A well-oiled tongue can turn the grey skies blue

The greatest tool in any trade is a well-oiled tongue. There is no more effective way of explaining to a company that they’ve been spending an additional $2,000 a week to keep equipment running, and have been doing so for the past 3 months, 14 weeks, $28,000, simply because they refuse to repair a piece of equipment consisting of 6 wires, and a few plug-and-play modules.

Now, it’s true that being an hourly blue-collar laborer, I must deal with many indignities, the least of which being the small amount of attention paid to my grand observations, This is likely because my poor disposition, coupled with a less-than-stellar aptitude for all things learned, has prevented me from obtaining the vaunted pedigree from the local community college. If only I had the discipline, the drive, and the means necessary to earn my associate degree in HVAC the weight of my words would be heavy enough to demand their attention. It takes the weight of 1,000 words to move them as much as what the shop foreman – a heavyset beer drinking football fan – can do with only a handful of invective. He and his associates degree pedigree,

“Goddammit. that’s a lot of money. Get that fucker fixed now. If it ain’t working right by next week somebody’s ass is on the line.”

Drowning in a puddle of misery

Misery is what most people refer to as their lives. These lives we strain to build are illusory in nature; tattered butterfly wings hung on shimmering gossamer strings. They are the manifested misfortunes of childhood coupled with life-condemning failures we affectionately refer to as life lessons.

I was so overjoyed with my life that before I checked into the hotel I picked up a six pack of tall boys in the hope that I could turn back the hands of time and glimpse the shadows of my dreams, instead of living in the grey fog of hopelessness…

One beer down. No texts. No calls from loved ones. Nothing. The corners of my hotel room grew smaller, and a quiet sense of suffocation settled in for a time. Two beers later and images of my childhood began to flood my mind’s eye. I viewed these images as an aloof outsider: baseball games, bike rides, the smells of summer, and the magical flights of carefree bumblebees.

Two more beers allowed the darker images to bubble up to the surface and hover on the horizon of my thoughts: the woods, the screaming, the blood, and the smell of dead bodies under fall leaves.

We all make mistakes. It’s how we learn from them that defines our character. After the sixth beer I dared to dream again. I shoved the knife into my dollar store jacket pocket, and headed out into the night, into the world of 2nd chances, and the fleeting arms of hope. The hope that I’ll glimpse a glimmer of another’s lost dreams before they disappear forever from their fading eyes.

It’s good to have dreams, even if they’re not my own.

Chumly the Cat

Note: I’m using this story as an exercise. It will be continually revised for some time.

The human mind is an island of entropy in an ocean of ignorance.
– The Mentalist Creed: 1723

As Jen’s rotting corpse filled the bedroom with a noxious odor, she was busy in the kitchen cooking a scrumptious chicken noodle soup for dinner. This is the story of the not-so-recently deceased Ms. Deveroux, and her cat, Chumly.

Donna’s aging Volvo pulls into an empty parking lot. On the horizon the sun is momentarily resting after breaking through a veil of darkness. The keys in her hand jingle against a coffee mug while she punches numbers into the office security system. Lights flicker to life, shutters open, and the day’s first pot of coffee begins brewing.

Nervous fingernails tap on a formica counter as she glances at her watch. “Damn it,” Donna mutters under her breath. “If I knew she wasn’t going to show up I could have slept in.” She takes another drink of coffee, hoping the bitter caffeine will compensate for lack of sleep.

He carefully washes her blood off his hands and forearms, scrubbing all the nooks and crannies until his flesh screams at him to stop. The water in the basin looks like a melted pink rose, silently swirling into the drain’s welcoming darkness. The taste of nickel lingers, resulting in a sheepish grin, like a crooked cop at a shooting. In the hallway a black cat slowly licks a front paw, never taking his eyes of the man in black. The gems on the cat’s collar glow softly in the dark. “It’s for the best,” thinks the cat, “and now it’s time to get rid you, too.” At that moment the doorbell and phone begin ringing.

The sounds cause him to stop what he was doing. He turns off the water, silently dries himself, and leaves the apartment without bothering to close the front door. The sun has left the horizon and begins slowly ascending through a cornflower blue sky. The rush hour traffic is heavy at this time of the morning.

Jess is trying to maintain his bus schedule, and punches the accelerator when he sees the traffic light turning to amber. He’s already 10 minutes late, and the grumbling from the riders has become a white noise of angry bees buzzing around a nest of impatience. Some bees are louder than others. “I can’t be late again,” bemoans an anonymous rider. Beads of sweat begin forming on Jess’s brow.

He didn’t see the man in black walk out in front of his bus until it was too late; the screams of the passengers, the man in black’s calm demeanor 10 feet in front of a speeding bus, the squeal of brakes and smell of burning rubber, the eyes of the man in black not closing until his head explodes against the bus in a crimson halo.

>>>>>>>> (20 August 2014 edits) <<<<<<<<

At that moment the office bell rang out, letting her know that someone had opened the front door, which led into the waiting room. Donna tapped out her cigarette, walked through the office, and entered the waiting room with a formal, “Hello, may I help you”?

There was nobody there. Donna looked around to be sure, but the only thing she noticed was the time on the waiting room clock. It was 8:41. She opened the front door thinking that someone might have left a package or a delivery note, and stared at the “Welcome” mat on the door landing. There were no packages or notes on the door or landing. She was alone.

She walked back towards the patio. As she crossed through the examination room she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. Along one of the walls was a large floor to ceiling mirror and for a moment Donna thought she saw her friend, Ms. Deveroux, sitting down the examination table.
Donna glanced at the table. Empty. “Ok,” she thought to herself, “get a grip, Donna, get – a – grip….” She walked out to the patio, and lit another cigarette. She didn’t seem to notice her trembling hands.

:::::
12 Hours Earlier

Ms. Deveroux was in the kitchen making chicken noodle soup for dinner. She’d been feeling ill the past few days, but had recently awoken feeling quite refreshed. Her fever had broken; the antibiotics had done their magic. She reminded herself to call her friend, Edith, after dinner to let her know she wouldn’t be able to mall walk in the morning. Ms. Deveroux wanted to sleep in, and see how she felt after her physical therapy appointment tomorrow morning before she committed to any more back into her. Then again, she figured Edith would likely stop by anyway just to see how she was doing. Ms. Deveroux’s cat, Chumly, happily chattered to her while rubbing both of her ankles in a never-ending figure eight, also known as an infinity symbol.

“Chumly sure is happy to see me,” She thought to herself, absent-mindedly reaching down to scratch her beloved behind one of his ears. He reciprocated by leaning slightly into her fingers, letting the nails scratch itches he couldn’t quite reach himself, well not without some effort, which went against the kitty cat code of ethics. Little did she realize that Chumly wasn’t merely talking to her, which of course he was, for that’s what cats do, but he was actually in the middle of a sacred feline ritual.

Between magical meowings Chumly was chiding his human caretaker, “I told you not to wear that windbreaker last week. You needed something warmer, you hairless ape. Now look at you. You’re dead, and I have to fix this mess if I want a nice dinner. Oh, the things I do for you. Have you cleaned my litter box yet? I doubt it. You never think of me. Yet here we are on another journey, and, as usual, you don’t even know what’s going on. Oh, why do I bother? ”

If one were to look into the kitchen they would have sworn that Chumly was conversing with a ghost, which cats do rather well I must admit. However, this Ms. Deveroux was in the kitchen making dinner, but there was one little problem, she was a ghost, and her physical body was still in bed.  In the corner of the kitchen a white light began to glow, and then slowly begin spinning in a clockwise rotation. As it did so it grew larger and larger, eventually becoming a large tunnel of soft white light. Violins could be heard emanating from somewhere deep inside the tunnel. Ms. Deveroux was at a crossroads. She could move on if she wanted to, and once she realized that she was dead, but Chumly wasn’t interested in being an orphan, and would have none of it. Chumly knew he had to work fast if he wanted a nice dinner this evening.

His meowings became louder, and his ankle rubbing more fervent. The gems on his collar began to glow. Slowly the music faded away. At the same time Ms. Deveroux’s spiritual being – the one that was currently making dinner in the kitchen –became a solid being. Blood began to flow through empty veins, flesh became warm, and all the while Ms. Deveroux continued making soup, oblivious to everything. The tunnel of light began shrinking, and a few moments later it was nothing more than a bright speck of light in the corner of the room. Then, it winked out. The corpse in her bed faded away. The blankets covering the body slowly drifted downwards until they were peacefully resting on the bed again. The smells of chicken noodle soup filled the kitchen, and it smelled delicious. Chumly’s stomach growled.

Chumly was looking forward to a good meal, and nothing beats chicken noodle soup. In another room, in another place the dead Ms Deveroux remained, along with a hint of chicken noodle soup that hovered in the air for a few minutes before fading away. That Brock never saw Chumly again.
The next morning, as Ms. Deveroux was getting ready for her appointment with Donna, she realized she had forgotten to call Edith the night before, and had subsequently missed their morning mall walk. She hoped to call her after her appointment with Donna, and perhaps take a walk in the early afternoon. When she left for her appointment Chumly was sleeping happily on her bed. He had been in such a good mood the night before, and boy did he love chicken noodle soup. Ms. Deveroux felt certain that he was glad she was feeling better. She looked at her watch as she walked into the office and noticed it was 8:01AM.

Donna looked out from the examination room, and exclaimed, “Ms. Deverouox, it’s so good to see you. I was starting to get worried about you. This is the first time you’ve ever been late.”

Ms. Deveroux looked at the clock in the waiting room, and was shocked to see that the time was actually 8:41. “Oh my,” said Ms. Deveroux, “I had no idea it was that late. I thought it was eight o’clock. In fact, my alarm clock, and kitchen clock are also off by twenty minutes. I'm so sorry.”

"That's quite alright, Ms. Deveroux. I'm just happy to see you. You can come on back now," Donna said. And with that, Ms. Deveroux began her new day.

Chumly rolled over, scratched an itch, sat up, and looked out the window. "I wonder if she realizes what a cross-dimensional time shift is? Oh, well, she'll figure it out," and with that he laid back down, fell asleep, and dreamed about chicken noodle soup.

Burroughs’ Savage Baboon

Speaking of rats, did I ever tell you the time I got lost in New York’s subway system? I was wondering around the J line. Passing nodding junkies, under the crunch of broken needles and bloody condoms – the detritus of lost souls – I rounded a graffiti-covered corner, when my pet baboon saw one of J line’s dog rats: Rats literally the size of a small dog, and thought it was another baboon. It attacked, savagely ripping off the rat’s head in a scream of rage, as a spray of rat blood and brains splattered wetly against one of the tiled walls. It looked like something from Pollock’s dark period.

The baboon then proceeded to fuck the dead rat’s newborn fleshy orifice. The mouth of the rat head, laying in the corner covered in its own blood, continued to bite the air and scream in silent fury. I gobbled up the rat’s ectoplasmic essence with grimy fingers that glistened in the yellowed light.

The Cost of a Living Wage

Our society is failing to provide a living wage for tens of millions of Americans. In 2012, the total percentage of American workers making less than 1968’s minimum wage was between 39.6% and 46.6% ($22,339.20)[1].   An unsettlingly large percentage of Americans currently struggle to live at, or below, the poverty level. It is why America has more children living in poverty than almost every other developed nation in the world, with the exception of Romania. In 2012 there were 21.8% of children under the age of 18 living in poverty[2]. Americans need a living wage.

There are many who say we’re already giving millions of dollars in government benefits to a bunch of lazy, entitlement-rich malcontents. Why should they get a “free ride”? Well, the simple truth is that over 90% of those receiving benefits are: the elderly, the disabled, and those in a working household[3]. This misconception is one of the radical rights, formerly known as those crazy neocons, talking points, as this recent headline clearly illustrates, “Why work when you can live comfortably on the government dole?” [4]. This headline comes from the necon paper The Washington Examiner. It is bankrolled by billionaire, Philip Anschultz, who also repeatedly tried to get intelligent design creationism taught in America’s public school system via The Discovery Institute, of Seattle, WA. Yes, one of the most conservative groups is located in the heart of Liberalia.

My biggest concern in all this is how it will affect our future. No developed country, other than Romania, has a higher percentage of kids in poverty than America. We’re living with crippling income disparity, as evidenced by the chilling fact that many Wal Mart employees will have to work for nearly 800 years to make what their CEO, Michael Duke, made in 2012[5]. The effects of this on society are troubling.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist, eloquently stated, “The price of allowing the US to continue down the path of inequality, as 1 percent of Americans now control 40 percent of the country’s wealth, is the undermining of economic growth, the erosion of democracy and the growing instability of American society itself. American income inequality presents a frightening specter, he argues, for the global economy.  The risk is that the middle class is going to be harder and harder hit, and that there will be prosperity for only the few at the top. But the middle class is important for stable growth and a strong democracy. When a society becomes more and more divided, it becomes increasingly class-driven, and it’s very hard for democratic processes to work well in that kind of society.”[6]

We’ve seen the impact of money’s influence on legislation. In the past there was Enron’s contribution to the energy bill, which was a disaster. Currently the Koch brothers’ are hell-bent on profits, and have already destroyed thousands of jobs in renewable energy field by using pseudo-science, and good old-fashioned lobbying. They’re also bankrolling the Tea Party, and were behind the Tea Party’s failed attempt at blackmailing the government via a government shutdown. Doesn’t this undermine America’s ability to achieve stable economic growth, while robbing the chances for millions of Americans to follow their dreams?

This reflects poorly on our culture. Today, different factions of society aren’t separated by minor ideological differences; they’re separated by trenches of hate. We’ve gone from a land of opportunity, to a land where tens of millions of children live in poverty.

Our politicians, bought and paid for by Lobbyists, Inc. have become their spokesmen. A few of the 1% club have actively tried shaming us into doing things against our own self-interests, e.g. Romney’s 47% comment vs. the fact that the vast majority of said 47% come from staunchly Republican states[7]. If we don’t turn this trend around soon, and learn to help one another, things will get worse.

A living wage isn’t merely an economic issue, but a moral issue that reflects society’s values.

 

[1] http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2012

[2] http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/files/2012/09/2-10-12bud-f1.jpg

[4] http://washingtonexaminer.com/examiner-editorial-why-work-when-you-can-live-comfortably-on-the-government-dole/article/2537928

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/walmart-wages-to-ceo-annual-salary_n_3140618.html

[6] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/121226/joseph-stiglitz-us-income-inequality

[7] http://www.businessinsider.com/mitt-romney-47-percent-no-income-tax-map-red-republican-states-2012-9

Death of the American Dream: Income disparity and our burgeoning two class society

If you’re earning less than $10.74 an hour then you’re making less than your grandparents did back in the 60’s, when they were working a minimum wage job. The $1.60/hr they made in 1968 is worth $10.74/hr today. With that in mind, it’s hard to deny the painful truth: wages have decreased by over 32% since 1968 for 99% of Americans. The reason? A money and power grab by the top 1%, and the resultant income disparity that will eventually result in the elimination of the middle class. Raising the minimum wage to the levels of our grandparents would go a long ways to helping those most in need.

Real Value of the Federal Minimum Wage, 1968-2012 (in 2012 dollars)x

 

Bootstrapping is what made America great. But ask any of the tens-of-millions of working poor if hard work is enough to prevent them from living paycheck to paycheck? The sad truth is that repressed wages have turned the American dream into a nightmare. Couple this with the shocking fact that over 45 million Americans lack decent healthcare, while millions more are one check away from losing their coverage, and an ugly picture of our modern day American lifescape begins to take shape. How did we get into such a predicament? Are we still the greatest country in the world?

Since 2009, 95% of the income gains have gone to the top 1%, and that’s actually down from the 121% in gains they earned from 2009 to 2011. Odds are good that many of our grandparents will work until the day they die – their dreams died a long time ago. This is what happens when people aren’t paid a living wage. Many of us face a similar fate if we allow this income disparity to continue unchallenged. The irony is that employees today are far more productive  than they were back in the 60s.

If we were to tie the minimum wage to production, it would currently be around $22/hr. From 1973 through today, technology and education have resulted in tremendous gains in worker productivity. Unfortunately compensation hasn’t followed suit.

 comparing productivity with hourly wages, inflation-adjusted with the Consumer Price Index (CPI)

We face an uphill battle. Now that money is the driver behind free speech (e.g. Super PACs) the voices of the poor and middle class, i.e. you and me, have been nearly silenced by roar of the 1%. They’re creating large swaths of low information voters who actually believe the half-truths being sold to them. How many of you have heard the Job Creators meme? It’s almost as ubiquitous as the socialized healthcare meme, and the compromised Canadian and British health care systems memes. Which are false, by the way, as many of my Canadian friends will happily attest to.

Out of 141 countries, the U.S. has the 4th highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon. The reason for this disparity is simple; corporations are influencing legislation through lobbying efforts and Super PACs, and then reaping financial windfalls. The more they win, the more everyone else loses. Months before their epic (and well documented) collapse, Enron Corporation had three of their top officials secretly meet with [then] Vice President Dick Cheney, who was heading the energy task force. These officials were instrumental in crafting legislation that gave Enron, and their ilk, hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks and other benefits. How could such extreme corruption influence policy? Greed is green, and money is the great equalizer. Many former Enron employees, having lost everything, will be working until the day they die. The first step is to raise minimum wage. The minimum it should be raised to is the levels of our grandparents, $10.74/hr. Ideally, I’d like to see it also reflect the vast gains in productivity, and would be happy with a minimum wage around $16/hr. It would instantly and drastically improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans.

However, the 1% club wants to horde all money, and it has become even more obvious over the past decade. One of the greatest periods of economic growth occurred during President Clinton’s term, 1993 – 2000. This resulted in income growth across the board. During this time incomes for the bottom 99% grew by over 20%. While still repressed, they weren’t backsliding. However, from 2002-2007 incomes for the bottom 99% grew by a mere 7%, while those for the top 1% grew by almost 70%. This is, in large part, the result of policies enacted by the Bush administration – including sweeping tax changes that benefitted the top 1%. Most of these were implemented after the Enron debacle, even though Enron executives had a hand in crafting the legislation.

Change in income and share of income from 1979 to 2009

Today, the 1% aren’t content with merely working in the background. The Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch are bankrolling the Tea Party, and there’s no doubting the poisonous influence these Puppets of the Plutocracy have had on Washington. Tea Party members were instrumental in shutting down the government, as part of a bluff to undermine President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, because having over 45 million Americans living paycheck to paycheck, and living without adequate healthcare isn’t unfair enough. The bluff quickly unraveled hours after the Koch brothers, in a face-saving move, publicly stated that they weren’t behind the shutdown (nudge nudge, wink wink). Following this announcement, a rash of meetings ensued to resolve the crisis and limit the political fallout. But how does this affect you and me?

The influence the Koch brothers have had on our country has been devastating. Their meddling with renewable energy legislation, using Koch-supported think tanks and junk science, among other tactics, has resulted in the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs, higher utility costs, and more pollution (not to mention the long-term effects of said pollution). On the upside, the Keystone pipeline will create upwards of 50 jobs. The Koch brothers have spent over $67,000,000 from their family foundations to deny the existence and extent of global climate change, promote fossil fuel use, and undermine renewable energy legislation. But the most immediate impact has been the tremendous loss of jobs.

Today, thanks to the influence of big money on Washington politics, we’re being told & sold even less of the truth, while a new charade of morality carries on. Change starts by addressing income disparity. I’m not talking about higher taxes. That’s a tough sell, though the tax rates during Clinton’s presidency didn’t affect economic growth, and in fact possibly helped to spur growth. Giving people a living minimum wage, one that’s adjusted for inflation, is the logical next step. And $16/hr would be a great starting point.

The regulations and policies being instituted today to address income disparity pale to those enacted during the New Deal (after the Great Depression). The result of the New Deal permanently reduced income concentrations until the 1970s, which, coincidentally is when this current run of income disparity started. Coincidence? Until drastic changes are enacted to address this issue, income concentration will compromise economic stability, eliminate the middle class, and kill the American dream for tens of millions. We’ll be left with a two-class society of excessive wealth and extreme poverty.

Unless we face this issue head-on we may be witnessing the birth of America’s Plutocracy.

Alex Rodriguez: Suspension or Lifetime Ban?

arod

Alex Rodriguez and MLB are in a tough situation; unless MLB retroactively punishes A-Rod for tests he’s already passed they’re going to have a hard-sell justifying a permanent ban, and A-Rod’s worked extensively to get back to playing shape only to have this blow up in his face. The New York Yankees want nothing to do with him, regardless of what they’re saying publicly about the situation. A lifetime ban would save the Yanks a ton of money, as well as removing some of the tarnish from their image – ’cause everyone remembers Giambi. However, that’s too extreme, and is unlikely to happen. The bigger issue is the rampant use of peds in MLB, and how MLB is going to fix this problem.
Braun should have been suspended for 50 games. However, due to the inane press conference he held in 2012 after successfully appealing a 50 game suspension, the 60+ game suspension seems appropriate, with one exception – MLB should never have commended Braun for being a cheater.
I believe A-Rod’s punishment should be harsher than Braun’s, due to the sheer extent of abuse and A-Rod’s numerous denials over the span of years. I don’t believe he should be banned for life. A 50 to 150 game suspension would be more than sufficient. It will save face (and more than a few dollars) for the Yankees, as well as mete out a punishment that reflects MLB’s new stance on performance enhancing drugs. I believe all contracts signed under false pretense should be up for renegotiation if a player is caught using peds. It could be argued that the player’s skill set has been artificially enhanced by the drugs, and that a reevaluation is in order to allow the clubs to determine an appropriate level of compensation based on a player’s natural ability.

Slight Tangent: The Pete Rose meme
Whenever there is talk of ped-based suspensions a lot of people bring up Pete Rose. These are vastly different issues and they should never be confused. Pete Rose committed a sin far worse that ped’s, and he should never, ever under any circumstances be allowed into the Hall of Fame. He, along with the Chicago Black Sox, brought a level of shame to MLB that no ped user will ever be able to reach. How many careers did Rose affect due to his gambling addiction? How many careers were jeopardized because Rose didn’t want to pull out an injured player for fear of losing a bet? After lying to everyone for over 20 years can anyone really believe anything he says? I find it hard to believe that he never bet against his own team.

For me to believe that I would have to believe that Braun was clean in 2012. And that ain’t happening.