Archive | April 2014

Labor’s Love Lost

jim_larkin-200x200This past Easter Sunday, my family ate heartily and discussed some of the current political and economic issues of the day. There may be better ways to wash down a tasty Easter ham than a lamentation on the state of the republic, but we haven’t found it yet. Our conversation settled on how many pension holders have been screwed by their municipal or corporate overlords.

The unofficial conclusion we reached over our Easter meal was that the United States is long overdue for a resurrected organized labor movement.

Labor unions represent only about 11% of the American workforce, and a majority of union members today are government workers who can’t strike. The upside to this is that a lot of government workers have very good, stable jobs that are safer and more lucrative than their non-government worker counterparts. But most workers are continually getting screwed.

The labor movement was spurred on by the large impact of industrialization and it was designed to protect industrial laborers and tradesmen. It has not adapted to the changing economy. The majority of American workers today are not industrial tradesmen.

If there was a viable labor movement in the U.S., I would have a real union to join. I work as a financial journalist. The company I work for actually cut our salaries years ago during the financial crisis. They technically restored the salary cuts years later, but haven’t given raises since and continued to cut our pay in other ways, such as stopping all matching 401k contributions, gutting healthcare benefits, and the like. They’ve also done a lot of outsourcing. Employees with many years of service to the company under their belts were shown the door, their jobs shipped off to India.

A labor union would have fought all of those things, but there is no labor union representing us. We are considered too “professional” to join a union, though not professional enough to be tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage if someone outsourcing shyster can save the company a few dollars. But we don’t have much recourse since there is no collective bargaining going on. People vote with their feet and while people are leaving the company in droves, the rest of us are there are spending our energies looking for other work rather than fighting a good fight (and since I need my job and have four mouths to feed, I’ll kindly not mention the name of the company I work for here).

I dream of the day when the outsourcing C.E.O. gets a brick through his living room window and four flat tires on his way to work. There should be real unions to contend with when companies want to cut pay, cut benefits or cut jobs. This isn’t because I think the answer is some kind of socialist worker’s paradise. To paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy: Capitalism is the worst economic system there is except for all of the others.

There seems to be a great illness of myopathy among our current class of capitalists. They think only in the short term and only in terms of the bottom line. I have no problem with businesses making hard decisions and scoring a healthy profit, but a lot of executives are not thinking ahead much farther than the next quarterly report. Sure, the slash-and-burn fiscal ass-fucking they’ve been giving American workers has increased profits now, but what kind of company are they going to have in five years?

But our companies have pursued these policies and the results are predictable. American capitalism no longer means industriousness and hard work, but rather golden parachutes and amorality.

Just as democracy doesn’t work without real political opposition, real capitalism doesn’t work without American workers having some kind of say over their working lives. Labor unions were once the source of that power. They can be again.

Great New Yorkers: My Grandmother

babies are nothing new for Great GrandmaThis past weekend the wife and I packed our two baby girls into their car seats and drove upstate (upstate defined as north of the Bronx/Westchester border) to celebrate the 90th birthday of my Grandmother, Mary Sheahan.

They don’t make New Yorkers like Mary Sheahan anymore. My Grandmother immigrated from Ireland and went through Ellis Island as a child in 1925. She grew up in the Mott Haven section of The Bronx. She raised seven children in The Bronx and is a grandmother to nine and a great grandmother to three. My Grandmother remained in The Bronx as long as possible and then stayed a little longer. She has never been far from the city and still visits frequently. Her last child left the five boroughs only a few years ago (after living in the city more than 60 years) and she has two grandchildren living here now.

No person I have ever met represents unconditional love and the joy of living and loving family like my grandmother. You would be hard pressed to meet a better person in all of the world. Go ahead and try. You might find someone you think is pretty good but they won’t hold a candle to my grandmother. If you think you’ve got someone who can compare in kindness and sweetness I’m sure you’ll find something terrible if you dig a little deeper, like they torture cats in their spare time or something.

My grandmother is so sweet she even gives homes to insane dogs, like her current pet, Misty, a friendly but mentally ill and hyperactive beast who would be put into Kung Pao form in no time if it were up to anyone else other than Grandma. I don’t know how she manages to walk that crazy animal at age 90 but she manages somehow. I always make a point to walk that damn dog when I visit her so she’ll have at least a few hours of freedom from it.

But that’s one of the minor points about my grandmother’s excellence. Having her as my Grandma has been a great privilege. In my younger years, especially when I was a teenager, I was a jaded and angry person who hated the world. Even today I find it hard not to consider much of the world and the people in it loathsome. But no one can keep that disposition for long in the presence of my grandmother. Even in my angriest and most obnoxious teenage years when I thought it might be cool to murder my parents and live the life of an itinerant assassin for hire, I could never find it in my black heart to think a mean thought about my grandmother.

My grandmother’s wit is sharp as ever and she stays active. She can still drive and she walks under her own power, and I still try and promote the idea that she secretly runs a criminal empire and is just successful at not getting caught. It would be fun to learn that my Grandma has strangled mobsters with piano wire and brained drug lords with shovels.

It was great to introduce my own daughters to my grandmother and to take photos of her with her kids, most of her grandkids and all of her great grandkids. Grandma was happy as ever to have so many of her family in one place at one time. Her children and grandchildren now live all over the country. Family flew in from as far away as Georgia and Wisconsin to celebrate Mary Sheahan’s 90th birthday.

I am exceptionally lucky to have the family I have. And my family is exceptionally fortunate to have Mary Sheahan as its matriarch.

Short Story: Grandpa The Clown

waiting for some deer to come byIt’s been a while since I’ve had some fiction published, so it’s long overdue  that I managed to get a short story published by Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers.

The story is Grandpa The Clown and is about the kind of clown we should have been educated by while we were children, but were instead in short supply. Clowns are usually in cahoots with parents and authority figures. This is a story about a clown that isn’t.

Don’t Hate On Ching Chong Ding Dong

Ching Chong Ding DongThe latest target of the endless outrage fest perpetually playing out in social media is Stephen Colbert, who is an unlikely villain.

Colbert made himself a persona non grata when he decided to lampoon Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins football team. Snyder, who has come under increasing pressure to rename his team, announced that he was starting a foundation for Native Americans (a.k.a. American Indians, a.k.a. Original Americans, a.k.a. Redskins).

Colbert countered this by announcing the foundation of the “Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Ching Chong Ding Dong is a minstrel-like Asian character Colbert performed on his show. It was obvious and over the top and top-notch comedy.

Colbert manages to make his point without going overboard or bludgeoning a point to death, usually. But the point was missed by a few folks. A #CancelColbert effort was launched via Twitter, and the effort made the news. Colbert’s act was satirical and if that’s very obvious from watching the bit. How someone can come away from that thinking he was trying to insult Asians is beyond me.

The piling on of opposition to the Washington Redskins is tired and has gotten silly. Colbert’s agitation, while correct to point out the desperate and pointless publicity efforts of the Redskins’ team owner, is another in the chorus of followers trying to out-lefty each other on the issue. Sure the Redskins team name is offensive to a lot of people, but complaining about offending Native Americans is pretty hollow coming from people who are living on their land. We’re not seeing offended non-American Indians heading back to their ancestral motherlands and signing over their property to needy Native Americans, so the hating on the sports teams that are so offensive is small potatoes, and late small potatoes at that.

But that’s not the point. Clearly Colbert is on the side of those who think the Redskins name is offensive and should be changed. He was comparing his effort to start a foundation in the name of an offensive character to Daniel Snyder’s efforts to help American Indians while defending a team name that many of them find offensive.

The effort to get Colbert canceled is a sign that “anti-racism” has hit a new low point of self-defeating fanaticism. Multiculturalists have gone so insane that they have started to cannibalize their own. If the liberal Colbert can be denounced as a racist, who can’t be?

The effort to get the Colbert Report canceled will fall flat on its face, but that people could honestly be offended by Ching Chong Ding Dong speaks more to the ills of our society than any antiquated team name.

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