hiring committee members, both of an extraordinary literary bent (writer, editor, Rick Archbold, and Judy Salamon, with her PhD in Literature) thought they had a Shakespeare scholar as well as an administrator within their grasp; and I was offered the job.
I spent seven supremely happy and fulfilling years at the 519. If there was any problem it was that once I had mastered the basics of the centre’s operation and had competent staff in place, it became clear to me that there simply wasn’t enough to do to keep a full-time Executive Director busy. Involvement in the broader community centre movement and fighting to stem cutbacks in funding did fill much of this gap. But I admit that toward the end I was beginning to feel bored and unchallenged. It doesn’t follow that I therefore jumped at the opportunity to run for political office. To the contrary I resisted it strongly at first, and then gave in reluctantly. Yet I cannot deny that, to some extent I felt that it might be time to move on. My immediate successor as Executive Director, Kyle Rae, soon followed in my footsteps and became the City of Toronto’s first openly gay City Councillor (the political footsteps, not gay ones). His successor, Allison Kemper, has kept on for years, and, as far as I know, she is still steering the ship. The last time I visited the centre (summer 2005) they were in the midst of a major building expansion project.
(Well, I was almost an openly gay City Councillor. I explain. At Metro Council we were debating a measure, one that we actually passed, to give full spousal benefits to same sex partners of our employees. During the course of the debate I got carried away with my human rights zeal and compared myself with John Kennedy, when he made the famous speech in Berlin when it was under siege, including the unforgettable words: “Ich bein ein Berliner.” At my quoting myself saying “Ich bein gay” [I am gay], the press corps, which was in its usual state of bored semi stupor up in the press gallery, came to life and descended on me en masse. “Councillor Hollander, did we just hear you coming out of the closet?” I quickly put things in context for them)
My seven years on Toronto Metro Council were not the happiest years of my life. Like a salmon on its way to spawn, I was all swimming against the current all the way. I refused to play the old boys’ game, refused to trade votes or compromise basic principles. Perhaps one can go that route and be effective, but it didn’t work that well for me. I was pretty much marginalized by my peers and the media. Many considered me to be “the conscience of Council.” Whoopee.
I concentrated on supporting community activity with whatever resources my office could provide. I won enough small battles but lost too many big ones. Our office was able to help hundreds if not thousands over a seven year period with problems of welfare eligibility, housing, racial discrimination, etc. Community services (hostels for the homeless, child care, homes for the aged, social housing, etc.) and police watch dogging were my bailiwick. It is hard for me to know if I was effective, and, if so, to what degree. There was enough positive feedback to make it feel worthwhile, but I did not have the impact on the overall running of the municipality that I would have liked to have.
When I was originally drafted by the New Democratic Party (NDP) to run in the by-election, I committed myself to one additional term if elected. I ended up being re-elected a second time; and by the end of that three year term there was not question in my mind that I wanted out. I simply chose not to run for re-election
During the course of my seven year stint on Metro Council I availed myself only twice of the oft abused privilege of traveling at the City’s expense. In both instances, they were serious and legitimate endeavors (unlike many “junkets” taken by my colleagues, such as the flower show in Amsterdam attended by a member of our Parks Committee or the Taxi conference in Las Vegas attended by that same member, who was also on the Licensing Committee).
In 1989 I attended a National Aids Conference in San Francisco, and upon return wrote an extensive report, which was well received. Not that I didn’t take advantage of the trip for considerable personal enjoyment. Cathy traveled with me, at her own expense. San Francisco is one of my all-time favorite cities, and while there we enjoyed such delights as North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, and the Castro District (the Gay Ghetto). We also took in a Cal football game at Berkeley, the Bears beat San Jose State, and that was certainly a trip down memory lane for me. We sat in the stands after the sweet victory and listened to the celebrated Cal Marching Band play all those nostalgic school tunes.
In 1994, my last year on Council, I had occasion to participate in an angry demonstration organized by the Ecuadorian-Canadian community in protest of the killing of a young Ecuadorian, Tony Vega. Tony had mental health problems, was causing a disturbance at home, and his family phoned the Metro Police for help. When Tony threatened the police with a baseball bat, they shot him dead. This brought me into contact with Marcelo Ruiz, the president of the Ecuadorian-Canadian organization in Toronto.
Some months after the Vega shooting, Marcelo phoned me and invited me to meet two Ecuadorian politicians, who were on a dual purpose mission to Toronto, which included promoting a pilot project sponsored by a Commission of the Ecuadorian Congress. The Congressman who headed that commission, with whom I met and lunched, was Juan José Costelló, an educator, and a member of a left wing political party that was more or less the political arm of the teachers’ union. Along with Marcelo, Carlos Castro Vaca, Mayor of the Andes town of Riobamba and of the same political stripe as Juan José, and Metro’s Works Commissioner, Bob Ferguson, we lunched at the restaurant on top of the CN Tower, the latter picking up the tab.
This meeting led an official invitation from the Education and Culture Commission of the Ecuadorian Congress for Ferguson and me to visit Ecuador in order to observe the Commission sponsored pilot project on recycling in elementary schools that was being administered by the teachers’ union (UNE). Thus, accompanied by Marcelo Ruiz, Bob and I spent ten days visiting schools in Quito, Riobamba and Guayaquil in the fall of 1994 (and upon returning to Toronto, I worked to get local support for the project and got Metro Council to sponsor a return visit by Carlos Castro and Juan José’s brother, Francisco; unfortunately this effort yielded miniscule results, and the project petered out for lack of funding).
The project was called (English translation) “Paper to Recycle, Notebooks to Study.” It was a simple yet brilliant idea. Students were asked to bring to school old newspapers, which they were to collect from their families and neighbors. Each student created his or her own decorative cardboard box in which to transport their collect newspapers. Each classroom in turn had its own larger container, and each participating school had an even larger bin to store the newspapers accumulated from all the classrooms. There were competitions amongst classrooms and between schools to see who could collect the most. Ideally, the collected newspapers would have been recycled into usable notebooks. But Ecuador doesn’t have an industry with that capacity, so the papers were sold to toilet paper manufacturers (we visited a toilet paper factory outside of Guayaquil and saw how the recycled newspaper was made into serviceable T.P.). With the revenues from these sales, notebooks were purchased and distributed to the students.
There was a strong pedagogical component to the project as well. Students learned about the environment and the need for ecological protection. As we toured various schools we witnessed songs, dramas, and posters on the theme of environmental protection.
There were forty three years between my first and second visits to Ecuador. After the first visit, I promised myself that I would one day return, and it was beginning to look as if that were never going to be fulfilled.
Having made the decision not to run for re-election to Metro Council in the November 1994 city elections, I had to decide what to do with my life. I gave myself three options: stay in Toronto and look for a new job; move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which I had come to love from my visits to Liz Canfield over the years; or head south to live for a while in Ecuador. I had Liz doing some ground work for me on Albuquerque, and had been short listed for the job of Executive Director of a statewide A.I.D.S. program, when I made the decision in favor of Ecuador.
Before finalizing my decision, however, I consulted with each of my daughters, my brother, and my parents. This was where my mother told me she believed that one should do one’s own thing, and when I told her she sounded like a Hippie, she responded by saying, “I am a Hippie!” Everyone supported my decision. I then consulted with Marcelo Ruiz, who has contacts all over the country. He asked me if I wanted to settle in the mountains, the coast or the jungle. Without hesitation I chose the coast. The idea was that he would put me in touch with his political contacts there and together we would look for a project or projects in which I could become involved.
Marcelo had told me that he had been a student activist during the time of the Ecuadorian dictatorship (1970s). His closest ties are with the MPD (Movement for Popular Democracy). The MPD is made up largely of members of the Ecuadorian teachers’ union, UNE (National Union of Educators). It is considered one of the far left parties on the Ecuadorian political spectrum and my have ties with the outlawed PCMLE (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador). The people involved with the recycling project in Ecuador were all connected with the MPD and/or UNE.
When I got to Ecuador, I was put in contact with Aracelly Moreno and her husband, Marcelo Moncayo. Aracelly is a former teacher, union activist, and, at the time, was an MPD congresswoman. Marcelo is an engineer, professor, and Marxist intellectual. They are both extremely decent people, and the treated me kindly. Aracelly, in particular is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. She is a true fighter, and she stays the battle in spite of the misogyny she encounters within her own movement (she jokingly refers to “Machista Leninistas”). Marcelo arranged for me to rent a large bungalow near the beach in a resort complex about a two hour drive from Guayaquil. From there I was going to look for involvement with projects having to do with organizing fishermen.
Before taking possession of the bungalow, I spent a couple of weeks there with a large group of their friends, all MPDers (emepedistas in Spanish). All very nice people, but one thing really set me back: the ubiquity of the RSH virus (Racist/Sexist/Homophobic). The racism and homophobia came out mostly in efforts at humor (it was recommended to me, for example, that I could cure my back problems by sleeping with a big black woman). The sexism, on the other hand, was palpable in every day living. At meal time, the women, having spent hours laboring over a hot stove, would serve first the men, then the children; then they would sit down to have a bite to eat themselves before getting up to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen (while the men drank Cuba Libres on the veranda). Marcelo took pride in teaching his adolescent son to whistle at the females on the beach. Homosexuality was illegal in Ecuador at the time, and the term maricón (fag) was used with impunity.
This was a real turn off. It was like being in a time warp that transformed me back to the 1950s. Such overt racism, sexism and homophobia is, thank the goddess, virtually nonexistent amongst the left in North America. This was not the only factor that ended up changing my course. Meeting Carmen and getting involved with the cultural community (which is much more broad minded than the politicos) probably had more to do than anything else with veering from my original plans.
I ended up, after about two months in the country, giving up my beach bungalow and moving in with Carmen in her two by four apartment in Playas. Which takes me to my next career adventure: retail clothing salesman. Carmen’s youngest brother, Manuel, had an import business, centered mostly in importing clothing and accessories from Panama. Carmen was making her living (about a hundred dollars a month) by selling clothing to friends and contacts in Playas. I put new energies into the “business,” including but not limited to modernizing her bookkeeping and accounting system, which had consisted of loose pieces of paper, randomly arranged. When I got into drawing, we added my line of “Playa Gringo” silk-screened T-shirts to our inventory. It was thankless work. We had some of our merchandise in the local version of a department store, but on consignment, and the revenue trickled in. The biggest problem was that, in order to sell, we had to give credit (nobody has ready cash, it seems, in Ecuador); and then we had to pull teeth in order to collect (shades of my old newspaper delivery days). This was most unpleasant; and when I decided to do art full time and my Canadian pension kicked in, we were able to go out of the retail clothing business.
But before becoming an artiste, I had one more fling on the retail side of things. Playas is a beach resort, and it is inundated with tourists, virtually one hundred percent Ecuadorian, on weekends and holidays, during the vacations season, which is roughly New Years until Easter. It occurred to me that we could get rich selling something novel on the beach, where vendors plied beer and soft drinks along with typical Ecuadorian fare. We experimented with friends, and what was best received were my pancakes, which I made by adding the ripe platano (plantain), which gave them a rich banana flavor.
So on the first big weekend of the season, early Saturday morning I cooked up about fifty pancakes, placed them attractively in flat baskets, and sent them out to the beach with five local kids we had rounded up. In about an hour all five came back with nary a pancake missing from their baskets. This was disheartening
“Give me those pancakes,” I said, as we dismissed the kids and sent them home with some spending money for their efforts. I remembered an experience I had had several weeks ago at a beach in Salinas before I had met Carmen. A man came up to us selling these brown rounded candies that didn’t appeal to me on sight. He insisted, however, that I try a sample. They turned out to be made of coconut, one of my very favorite flavors, and I consequently made a purchase.
So I took a fork along with me, with which I cut up a pancake into small pieces for chumming. I would approach a group on the beach and offer my pancakes. They would politely shake there heads no, at which time I would proceed to insist that they take a sample of my “Canadian pancakes,” which I had made with my own two little hands. No obligation to purchase. I returned to the house in about a half hour with my basket empty.
We sold over 2000 pancakes that “season.” At first I made the batter and fried the flapjacks, and then went out onto the beach to sell them. This soon became untenable, so I gave my secret recipe to Carmen, and she stayed home and fried while I went out and hawked. We worked only on weekends and holidays. Our pancakes sold at two for 1000 sucres (about 20 cents each). The wonders of multiple pricing: rarely would someone ask timidly if they might be allowed to buy only one pancake at 500 sucres. Most bought two or four, and I sold as many as ten at a time to large families. Occasionally someone would know what a North American pancake is and ask if I had any maple syrup to go along. I explained that the sweet banana flavor made up for the lack of a sweet syrup, and I pointed out that our pancakes has a taste similar to the popular Ecuadorian maduro lampriado (ripe plantain fried in batter) but with only a small percentage of the grease.
Alas, it turned out to be extremely exhausting work for relatively little return (with a 100% mark-up, we were making about ten cents per pancake, which meant a total net income of only about $200 for all that effort. Carmen vowed never again to slave over a hot stove making pancakes, and thus ended the enterprise. The item was so popular that if we had been more enthusiastic and competent entrepreneurs we probably could have set up shop somewhere in Playas and a made a go of it. But Carmen’s career as a poet and mine in the plastic arts were too important for us to give up to the full time retail pancake business.
Probably, no not probably, rather certainly, the most unlikely career that either I or anyone who knows me well ever would have foreseen for myself is that of a career in the plastic arts. I am one of those people who cannot draw maturely and realistically. It has always amazed me how those who indeed are able to draw realistically can get things to look like they really are, that is, with shading, shadowing, nuances, textures, perspective, etc. It always has been and still remains beyond my ken. Nevertheless, the fact that I have sold more artwork in the short period I have been at it than say, someone like Vincent van Gogh in his entire life, cannot be denied. I may not be a very good artist – that is not for me to say – but having achieved a degree of earnings from my work, it follows that it is a profession and not a hobby.
How then did I come to dedicate a large amount of time an effort doing art? It begins with my addiction to crossword puzzles, something with which Carmen could not abide. Even though I considered it to be a worthwhile endeavor in that it keeps your mind sharp and helps expand vocabulary, I have to admit that an addiction is an addiction, the nature of which isolates one from his or her immediate social reality and demands increasing dosages of the drug. When Carmen insisted I drop doing crosswords and take up something creative and productive, I answered that I have no creative skills. Her response was the Spanish equivalent of “phooey.”
To get her off my back, I made what I thought would be a humorous and infantile drawing. In it I showed a crossword puzzle book opened up, I added human characteristics (arms and legs), and had it crucified on a cross. I called the drawing, “Crucigrama Crucificada,” (Crossword Crucified), which I thought had a nice ring to it in Spanish. The reaction I got from her was the opposite of what I expected. Instead of her saying that it was pretty bad art, she commented that it indeed showed a lot of creativity and that I should continue drawing.
Now I always have been an inveterate doodler. At interminable Metro Council meetings, to avoid being bored to death, I would doodle on the margins of the book length agendas with which we worked. I sat next to Howard Moscoe, a former art teacher, and looked at his much more sophisticated doodles with envy. Nevertheless, I do get a pleasant sensation from holding a writing instrument in my hand and marking on paper. So I began drawing crude figures then dividing them into smaller random shapes and filling in the spaces. I found this almost therapeutic, and the designs that emerged were sometimes pleasant to my eyes.
So I made a number of pen and ink drawings, and had three or four which I liked the best framed and hung in our living room (our living room was then and is now a virtual art gallery; at the time it was filled with art work given to Carmen by friends, and I thought it would be nice to see something I had done hanging on our walls). I thought not much more about it, although I continued my doodle/drawing with considerable enjoyment. Until one fine day came to visit us Jimmy Saltos, a friend of Carmen and an established painter. He singled out my drawings on the wall and asked who did them. He felt they would make excellent designs for T-shirts, so we bought a couple hundred of blank T-shirts and took them along with four of my drawings to a silk-screener in Guayaquil.
As with my hotcakes, they sold like hotcakes; but after exhausting the market that consisted of friends and relatives, it became clear that a huge investment would have to be made to mass produce them for a commercial market, and we lacked the financial resources for either production or marketing. However, in the process of looking for a silk-screen workshop for the T-shirts, we showed my drawings to another artist friend of Carmen, Walter Paéz, who at the time was in charge of a silk-screen workshop for fine art at the Municipal Museum in Guayaquil. He invited me to participate in the workshop, where the two silk-screen prints that I produced were selected for exhibition at the Museum. Believe it or not, I said to myself, I am on my way as an artist. An artist!
I next participated in an etching workshop with Arnold Sicles from Quito, and my two etchings were exhibited as well. From there I worked with Walter Paéz with additional techniques of print art: woodcut, linoleum, and colography. This meant spending a lot of time in Guayaquil since there are no printing presses in Playas, and spending time in Guayaquil has always been a problem for me because of its oppressive climate, pollution, noise and traffic. One weekend while I was home alone in Playas I discovered some oil painting supplies of Carmen’s, and I started to experiment. Painting, I soon discovered, was not only something I could enjoy doing, but it was also possible to do it in my own backyard. Since then I have dedicated all my efforts at painting, mostly in oil and a bit in acrylic.
My artwork has been used for the covers of a novel and four volumes of poetry, including Carmen’s “Aguaje,” which also contained my illustrations. My work has been exhibited in Ecuador and Canada, and although I don’t expect to ever be able to make a full time living doing art, it pays the utilities.
I’ve already mentioned the three months I spent replacing the English who had resigned teacher at the high school in Playas that was operated by the Catholic University in Guayaquil. Although I enjoyed especially being around and able to corrupt those fun loving, curious, and hormone charged teen-agers and was offered the position of Chairman of the English Department (which would have consisted of myself and two other non-native speaking teachers), I declined. The school administration was careless and corrupt, I was underpaid and cheated out of part of my salary, and I didn’t want to commit myself to full time work in any case.
Since then (late 2005, early 2006), I have had the opportunity to do some short-term contract work in Toronto. I lobbied the Toronto City Council on behalf of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to increase its commitment to heat reduction services in the blistering summer months; and I served as the Accreditation Coordinator for the Adler School of Professional Studies.
For the former I reluctantly agreed to the proposal put to me by my third ex-wife, Cathy Crowe. At my very first Metro Council meeting in the fall of 1987 I introduced a motion whereby the Council would ask the senior levels of government to declare homelessness a national disaster and provide resources required to meet the crisis. The motion was not taken seriously at the time. Cathy was later to co-found the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC), and not only did she stick-handle a similar resolution through the Toronto Council, but was able to achieve its adoption by municipal councils across Canada.
Cathy wanted me to meet with selected members of the contemporary Council, many of whom had been my colleagues back then. The subject was the deepening public health crisis engendered by the increasingly oppressively hot summer weather. Because we are still friends, and because I have such a high degree of respect for what she has achieved as a perhaps Canada’s most influential anti-poverty activist, I was not able to refuse, notwithstanding that I had little desire to return to City Hall on any kind of official business.
The upshot was that I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed the assignment. Not only were the great majority of the Councillors with whom I spoke receptive to the TDRC’s indicatives, but I was received with more respect and warmth than I would have expected, and not only by Councillors but as well by other City employees with whom I had worked all those years ago. I was later told by Cathy that my “lobbying” efforts yielded results, and that many of the measures that TDRC had proposed were adopted by the Council for summers to come.
I did more substantial work for Linda Page, my first ex-wife and the mother of my children both in 2006 and 2007. Linda owns and operates the Adler School of Professional studies, with which she has been associated in various roles since the late 1970s. The school’s main program is one that offers a Master’s degree in Psychology, a program oriented toward mature students and those who are considering a change of career. Courses are given on week nights and weekends. The degree had previously been recognized by the government by way of the school’s association with the Adler Institute in Chicago. Now it is submitting an application to the government to be accredited to confer the degree in its own right. The application ran to several thousand pages and covered every imaginable aspect of post-graduate education, from the academic to the financial. It was several years in the works, and I was hired to coordinate the final phase of compiling the application and preparing it for submission.
The application consists of three major parts: A Review of the Organization, the Academic Aspect, and Compliance with Legal Requirements. Each part contained numerous sections. It was my job to ensure that each section was completed, that it met the guidelines put forth by the government, and that it was consistent and contained no technical errors. It was submitted in the fall of 2007, and the final outcome will not be known for several months.
I should mention as well the work I did in 2007 as a volunteer for the project which as directed by my wife, Carmen Váscones. The Circles of Recreation and Learning Project is financed by the Ecuadorian government and delivered in Playas through a grant given to the municipal government. It provides enrichment activities (education, play, nutrition and health promotion) for pre-school children in marginal neighborhoods. It is somewhat similar to the long-standing Headstart program in the States. In Playas, the project serves nearly eleven hundred children, ages 3-5, in some forty centers in Playas and the surrounding area.
Carmen had been hired to rescue the project, when it was about to lose funding due to a dismal beginning. She stayed for 18 months, and supervised three assistants, a comptroller, and eighteen “facilitators” (teachers), all women. She provided inspired leadership and got the project back on its feet, but she was able only to achieve this by working 80 hour weeks, often seven days a week; and she had to put up with shoddy administration by the City officials in charge of the overall project.
She also would not have been able to achieve what she did without my taking on two jobs: full time house husband and full time project volunteer. For the latter, I served as her personal secretary, and I was the project’s unofficial chauffer and photographer. I also helped out with administration and the development of graphic materials.
Well, there you have it. I think I have covered all of the various jobs and careers in which it has for the most part been my privilege to serve. I suppose I should add that all through these years I have done a fair amount of writing, everything from grant applications to administrative reports to oped opinion articles. In the last few years I have tried to make a break-through as a free lance writer, with some small success. I have had opinion pieces published in the Los Angeles Times, the Toronto Star, Guayaquil’s El Universo, and Podium, the publication of Guayaquil’s Universidad del Espirtu Santo; and I have written several articles for the Marxist-Humanist periodical, News and Letters. I have proof edited an intellectual biography of the Philosopher-Activist, Raya Dunayevskaya for its author, Eugene Gogol.
When I was in my senior year at UC Berkeley, most of my friends who were graduating were going onto graduate studies. My religious fervor at the time lead me to a single graduate year at the Princeton Theological Seminary; but when I think of the career that had most attracted me, it would have been Law. My “big brother” at the time, Garold Raff, advised me strongly to go out into the world and get some real life experience, then come back and do law school. I took the first part of his advice, but I never came back. I think Law would have been a compatible career for me, but I have no regrets with respect to the roads I have taken.
When people ask me what I do for a living I usually say that I do artwork, since that has been the most consistent activity for me over the past dozen or so years. But to answer the question posed in the title of this essay, “what do I want to be when I grow up?” I suggest two possibilities. One is that I may never grow up. The other is that I have still not conducted a major symphony orchestra or practiced brain surgery, so there is still the possibility that new and interesting career horizons loom in my future.
Citigroup as the “Grim Reaper” December 10, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: bank of america, banks, citigroup, Economic Crisis, fdic, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, general growth properties, ggp, grim reaper, jobs, Learsy, loans, malls, morgan chase, mortgages, roger hollander, tarp, taxpayers, toxic loans, treasury, Wall Street
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Raymond J. Learsy
www.huffingtonpost.com , December 10, 208
Brava Citigroup! From a broken institution you talked your compliant Wall Street buddies operating out of Washington to save your behind. Getting the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to provide protection against potentially debilitating losses from over $300 billion in toxic loans and securities which will now remain on Citigroup balance sheets as prime assets. Further the Federal Reserve stands ready to backup other residual risks in Citigroup’s asset pool of non recourse loans. And in addition the Treasury will be investing $20 billion in Citigroup from the TARP. Understand all of this? Just in case you don’t, the bottom line is that our government (read: taxpayers) put $300 to $400 billion on the line without which Citigroup would have in all probability been “bye-bye”.
Chastened and thankful? Give us a break. Charlie Gasparino in a “Citi’s Gossip Game” segment on CNBC yesterday reported that their Chief Finanacial Officer Gary Crittenden has been buttonholing anyone who would listen, bad mouthing Citigroups competitors such as Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase in order to boost Citigroup shares by putting down Citigroup’s competitors. Is that why we needed to save Citigroup?
And putting down JP Morgan Chase? An institution that has responded to the TARP assistance by announcing a policy that it will work with 400,000 homeowners to modify $70 billion in mortgages and loans, loans that have many homeowners scrambling to make payments they can no longer afford. Further it will stop foreclosures even in the most extreme cases for 90 days and has hired 300 mortgage counselors to help distressed homeowners. Speak of an example of civic responsibility.
What has Citigroup done in contrast? The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Citigroup is the lone holdout in a bank consortium comprised of Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Eurohypo, Goldman Sachs and Wachovia who have all agreed to a nine month extension for debt laden General Growth Properties. GGP is the country’s second largest mall operator with over 200 malls in communities around the nation and with tens of thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly that could be impacted. Citigroup’s position would trigger a default in turn triggering cross defaults on other General Growth debt forcing the company to file for bankruptcy. A step that would not only effect General Growth, its employees and the communities wherein it operates, but would exacerbate, in a dramatically negative way, the commercial real estate market throughout the country. A Reuters article warns “Results of the negotiations [with General Growth Properties] are being closely watched in the $750 billion commercial mortgage backed securities market.”
In an earlier post, I ended by paraphrasing Lenin, “Wall Street will sell us the rope to hang American Capitalism.”
And in Citigroup we have created the perfect “Grim Reaper”.
Cutting Wages Won’t Solve Detroit Three’s Crisis December 9, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: auto workers, automakers, automobile industry, bailout, bankers, bankruptcy, benefits, big three, bonuses, chevrolet, chrysler, concessions, congress, detroit, Economic Crisis, environment, executive salaries, ford, foreclosure, gas, general motors, global warming, healthcare, homeowners, insurance, jane slaughter, japan, jobs, labor, labor costs, labour, mark brenner, medicare, motor city, oil, pension, petroleum, roger hollander, steel, sticker price, suv, taxpayers, toyota, uaw, unemployment, uninsured, unions, wages, Wall Street, workers
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Automakers have blamed workers for the financial collapse of the Detroit auto industry. (Photo: motortrend.com)
Thursday 04 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: Mark Brenner and Jane Slaughter, The Detroit News
In the 1980s, Chevrolet proclaimed itself the “Heartbeat of America,” but today the American auto industry barely registers a pulse. As Washington considers Detroit’s plea for life support, the only place where pundits, politicians and Big Three executives seem to agree is that auto workers must make do with less or watch their jobs disappear.
Some lawmakers have complained that unions are the source of the problem, but they fail to understand some inconvenient truths. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Commerce Department, every worker in Big Three factories could work for free and only shave 5 percent off the cost of their cars. The auto companies pay as much for hubcaps and fenders as they do in wages.
Data from the Harbour Report – the industry’s gold standard – reveal that even including their benefits, labor costs in the Big Three’s plants account for less than 10 percent of the sticker price.
No matter how you cut the numbers, demolishing auto workers’ living standards will not transform the industry. The Big Three have been trying for years. They have slashed at least 200,000 jobs since 2004, and last year they wrung billions of dollars in concessions from the United Auto Workers. The union instituted a second-tier wage of $14.50 an hour for new hires, lower than pay in the nonunion, foreign-owned auto companies in the South.
The impact is all too apparent in auto communities across the Midwest. Forty thousand Detroit homeowners are in foreclosure, and the unemployment rate has hit double digits in many auto towns. That suffering will multiply if one of the Big Three collapses, or if retired auto workers are punished for decisions they had no hand in.
Automakers’ decisions have been disastrous. While competitors developed gasoline-electric hybrids, Detroit mined the gas-guzzling truck and SUV market, making $104 billion in profits between 1994 and 2003. Wall Street and Congress weren’t calling for more research and development or curbing the company’s dividend payments and high-flying executive salaries back then.
Pundits crow for us to “Dump Detroit,” but they don’t advertise that through a bailout or the bankruptcy courts taxpayers will shoulder the burden of the automakers’ colossal missteps.
Washington shouldn’t back into a bailout – it should jump in feet-first. What’s needed is not a half-measure, a cash infusion in exchange for selling the corporate jets. Now is the time to take a sweeping look at the country’s needs.
Our first steps should confront global warming and oil dependence through a comprehensive overhaul of the transportation system. Federal policy hasn’t changed since the 1950s, when gas was a nickel a gallon.
Detroit, the Arsenal of Democracy, retooled in a matter of weeks when we needed tanks, not cars, in 1941. We could produce this century’s answer to the interstate highway system and build mass transit and high-speed trains.
That same sense of urgency is needed for vehicles that don’t run on petroleum. If American engineers can build satellites that read your license plate from outer space, they can develop an alternative to the gasoline engine.
Automakers need direction as much as financial support from Washington, just as Japan’s government molded Toyota into a world-class performer.
In every other industrialized nation, government has stepped in and given their auto companies a significant edge. Most important, they all adopted national health care and pension systems decades ago.
General Motors alone provides health coverage to a million people – workers, retirees and families. The annual price tag is about $5 billion, which, as CEO Rick Wagoner is fond of pointing out, is more than GM spends on steel.
That burden could be lifted, to the benefit of 47 million uninsured Americans, by adopting a Medicare-style program for everyone. It would save the nation as much as $350 billion per year now spent for insurance companies to shuffle paper and deny claims.
The fate of the Motor City captivates us because it speaks to our future. For 30 years, politicians have bowed to Wall Street, sitting by while wages for most workers stagnated. Big Three workers have maintained their living standards better than most, in no small part because they have a union. In a country where investment bankers gave themselves $30 billion in bonuses last Christmas, have we reached a point where $58,000 a year with benefits is too much to ask?
We once promised the pursuit of happiness to all, including the workers who make our factories run, not just those who trade credit default swaps. Now more than ever, we need to recapture that spirit with a thoroughgoing plan to rescue the environment, care for the sick and transform transportation.
Mark Brenner and Jane Slaughter work for Labor Notes, an independent monthly labor magazine in Detroit. It receives no support from the United Auto Workers.