The GOP Price of Living (and Dying)

Those of us of a certain age have seen the economy expand, then contract, then expand again on many occasions. Things have changed, though – from Reagan’s “revolution” to GHW Bush’s “voodoo economics” through the unprecedented wealth transfer that has happened during Bush II’s reign, there’s a fundamental difference. In that difference lies the reason that I’m a progressive Democrat…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

The BeavI’m old enough to remember when the nuclear family was really the American dream: 2.2 kids, a house with a modest mortgage, mom met the kids at the school bus stop in the afternoon because she didn’t work outside the home, dad came rolling in later in the afternoon, dinner was served, homework was done, then maybe some TV (3 VHF channels and a couple of UHF “independents”). Rinse, spit, repeat.

The promise of technology and automation was never that Americans would lose their jobs to machines, but that the machines would make the jobs more efficient and lead to a better quality of life for everyone. LBJ’s “Great Society” was a product of progressive thinking – that yes, indeed, it was possible for the previous generation to leave the next generation just a little bit better off, and so on and so on.

In the past, I’ve ranted about how there was a palpable shift in the overall demeanor of big business back in the early days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Perhaps I was a bit closer to it (“the shift”) at the time because of the point that I was at in my career – I’d been with the same employer for a couple of years, making a pretty good wage, and I was the sole breadwinner in the family. That was my role; that was the real role in life I thought I was supposed to play. But I could sense, even back then, that something was terribly amiss. I just couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. Something strange was happening in the work place that augured an uncertain future.

Allow me to use a personal story as a segue into a larger discussion on why I’m a progressive Democrat.

The company I worked for during the Reagan years made a very rapid transformation from a truly “family oriented” employer, to a “bottom line” company. Harvard Business School was just starting to churn out Michael Hammer-cloned MBA graduates using the “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap model of business education. The heady days of merger and acquisition really got cranking around the time of Reagan’s second inauguration. The atmosphere in the workplace shifted dramatically in the space of what felt like just a few short months. In fact, the change was so dramatic that, even in the quasi-professional / technical role that I filled, it was becoming obvious that the only way to survive was for those in my technical specialization to organize with a local labor union. And so we tried – I tried. I was very active in the effort.

I was active in the effort for several reasons, but the most important was that the HBS graduates were starting to fling around the specter of competition and deregulation and corporate survival as if to generate a self fulfilling prophecy. And, to a degree, the HBS’ers did just that. What a union offered, even a professional / technical union, were rules that the company and employees had to live by. I reasoned that, without a legally binding employment contract, non-represented, non-management employees were flying by the seat of their pants and without a net.

In the long run, I was right.

The company used a couple of really shady tactics, aided and abetted by a Reagan-reconstituted National Labor Relations Board ruling, to defeat the organizing effort, and the union local was not prepared well enough to respond. The threat of layoffs never emerged for the rank and file union members in the company, but the professional and technical specialties started to be purged in the late 1980′s, as folks like me began to simply make too much money.

As my salary and 401K grew, I clearly recall sitting at my kitchen table one night and amortizing the value of my salary and benefits 20 years into the future. I somberly recognized that evening that the company couldn’t sustain me and hundreds of my coworkers into the future. At some point, even a modest three or four percent increase per year in a fairly decent salary becomes like compounding interest to the bean counters in a company – and it was clear that something had to give. So the professional ranks started taking hits in terms of layoffs, “performance-based” firings, and early retirement package offerings to those in the organization who held the corporate institutional memory.

Here’s an example of how quickly the changes occurred, and why I worked so hard in the union organizing effort.

At one time, the technical and professional folks made time and a half for overtime (because the company would never compensate their professional people less than their union workers, don’tcha know…). Out of the blue, the non-represented technical workers were required to put in at least 45 hours a week to qualify for time and a half. The uncompensated five hours per week was euphemistically dubbed “professional time”. And then one day, word came down from the executive suite that overtime was completely gone for the professionals. You worked what you had to in order to get your job done, no matter how long it took or how much additional responsibility you had to assume because the guy’s desk next to you was suddenly vacated late on a Friday afternoon (the favorite time to issue pink slips), and there was no replacement for him or her.

But you know who didn’t go? The company never touched the union rank and file, because of the contract. There are still guys working for the company in union positions who were there when the great middle management purge of 1990 took place.

I was fortunate enough to see the handwriting on the wall, and started doing some serious programming work on the side back then, and that led to my ability to leave the company on my own terms in the mid-90′s. After all, computers were where the big money was, Tim Berners-Lee was rolling out the HTTP protocol, and the dot com boom was just getting underway. My services were in pretty high demand, and I brought not only my computer experience to a booming market, but my mature business acumen. It was a great combination that worked for awhile, and I made a pretty good living. And then the dot com bust hit.

Makin' the NutBy the time I was forced back into the job market in the early part of this century, even though my skills were at their peak, my earning power was not. The conservative mantra was, “well, you work whatever you have to work at. McDonalds, whatever. There’s no shame in working hard.” Indeed. It got to the point where I took one of the first jobs that I was offered that was even remotely reasonable in terms of compensation. And then that job was “mergered and acquisitioned”, even though it was in the non-profit sector. The last several years have been a struggle, having come down from positions of both authority and responsibility. In the business climate that I was unfortunate enough to experience, at a certain age, it’s impossible to regain career traction, and you settle for the best job that’s available in order to make ends meet.

I know I’m not alone in my tale, and that there are many out there like me. My real income has declined significantly since the mid-90′s. In fact, I was 1040–²ing more per year in 1995 than I am today. And I’m working harder today than I ever did in my life, for a relatively thankless employer whose executive battle cry at the end of every quarter is: “We’re not making the numbers!! Panic! Panic!!” So, the sales force forward-sells our product line to make this quarter’s numbers at the expense of bookings at the beginning of next quarter. It’s an endless cycle of stupid business decisions that leads to bargain basement deals for our customers, less revenue for the company, and a repeating of the cycle again at the end of next quarter.

The company that I work for in 2008 is by no means exceptional in the modern corporate world. There is no “quality of life”, so to speak. I’m tethered to a cell phone and a computer 24 hour a day, 365 days a year, and I spend my time reacting to business crises rather than getting a break from the bonds. I am literally doing the same work that three people did 20 years ago. But my employer thinks this is ok. (The customers don’t, but that’s another story for another day.)

This is the life that the Republican Party brought to me, and why I’m such a strong progressive, even if I’m getting a bit long in the tooth. I’m angry. I’m angry with the business climate that has upended my life and that of millions of others like me. I’m angry that I’m good enough at what I do that I’m the “go-to” guy when there’s a steaming pile of business shit that someone else has left for me to clean up, but there’s no one to back me up when I have a less than stellar day at the office. I’m angry that at this point in my life I’m locked into a fairly dead-end position because of the paycheck, but more importantly, benefits that I can’t (again, at this point of my life) afford to be without.

In the past year, I’ve seen one of my closest business associates hang it up because it just wasn’t worth it anymore – he bailed out early when he had the opportunity, even as he was somewhat unsure of his financial future. Another (15 years younger than me) had a heart attack just before Christmas. He was back at his desk last week. He’ll never make it to retirement. Another is opting for early retirement in March rather than spend another minute with her nose stuck to the grind stone.

The nuclear family is a dream of the past. There are so many among us (thankfully, I’m not yet one of them) who have to work two and three jobs just to pay the mortgage, electric bill, and put food on the table because real wages have declined so precipitously in years recently passed. But the GOP thinks that’s all right, in fact, they’re proud of it. They think it’s just peachy that mom and dad have to work themselves to the point of exhaustion, and then on the other hand they wonder why the nuclear family has disintegrated.

There is more than just a mortgage crisis at hand, and I don’t think anyone in a position to say so really wants to admit it in polite company. There is a very real family financial liquidity crunch that is underway, and sooner than later, the crunch is going to affect all of us. The unprecedented wealth transfer from poor and middle income families to the uber rich is nearly complete. The folks at the bottom of the GOP-led financial pyramid scheme are nearly bled dry, and the pyramid is about to collapse. To sustain itself a little longer, the folks at the top of the pyramid will have to start an Amway-style ritual of financial cannibalism amongst themselves. I think that (to an extent) this is exactly what we’re seeing in the stock markets and big financial houses as the true meltdown begins. Is this is how it starts?

An executive of a collapsed subprime mortgage lender jumped to his death from a bridge Friday, shortly after his wife’s body was found inside their New Jersey home, authorities said.

The deaths of Walter Buczynski, 59, and his wife, Marci, 37 – the parents of two boys – were being investigated as a murder-suicide, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office…

[He] was a vice president of Columbia, Md.-based Fieldstone Mortgage Co., a high-flying subprime mortgage lender that made $5.5 billion in mortgage loans and employed about 1,000 people as late as 2006.

However, it has since filed for bankruptcy and now has fewer than 20 employees. The company had recently filed court papers seeking approval to pay about $1.1 million in bonuses that would be divided among Buczynski and other staffers so the company could wind down its lending operations and go out of business…

Even in the last throes of corporate failure, the bosses reward themselves.

It’s only speculation, but perhaps this tragedy happened in part because the Buczynski’s were embroiled in some intractable sort of financial difficulty. Still, for each VP of a failed company that can’t take the personal pressure any longer and leaps from a bridge, how many more bodies and destroyed lives from the lower rungs of the economic pyramid have they left in their wake as they pursued the Republican holy grail of financial success and “A-list” cocktail parties?

When consumers stop spending, the economy is going to crash hard. Signs already point to a significant contraction in consumer spending, which is why George Bush today offered up a

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Richard Blair |

Financial Meltdown: Math & The Myth Of Fiscal Responsibility

As we steel ourselves for the bail out of a failing financial system, it’s time to review the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility. For nearly three decades, the GOP has succeeded in hanging the “tax and spend” label on the Democrats. Accepting that premise has likely enabled this painful fleecing.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

While the details haven’t been disclosed, it appears that the powers that be are considering a plan to bail out Wall Street…in a big way…on the backs of the American taxpayer. Troubling as this sounds, it may be the only viable solution. Regardless of the eventual solution, one thing is clear, the losses will be large.

I want to focus on an analysis of the aftermath and the philosophy that led us to this point. I want to do so because I lived through the Savings & Loan scandal and I’ve been convinced for more than two years that the housing bubble, the artificially low interest rates, the lack of proper oversight, and the associated paper “equity” borrowing it fueled would lead to this type of meltdown.

Having established this backdrop, I want to make the case for driving a stake through the heart of trickle down economics, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the meme that the “tax and spend” Democrats are fiscally irresponsible.

Here’s the deal. The existence of large sums of money in the U.S. economy is a given…it has always been there and it will likely continue to be there (though eight years of GOP malfeasance will make digging out from under the enormous debt a formidable obstacle). With that said, we must begin to consider politics and the inevitable debate about what we will do with the money.

By and large, the party that succeeds in holding power and driving public sentiment gets to decide where the money goes. Without a doubt, the GOP has won this battle for the better part of the last thirty years. In doing so, they have succeeded in attaching the “tax and spend” label to the Democrats…driven primarily by highlighting the Democrats desire to fund and insure existing safety net programs (Social security, Medicare, Welfare, and Unemployment benefits…as well as expand others (Healthcare).

At the same time, the GOP has chosen to foster an economic structure that is weighted towards large corporations and the wealthy. Part and parcel of this approach has been the undermining of labor unions, the refusal to increase minimum wages, the willingness to ignore the huge number of uninsured, allowing the influx of illegals to provide cheap labor, and a willingness to accept the growing divide between the haves and the have nots.

So let’s step back for a moment to the S & L scandal (the late 80′s, early 90′s)…the last instance when profits were privatized and losses were socialized. Rampant real estate speculation and a lack of regulation of the financial industry made a number of investors very wealthy while saddling taxpayers with approximately 123 billion dollars of debt. As an aside, it should be noted that numerous investors were building commercial properties and apartments with no intention of ever managing them…they were simply milking the unregulated financial system.

Now let’s take a look at the GOP’s objections to any form of universal healthcare put forth by the Democrats. The argument suggests that it would cost anywhere from 60 to 100 billion dollars annually. At the same time, it must be noted that the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 have been projected to cost 2.5 trillion dollars over ten years…and we’re also spending approximately 120 billion dollars annually on the war in Iraq. As to the costs of the current Wall Street bail out, it’s difficult to determine the damages. For the sake of this argument, I’m going to estimate that the final tally will approach a trillion dollars.

Now lets calculate the total dollars these items represent. If we assume that only half of the tax cuts were unwarranted (they went to the very wealthy), we have 1.25 trillion. Let’s add in 600 billion for five years of the Iraq war (we’re being conservative). That leaves the 120 billion lost on the S & L scandal and the trillion dollars we’re assuming will be lost on the Wall Street meltdown. Taken together, this totals just under three trillion dollars.

OK, now lets see how many years have passed since the S & L scandal. We’ll use 1985 as our start date (again we’re being conservative), which equates with 23 years. For this exercise, we’ll go ahead and round that to 25 years.

If we take our 25 years and assume it would have cost 100 billion dollars per year to fund universal healthcare, that brings us to a total of 2.5 trillion dollars. Note that the use of 100 billion per year is also an extremely conservative number as it would have been far cheaper to provide in the earlier years.

As you can see by a simple review of the numbers, we had enough money to fund universal healthcare for the last 25 years…with nearly a half trillion dollars to spare. Unfortunately, we didn’t have universal healthcare. Instead, those of us that have had healthcare insurance, paid for it for 25 years…and we also received a meager tax cut for the last seven years. If you look at the total dollars the average family received in tax cuts for these seven years, I suspect one would be lucky if it would have paid for three or four years of healthcare insurance (we’re completely ignoring the deductibles and copayments).

So if we look at the rhetoric of the GOP for the last 25 years, they want us to believe that any consideration of universal healthcare would have been irresponsible. They’ve repeatedly told us that the Democrats would raise taxes and spend money we didn’t have…on programs we couldn’t possibly afford.

However, if we look at the numbers above, the only thing we received for supporting this philosophy for managing our government’s finances (our money), was minimal tax cuts…promised nearly every election cycle (surprise, surprise?). At the same time, those in charge squandered three trillion dollars of our money on tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, an unwarranted war, and two episodes of enabling unregulated and painful financial disasters.

In the end, you can slice it any way you like…but you can’t disregard the fact that the money was there to provide universal health care…or any number of other programs designed to benefit all Americans. In the interest of being fair, all of the blame can’t be placed on the GOP, since the Democrats went along with many of these ill-advised expenditures…or the policies that enabled them.

Regardless, it’s also true that the Democrats frequently did so because voter sentiment demanded it. In other words, voters bought into the rhetoric that the GOP would let us keep more of our money and the Democrats would undoubtedly take more of it away from us. Since we know that all politicians cater to the whims of voters in the hopes of winning elections, it’s no wonder the Democrats have acquiesced and appeared amazingly weak. They’ve been on the wrong side of the argument and they’ve failed to convince voters otherwise.

That brings us to where we now stand. If we voters fail to recognize what has happened in the last 25 years as a result of enabling the rhetoric and the policies of the GOP, we do so at our own peril. It’s time for us to demand that our money be spent on programs that serve the greater good; not the ones that line the pockets of the greedy and the wealthy. The money is there…it has always been there…it’s time we elect politicians that have the interests of all Americans at heart…politicians who will be honest stewards and spend our money wisely.

If we don’t, let me be the first to predict the next financial scandal. Unless we choose a different course, it will invariably happen as soon our memory of the last one fades and we resume our role as gullible voters who settle for false promises and paltry tax cuts. Rest assured, once the coast is clear, the greedy will gladly step in and bust the bank again…while their bullshitting benefactors turn a blind eye.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Friday, September 19th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Generational Wedge Issues and the U.S. Fiscal Crisis: Up Yours, Baby Boomers

Goodness Gracious of apathy I sing
The baby boomers had it all and wasted everything
Now recess is almost over
and they won’t get off the swing…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Up YoursI’ve been out of the loop for the past few days, and yesterday evening I wanted to catch up on the chatter in the progressive blogosphere. But as I hit a few of the blogs that I visit on a regular basis, it wasn’t the election chatter that caught my eye. My attention was consumed by a new advertisement that’s been rolled out on some A-list blogs (see the screen capture to the left). The creative aspect of the ad hit me with the force of a ton of bricks:

Up Yours, Baby Boomers

My initial reaction, as a card carrying member of the baby boomer generation? “Whoa. You talkin’ to me, buddy? You got somethin’ to say? Let’s take it outside and discuss. I might be on the shorter side in stature, and getting a bit long in the tooth, but I think I can hold my own in a smackdown. So, why you dissin’ me, baby? WYFP? Ready to go?

Why did I get my ass up in the air? Because in my view, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation advertisement sets up a very pressing national problem as a generational wedge issue…

(more…)

Friday, June 27th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Faces of the Working Poor

To ASZ’™s Readers’¦

It’™s the time of the year when blogad orders slow down to a crawl – so I’™ve created a freebie ad in the right hand column for America’™s Second Harvest (A2H). And I’™m asking you to click on it.

As longtime ASZ zonebots know, my pet cause is hunger in America. Having [...]

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To ASZ’™s Readers’¦

It’™s the time of the year when blogad orders slow down to a crawl – so I’™ve created a freebie ad in the right hand column for America’™s Second Harvest (A2H). And I’™m asking you to click on it.

As longtime ASZ zonebots know, my pet cause is hunger in America. Having worked as logistics manager at a large inner city food bank for a couple of years, I became intimately familiar with the face of hunger. There is no reason that, in the richest country in the world, anyone who is gainfully employed should have to rely on the charity of others to put food on the family table. The reality is that too many working Americans have to rely on charitable sources of nutritional food to make ends meet.

Without getting into a rant on raising the minimum wage (certainly, a cornerstone of the incoming Democratic Party congress), I’™m asking that you click through on the ‘œWorking Poor’ advertisement, and explore the A2H website. Perhaps you could find a food bank in your area to donate a sack of food – or to volunteer some time over the next few weeks. Maybe if you’™re currently ‘œflush’, you could donate a few bucks to your local food bank / pantry – food is rarely in short supply at this time of the year, but dollars are always short.

But mostly, it’™s my hope that ASZ readers will educate themselves on this particular shame in America. There is no way – no way – that working Americans should have to swallow their pride in order to swallow a meal. And let’™s be clear that this is not just a holiday season issue – fighting hunger is a 12 month proposition.

I’™ve personally experienced how much of a difference one person can make at a local level. This is an issue that is solveable, if as a country, we have the will to do so.

Thanks in advance for clicking, learning, and helping!!

Richard

(P.S. If you run a blog on the blogads network, and you’™d like to run the A2H advertisement as a PSA, please contact me via email and I’™ll provide the details.)

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006 by Richard Blair |

Designed For Failure

Via Harry Shearer at the Huffington Post comes this Times-Picayune article on the levee system surrounding New Orleans. While Harry is skewering the ‘œMSM’ for not following up or even reporting this story, it is a story that needs to be told and investigated thoroughly.

Corps never pursued design doubts

Higher-ups raised red flag, then dropped [...]

Commentary By: sukabi

Via Harry Shearer at the Huffington Post comes this Times-Picayune article on the levee system surrounding New Orleans. While Harry is skewering the ‘œMSM’ for not following up or even reporting this story, it is a story that needs to be told and investigated thoroughly.

Corps never pursued design doubts

Higher-ups raised red flag, then dropped it

The engineering mistakes that led to the canal levee failures that flooded most of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina were found and then dismissed in the Army Corps of Engineers’™ design review process in 1990, an investigative team reviewing the failures says.

Documents, obtained by The Times-Picayune and provided to forensic engineers studying the levee breaches, show project engineers made a critical mistake in assessing soil strengths on the 17th Avenue Canal project, said Robert Bea, a University of California-Berkeley professor who is a member of the National Science Foundation team.

‘¦

(more’¦)

Friday, December 30th, 2005 by Richard Blair |

Homeless and No Place To Go

It’™s been two months since Katrina and the ‘œBrownies’ running FEMA still haven’™t gotten it right. I guess paying the bills isn’™t on the list of things to do.

Thousands of evacuees face eviction

‘¦

The housing crunch could get tighter in November, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants to move an estimated 200,000 Katrina evacuees [...]

Commentary By: sukabi

It’™s been two months since Katrina and the ‘œBrownies’ running FEMA still haven’™t gotten it right. I guess paying the bills isn’™t on the list of things to do.

Thousands of evacuees face eviction

‘¦

The housing crunch could get tighter in November, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants to move an estimated 200,000 Katrina evacuees out of hotels as soon as possible.

That increases the need for apartments, trailers and mobile homes.

Pressure is building on FEMA to alter its policies. Two programs provide rent money directly to evacuees or reimburse local governments. But many evacuees have not received the cash or have used it for other needs. And some cities refuse to spend their own money up front.

Representatives of apartment owners who met with federal officials in Dallas on Thursday say about 15,000 Katrina evacuees in Texas alone face eviction in November for unpaid rent or for other reasons. ï–¿–½You face the possibility of people who rent apartments being displaced again,ï–¿–½ says Jim Arbury of the National Multi Housing Council.

FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews says the agency is not considering changes. Any city that runs its own program will be reimbursed, she says.

Evacuees who have trouble using FEMA’™s three-month, $2,358 rent checks can get help from caseworkers. ï–¿–½If (landlords) choose to evict people,ï–¿–½ she says, ï–¿–½they’™re free to do that.ï–¿–½’¦

Monday, October 31st, 2005 by Richard Blair |

When Wingnuts Attack Your Retirement

They fully intend to destroy Social Security and turn it into a welfare program for the elderly. They really do. And you know how wingnuts feel about welfare.

People in my age bracket are well and truly screwed if this goes forward.

You know that ‘œprivate account’ thingy the BushBots have been pushing so hard? [...]

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They fully intend to destroy Social Security and turn it into a welfare program for the elderly. They really do. And you know how wingnuts feel about welfare.

People in my age bracket are well and truly screwed if this goes forward.

You know that ‘œprivate account’ thingy the BushBots have been pushing so hard? Invest your money in Alpo shares.

Update, 4/30: Kevin Drum has been all over this, here and here.

Friday, April 29th, 2005 by Richard Blair |