It’s about jobs, stupid!

Jobs, jobs and jobs. It’s all about the jobs! Like my previous post about the election hinging on which candidate can be perceived to deliver for the middle class, the second thing following closely after that are jobs. Good jobs, not jobs at McDonalds paying the minimum wage. Living wage jobs. There are plenty of McJobs that don’t even pay enough to cover rent and gas. No one wants those jobs.

Economists, policymakers and experts have each expounded their ideas on how to create and replace the middle class jobs that don’t require college degrees which were lost for good in the Great Recession, namely, factory jobs at the rust belt and in the automobile industry. These jobs have begun slowly moving overseas in the 80’s and 90’s when the China Market opened up to the world but when the 2008 recession hit, it was dealt big irreversible blow. Some would argue that the closure of the Packard plant in Detroit in 1958 was the beginning of the death knell of the once giant and impenetrable US automobile industry, it survived the Great Depression and countless other business downturns but the owners decided in 1958 to cut its losses and close down the manufacturing plant that once employed 40,000 people. The ruins of that huge Packard plant still remain, since its closure the owners sold off portions of the plant and leased out some portions, but as the whole city of Detroit declined in jobs and population, the building stood emptied, ruined and abandoned, a symbol of the city of Detroit itself and in some ways the automobile industry.

There are two extremes of thought here, the first is the Republican policy of giving every tax cut available to business owners, the ‘trickle-down economics’ model, believing that they will reinvest the tax cuts to its employees by way of higher wages. That’s hasn’t happened and it’s never happened, they don’t give it to their employees, they keep it for themselves. The other end of the spectrum are economists such as Robert Reich and Larry Summers who belong to the Keynesian school of economics believe that one way to revive the middle class and good paying jobs is to revive the unions in some capacity where collective bargaining will result in better pay for workers. Unions are not the answer, unions are not what they were since its inception in the 18th and early 19th centuries where workers were treated horribly with poor wages and absolutely no laws to protect them, unions morphed into a giant body of uncompetitiveness and at times unreasonable demands which resulted in worker complacency. The few industries left where its governed by unions leave its employers very frustrated with the bureaucracy and red tape. It requires up to 55 layers of bureaucracy to terminate a non-performing school teacher. Unions today are not here to guarantee fair wages and treatment, unions exist to guarantee workers a good paying job for life with minimal input. No business owner, large or small, wants to deal with that, they would rather close shop in the United States, spend money and resources to move all the equipment and facilities to China or some other loosely regulated country and set up there, hire workers there for a fraction for what they have to pay US workers and those workers are happy to have those jobs, they don’t complain, they don’t demand sick days or vacations, they work until their fingers bleed and are happy to do it. The average US worker has to keep in mind that in this competitive global economy, there is always someone out there who will do your job for cheaper, faster and better. You can count on it. With computer technology advancing, even clerical work can be outsourced.

The most recent strike at the Port of Long Beach was the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit, a relatively small union which represent documentation workers at the port, the workers where striking because they accused the port authorities of outsourcing their jobs overseas to Malaysia and India. When a documentation worker retired or quit his or her job, instead of filling that position with local workers, they outsourced that position, it was a slow drain. The Port Authority maintains that they did no such thing that they just chose to not refill all the vacant positions. The strike carried on for a few days with members of other unions showing solidarity by not crossing the picket line and this caused a delay in shipping containers being returned timely. They reached an agreement which guaranteed more pay and generous pension for employees and that they were guaranteed jobs for life. But the Port Authority didn’t cave into the demand that they must refill all the vacant positions with local workers. The documentation worker’s compensation is very generous compared to non-union documentation workers, with a base salary of $90,000 and if you include all the benefits like paid vacations, pensions and health care, the total comes out to $165,000 annually. What unions do not realize that because the compensation for their occupation is at least double of what a non-unionized documentation worker would receive, they’ve indirectly taken the jobs for other documentation workers. Unionized employees pay hefty union dues to be represented and of course it’s natural that one wants to see a return on that investment, but it does not mean that it’s good for the economy at large. Also, there are no such things as lifetime guarantees of employment unless you are in business for yourself, that also died with the recession. It’s also unreasonable to ask any employer (big or small) to guarantee lifetime employment to anyone in an ever shifting business cycle and advancement of technology, it’s not a promise most employers can reasonably keep.

US workers cannot extort its way to better wages, it won’t work, employers are in business to make money, that is the most basic business model no matter where you go, even in China, so to make conditions so uncomfortable for business owners so that they either go overseas where it’s cheaper to bribe officials in that country than deal with the unions here, or not be in business at all, it’s the US workers who lose. And workers need to give up that pipe dream of gainful factory worker where you retire with a pension, that’s gone too. The digitized economy has changed all that, for better for worse, there’s no going back, there’s only forward. US workers needs to stop competing for good factory jobs with workers overseas, we will lose each time. There are scores of people in this world who will gladly work at a factory for $5 an hour doing the same work some as someone getting paid $25 per hour in the U.S.

I was in a unique position to be involved in the hiring of an assistant for myself. I worked in a small business with annual sales around $100 million per year and office staff of 4 people, business was growing so we needed to hire one extra person. Like all small businesses, one person had to wear many hats and execute multiple functions in any given day and at times all at once. It was a good paying position, annual salary of $40,0000 to $43,000 depending on experience, college degree not required but preferred, good computers skills was a must, especially Microsoft Excel. Since I would be working closely with this person, I was given an opportunity to screen candidates and train with them. This was still at the height of the recession where unemployment was over 8%. I was expecting a steady stream of well qualified candidates ready to take this on, we didn’t even require experience if the candidate was a fast learner and took initiative in his or her training. This wasn’t a monotonous single function job, the job required the candidate to be on top of all email correspondences to make sure they were replied to timely as what we did was extremely time sensitive, to problem solve within a given range, to apply commonsense in situations and work out the best solution in the timeliest way possible. It was not a position that was to be micromanaged by a superior because we didn’t have that type of manpower. And after the candidate has been properly trained, he or she will have to make judgement calls on his or her own without much input from superiors. It wasn’t an easy job but it was by no means brain surgery.

The candidates that were referred to us by a well reputed local employment agency was less than inspiring. Some recent graduates couldn’t even manage basic Excel spreadsheets, let alone create one of their own. One recent accounting degree graduate actually wrote out by hand her spreadsheet when she was told to organize some accounting figures, why she didn’t directly type them on Excel first, I’ll never know, I didn’t even bother asking. Sometimes the president of our company will need us to write an email to our business partners on his behalf but he wouldn’t have time to dictate verbatim so he’ll give main points and we compose an email from that, some candidates couldn’t do this to save their lives. I wasn’t asking them to write an in depth essay about Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it was just a few simple instructions or questions for our business partners. For most candidates, basic writing skills and composition of original content in a timely manner was nonexistent. One candidate told me ‘I wasn’t hired to think’ when I asked her to think and process what should be the next logical steps of a certain task. By this time, I’ve graduated from college for about ten years, not a recent graduate but by no means ancient, I begun to wonder what exactly are people learning in school these days?

One turns on the news and you hear about how there are millions of qualified American workers ready to take on new challenges, new jobs and are willing to do anything to start over and at our company, here was an opportunity for a well paying and challenging job, candidates just had to show some initiative and drive. There was plenty of training being provided, people were available to answer any questions as it was our goal to take extra time to train candidates and when they were done training, they could work independently. There appears to be a skills and requirement gap between what employers are looking for and what the workforce is providing, with so many people looking for work, employers have the luxury of being picky.

With the modern digitized economy, there will be no one to look out for us but ourselves. There’s no union, no government and definitely no big corporations will look out for the average worker. Workers today need to be well armed in skills in all areas, as jobs and industries change so quickly. Computer skills need to be constantly updated, a lot of self-learning needs to take place, multi-tasking is a requirement, not an extra skill you add at the bottom of your resume. The ability to learn new softwares quickly and efficiently is vital, the worker needs to be adaptable in every work environment across multiple fields of work. The days where one person just did one type of job are gone. The computerization of all industries made workers more efficient and that means workers have time to do more than one task.

Mr. Reich and Mr. Summers mean well, but they would serve the American public better by telling the truth about the current state of the economy as it is now and that unions will be a thing of the past in advanced economies, and yes, machines and robots have taken some jobs from humans but this is due to technological advancement and it would be silly to stop that advancement so that humans’ jobs can be saved, technological advancement should be always encouraged even if it cost some jobs, people have adapted to all sorts of economic changes and the adaptation process is difficult but the human race has always prevailed.

Bali Nine. 8 Executed.

The deed is done. The Indonesian government did it, they executed 8 of the Bali 9 accused of facilitating a drug ring. The deed was carried out on April 29, 2015 at 12:30 AM, there were no more reprieves given or stays of execution handed out, except for one, Mary Jane Veloso, the lone female member of the Bali 9. Her stay of execution is only temporary until they examine the evidence. Apparently someone from her home country of Philippines came forward to say that she was duped into being a drugs mule and due to her poverty, she was vulnerable to such manipulations. It is not known why her execution was stayed while the others went ahead, perhaps because she has 2 young children back home waiting for her, it’s unclear.

Prior to their executions, the governments from each of Bali 9’s respective countries made appeals on their behalf, citing lack of evidence, improper judicial process to plain cruelty to be executed by a firing squad in the 21st century, all in the end to no avail. The Guardian has kept a live blog detailing each judicial process and procedure until the execution was carried out. The live blog goes into great detail on who the 8 persons that were executed were and what they were charged with and based on what evidence they are found guilty.  Two of the persons executed were of Australian citizenship, Australia has just recalled their ambassador from Indonesia. The world’s outcry is loud, most human rights groups are aghast with horror and people are quite shocked that despite appeals after appeals on legal and humanitarian grounds, Indonesia bucked against Western powers and went ahead with its execution.

Indonesia, like all Islamic countries have very harsh punishments for drug offenses, especially drug trafficking offenses, as they believe that drug addiction is a scourge invented, promoted and specific to the West. The one immorality the Islamic world can control that they can claim to not be their own (pornography, promiscuity, immodest dress code by women, drinking also make their list of Western immoralities, but muslims engage in all these activities with or without Western’s influence). Islamic countries do not take lightly to holiday makers having a puff of weed or a line of something or other here and there as part of holiday fun. It is something they strictly forbid and when caught, heavy penalties are handed down. Some Islamic countries, especially ones that depend heavily on tourism from Westerners have allowed the sale and consumption of alcohol, otherwise, it’s not really a vacation without any booze.

There are two things you don’t want to do in any Islamic country, the first is insulting their Prophet and Islam and second is to be caught with drugs, whether for recreational use or worse, possession with intent to distribute. They can tolerate quite a lot from holiday makers, including murder one’s own mother (more on that later), but not the aforementioned two offenses.

As imagined, the international community is outraged that 8 people were executed for crimes that didn’t result in the death of another, many of these charges appeared trumped up or convictions based on the word of mouth of another and not much of it is based on hard evidence, but then we are talking about Indonesia, all that doesn’t matter, what matters is they caught foreigners with drugs and with intent to distribute said drugs and it’s the perfect opportunity to show foreigners, even holiday makers, who is in charge in Indonesia. One detail that was particularly macabre was the 9 coffins that were waiting outside the execution site prior to the deaths of the prisoners, one would think it would be more appropriate to bring the coffins after their deaths, but that’s trifles at this stage. Besides the injustice and cruelty of the actual executions, there were other cruelties such as denying the prisoners the pastor of their choice for their last hours, it’s always the small cruelties and small injustices that show the true colors of the Indonesian judicial system. It’s not interested in justice or mercy for the condemned, it’s interested in headlines, for standing up to the international community.

On the real scandal out of Bali, is the case of Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer for the murder of Heather Mack’s mother, Sheila Von-Wiese Mack over an argument about Sheila’s dislike for her daughter Heather’s boyfriend Tommy Schaefer. According to the defendants, it was an argument that escalated out of control, where Sheila Von-Wiese Mack allegedly used a racial slur on Tommy Schaefer (Sheila Von-Wiese Mack is Caucasian, Heather Mack is bi-racial (African American and Caucasian) and Tommy Schaefer is African American), in a fit of anger, a physical altercation ensued and Sheila Von-Wiese Mack was killed by mistake. It’s also worthy to note that Heather Mack, the victim’s daughter is the beneficiary of a $1.6 million dollar trust fund and she’s just turned 18. Sheila Von-Wiese Mack was a Chicago socialite with means, Tommy Schaefer knew this and is also aware of her opposition to their relationship. The relationship between mother and daughter was strained to say the least and it was rumored that Heather Mack tried to hire a hitman in the United States for $50,000 to get rid of her mother. It is not known if this is true as Heather Mack herself refused to answer this question.  Heather Mack was also pregnant at the time her mother was murdered and has since had a little called Stella in prison. Stella is named after her boyfriend’s great-grandmother.

As harsh as the prosecutors were with the Bali 9, where their crimes didn’t result in the death of another person, the prosecutors were very lenient with Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer. They worked out a deal where they would admit to some sort of manslaughter and Heather Mack got a 10 year prison sentence and Tommy Schaefer received a maximum of 18 year prison sentence for manslaughter. By the time their sentences are over, Heather Mack will only be 29 and Tommy will still be 39, both young enough to start new lives.

Mack maintained that her boyfriend killed her mother with a blunt object in the hotel room by mistake, and she helped him stuff her mother’s corpse in a suitcase and attempted to flee the country but was stopped at the airport because their passports were locked in the hotel room safe of which they didn’t have the combination to. Prosecutors found Heather Mack to be truly remorseful and shocked at what she had done, and conveniently, she was pregnant, at which the prosecutors and the judge did not wish to deprive a baby of its mother. Due to the wealth left to her by her mother, she was able to secure a top notch defense attorney in Indonesia and was treated very leniently and very well behind bars.

This young girl is an ingrate, perhaps in the throes of her passion for her boyfriend, she’s tossed all commonsense out the window. Mothers being disapproving of boyfriends is a age old lore, it will eventually resolve itself, kids grow up and what was so alluring to them at age 18 may not seem so at age 25 and as galling as it may seem, mom is usually right on these matters. It is unclear why Tommy Schaefer was brought on this vacation if her mother so disapproved of him, it really doesn’t matter why, what matters is that she was killed, stuffed in a suitcase and tossed out like garbage and no one paid with his or her life. Whereas the Bali 9, convicted of drug charges and were executed, yes drugs are horrible, and those who pedal them are the scourge of the earth, even we in the West do not condone drug use or drug culture. Just because it exists and has proliferated in society does not mean that Westerners approve of or like drug use but at the end of the day no one was harmed by the alleged activities of the Bali 9, yet they were executed by firing squad.

The death penalty ultimately is an inhumane way of punishment, and the United States is the only advanced Western nation still to execute its citizens. Many states have banned capital punishment but in some states it’s still widely used. However, if a nation like Indonesia is to still use the death penalty as a way of punishment, the least they could do is to apply the law fairly. I am not saying Heather Mack or Tommy Schaefer should be executed for their crimes, I don’t think her mother would want that, but for them to get less than 20 year sentences for murder but 8 other people were executed for drug smuggling where no one was harmed for their alleged crimes, there is something very wrong and unfair with that.

Baltimore burning.

Pundits, opines, politicians, newscasters, journalists, news commentators and various self-appointed ‘experts’ can sit there in their lofty chairs and discuss, dissect, parse, analyze and then apportion blame as to why Baltimore is burning. Many will have valid points that speak to some truth of the state of Baltimore and by extension the condition of the inner city ghettos today. But few can do it better than someone who’s actually from the ghetto. And now I will cede the floor to Kevin Powell, who wrote this for the Huffington Post: Why Baltimore is Burning.

“If you aren’t from the ghetto, if you have not spent significant time in the ghetto, then you would not understand the ghetto….”

It is easy for folks who were not brought up in the ghetto, who have never been to the ghetto, who wouldn’t even venture into the ghetto just out of sheer curiosity could possibly understand the lives of the people who live there. The first comprehensive report which outlined a welfare state was by the British economist Sir William Beveridge, the ‘The Beveridge Report’ was published in 1942, during the Great Depression where millions wanting work cannot find any work and he labeled the ‘five evil giants of society’ as: Want. Disease. Ignorance. Squalor. Idleness. It was the first comprehensive study and report done in the name of social justice and putting everyone back to work with the broad support of the State. It was also widely criticized as the architect of the dependent welfare state as 64% of Britons today are on some sort of benefits.

Though The Beveridge Report pertains to Great Britain, the five main social ills of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness exists everywhere and unless one is confronted with these social ills everyday, it’s very hard to see from the point of view from someone who must exist in these conditions. There is no pride in poverty, in being poor, in being needy, deprived of life’s basics, in not having enough money to cover life’s essentials. The supposed character building qualities that poverty brings a person is greatly overstated. It is soul destroying for those who cannot break the cycle. People who make such statements as being poor during their youth has given them the drive to be successful and got them to where they are today, they are only saying this because they are no longer poor so they view their days of poverty through rose tinted glasses.

Poverty is a repetitive vicious cycle that is very hard to break, it’s far easier said than done, to tell people with delinquent juveniles as parents to not act as their parents did, to stay in school, stay off the streets, stay out of jail or prison, make responsible choices and not get pregnant or get anyone pregnant, when they’ve no one to model this from. The schools in inner cities are underfunded and poor performing. The availability of school counselors and mentors are nonexistent, so from where do these ‘social pundits’ expect inner city children to make responsible choices?

Poverty comes with a lot of unwanted byproducts, such as teenage pregnancy, under education, financial illiteracy, poor employment prospects, poor diet and nutrition, diseases which are associated with poor diet and nutrition and all of that will eventually result in welfare dependency. Nobody wants to live on welfare, it’s no life, certainly no ticket to prosperity. Americans have a lot of pride, Americans like to be self-sufficient, we like to take care of our own families on our own dime. Americans only turn to government assistance when there is no other way.

“If you came of age in one of America’s poor inner cities like I did, then you know that we are good, decent people: in spite of no money, no resources, little to no services, run down schools, landpersons who only came around to collect rent, and madness and mayhem everywhere, amongst each other — from abusive police officers, and from corrupt politicians and crooked preachers — we still made a way out of no way. We worked hard, we partied hard, we laughed hard, we barbecued hard, we drank hard, we smoked hard, and we praised God, hard”. – Kevin Powell

I don’t know what would induce a community to destroy its own neighborhood, or a newly established and much needed CVS Pharmacy. It certainly doesn’t seem rational or economical, especially if it’s an underprivileged area and you need every standing, usable building available. But I don’t live there, I don’t know what it’s like to live there. I’ve never been brutalized by the police. I grew up in a single parent household, but we were supported by our extended family, we were middle class and I attended good schools, I had rules enforced upon me. It never occurred to me to get myself arrested or get in any kind of trouble with the police. In fact, I actively avoided people and situations where I would run into law enforcement of any kind. My only interactions with the police were when I was pulled over for speeding, rolling a stop sign and talking on my cell phone. I am not black or Hispanic and during each of those interactions the police were polite, I didn’t get off with a warning either, I was written up a ticket each time. But I am the result of my upbringing, no one in my family has ever been arrested for been in trouble with the law, I was not taught to fear the police, but to keep them at arms length and to only call them when I needed them, which hopefully was never. I am the product of my upbringing, my neighborhood, my environment, though not extremely privileged, it was a model of stability. So it is very easy for anyone from similar background as me to pass judgement and postulate on why inner cities are so disorderly.

To the all the police forces of this country, this is not a time to demonize the police. 99% of police do excellent work at protecting the community they serve, they do so at the peril of their own safety, they respond and go to places many do not dare to venture, many go above and beyond their calls of duty and save countless lives, but when the same story happens over and over again where a white police officer has shot, killed, or grievously injured an unarmed black man during the commission of misdemeanors or arrests, it is a time for reckoning for everyone. Right now civil rights groups are advocating body cameras on all officers, which is an expensive proposition but would at least document in real time what transpired so that the chances of police cover up or a police said/suspect said situation would be greatly mitigated. But this is only a band aid fix, what needs to happen is better training for police officers, to train them to not be so trigger, taser and baton happy at each slight movement of a possible perpetrator. Police should be taught to assess danger better and not just go on knee jerk reactions and then later say ‘I was in fear for my life, I didn’t know of if suspect was armed’, well – you are the police, you, out of anyone should know how to assess real versus perceived danger. Also the police need not be so rough with people during arrests, slamming people’s head in the squad car or breaking someone’s knees while slamming them to the ground is not necessary, and the verbal abuse, name calling and excessive shouting is not necessary either, we are innocent until proven guilty in this country and that should start at the time of arrest. It’s actions like verbal abuse and name calling by the police and if the suspects talks back then he could be charged with ‘resisting arrest’ and if the suspect gets injured and dies of the injury as a result of that arrest is what tips the boil pot over. It’s not just the death of Freddie Gray that has people angry and riled, it’s the whole arrest process, the roughness, being manhandled, shouted at, verbally abused and then finally dying from his injuries, the whole chain of events has people up in arms. Arrested citizens are not convicted criminals yet, only a court can decide that, they are only suspects, thus should be treated as just suspects.

When communities are segregated along the lines of race or ethnicity and the police force responsible for policing that community are mostly white, and add to that the only interaction between these two groups is under duress or possible commission of a crime, deep suspicions will develop against each other. Police need to become part of the community they serve through daily interactions outside of arrests and confrontations, so that the community they serve and the police force know and understand each other so when it comes the time to respond to a possible crime or incident, the police do not come in with preordained suspicions and biases and it would help the police assess the situation better.

Lastly, all persons, including people who are victimized by circumstance, government, system of governance and police, needs to, at some point take responsibility and account for their lives and actions. Victims cannot blame their perpetrators forever, everyone needs to own their lives, their decisions and how they came to that place in their lives, apart from from what’s been inflicted on them. The victim mentality is as every bit insidious and poisonous than an abusive police force. Thinking and acting like a victim will keep one a victim forever and one will slowly forget that no matter what that the circumstances are, we as individuals have the ability to control how we react to them and how we choose to battle our situations. That is one thing no police department can take away from us.

The middle class.

Reviving the middle class. It’s the catch phrase of this presidential election campaign and whoever the voters believe can deliver for the middle class will be our next president. Whoever can bottle up his or her secret elixir for reviving the middle class in America and then sell it to the masses will become our next president. What no one is talking about is who exactly comprises of the middle class? All the candidates assume that the voters know who the middle class are, but do they really? The face of the middle class has changed drastically since The Great Recession. Many former middle class pursuits and creature comforts now belong to the upper-classes or at least upper-middle class. Things like private education, summer camps, playing varsity sports, all require extra money that the middle class no longer have and perhaps will not regain in the near future. All the extra disposable income the middle class have are now going towards maintaining the rising cost of living but no upward adjustment in wages, not enough to keep up with inflation anyway. And what’s not mentioned yet by any of the candidates is growing the middle class, not growing the income of the current middle class but growing the number of people who belong to the middle class, lifting people who are in the lower classes into the middle class and out of the grind and humiliation of poverty. And I don’t mean throwing money at the problem by creating more government funded programs in the form of direct handouts, that hasn’t worked in the long term but providing the lower income people the tools to move into the middle class, such as education, training and life skills, topics such as delaying parenthood until one is financially established, avoiding single parent household situations and making smart, long term financial decisions that would not only move them into the middle class but that their children stay in the middle class as well.

The next thing is of course who the Republicans and Democrats consider to be middle class and what their views of the middle class are and whether or not they want to grow the middle class. The GOP no longer recognizes what the real middle class is, they think middle class is middle white America and people who subscribe to and identify with those values and that excludes a lot of people. The Democrats need the votes of the lower income voters so their incentive to campaign to bring more people into the middle class isn’t quite there. People who already belong in the middle class depending on if they are at the higher end of the middle income scale or lower end, will more or less determine who they vote for.

How these candidates campaign for the middle class will be based on their definition of the middle class. Is it how much money you have in the bank? Your annual income? Your occupation or profession? College degree or not? Does someone without a college degree but earn upwards of $50,000 per year which is more than what some with a college degree earn does that make one middle class? Your values and tastes, such as attending the theater or the ballet or going to watch a dirt bike contest with your free time? Where you shop (Walmart or Target)? Do you eat organic food or do you eat processed junk food? Where do you go and what do you do on the weekends, ferrying your kids around to various sports games or watching football at home? What about church attendance? And finally a thorny and controversial one – parenting style. Do middle class parents parent their children differently and do they impart different values than their working class counterparts? According to Robert Putnam’s new book: ‘Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis’, the main barrier to social mobility is no longer race but social class: “Poor parenting is thus a barrier to social mobility, and is becoming more so as the world grows more complex and the rewards for superior cognitive skills increase.” He goes on to say that “Educated parents engage in a non-stop Socratic dialogue with their children, helping them to make up their own minds about right and wrong, true and false, wise and foolish. This is exhausting, so it helps to have a reliable spouse with whom to share the burden, not to mention cleaners, nannies and cash for trips to the theatre.” He points up that up to “1970s there were practically no class differences in the amount of time that parents spent talking, reading and playing with toddlers. Now the children of college-educated parents receive 50% more of what Mr Putnam calls “Goodnight Moon” time (after a popular book for infants).” The traditional authoritative style of parenting no longer works in the 21st century as cognitive and analytical skills are more important in the workforce than following orders.

The second major factor in social mobility is 2 parent families versus single parent households. The breakdown of the traditional family has been detrimental to social mobility. After Robert Putnam’s extensive research and interviews his conclusion was that a child’s 8th grade test scores do not determine whether that child graduates from college or not, but the social background of that child will determine if that child completes university or not. It’s a sad and sobering book on the decline of social mobility and family. A problem this complex and layered has no obvious solutions, Putnam didn’t point fingers at anyone or offer a silver bullet solution to this complex problem. It requires a multi-pronged approach, the first and most obvious is to discourage having children out of wedlock and having children too early, and those that do have children out of wedlock and are in single parent households, to teach them good parenting skills. Children after all, model what their parents do, interventions from schools, counselors and social services can have an impact, but the responsibility to produce productive children ultimately lie with the parents, it is not the obligation of society to raise its delinquent children. There are anti-poverty programs that can assist with parents that need help but ultimately they need to do the work.

In New Britain, Connecticut a new anti-poverty program that was included with the Obamacare legislation called ‘Child First’, several states have chosen to try out this program, which is a home visit program for vulnerable parents with young children. Social workers and nurses visit homes of underprivileged children and teach them practical parenting skills. How to soothe a baby, how to get the baby to sleep, and most importantly never ever harm the baby out of frustration by teaching parents coping skills and basic parenting skills. Being a lone parent, in financial distress with insecure food, housing, child care and employment, combine that with a fussy baby and sleep deprivation is a situation ripe for disaster. The conservatives would interject at this point that these people shouldn’t have children to begin with and since they brought this on themselves, they shouldn’t expect the government or anyone but their own families to help them. To that I have this reply, yes, poor people shouldn’t be procreating, in fact many people should not be procreating at all not just the poor, but lots of things happen that shouldn’t be happening. Global warming, melting of Arctic Ice, greenhouse gases, environmental destruction due to oil drilling, a big hole in the ozone layer, GMO foods, the Monsanto Corporation, scores of species of animals going extinct everyday due to human poaching and loss of habitat, destruction of the Amazon rainforest, all of these are manmade, done by rich people, rich corporations, done in the name of capitalism, where is outcry from conservatives on this? So, to the social conservatives out there, who deny poor people access to birth control and adequate health care, citing religion and God, at the same time shaming people who seek abortions and shaming the poor for being poor and being a leech on the welfare system, shaming them for applying for food stamps and cash aid to feed their children to survive, where is your Christian spirit? I don’t recall Jesus shaming the poor in the Bible, in fact he did the opposite, he reached out to people who were poor and marginalized and shunned by society. Jesus, however, did openly condemn hypocrites and people who drone on and on about God and morality but do not practice what they preach.

Even if we remove religion and basic human compassion and decency from this conversation, research and study after study has shown that providing assistance to children of poverty and early intervention will prevent future social ills and further drain on resources for when those children grow up. Providing food assistance and secure housing will keep them in school and to be able to pay attention and focus on their studies. Again, the problem of poverty and its solutions are complex and difficult, there’s no silver bullet. Many things have been tried to varying degrees of success, but everyone needs food on their table and a roof over their heads, that is the most basic of human needs, and there is no reason why the richest nation on earth cannot provide that for its citizens. Having said that, people need to want to improve their lives on their own, one can lead a horse to water but one can’t make it drink, the government can provide all the programs and assistance out there at the disposable of the underprivileged but if they don’t make good use of it besides the immediate cash and food assistance but don’t make long term plans to improve their lot, there isn’t much the government or charities can do for them.

I would implore each of the presidential candidates to go one step further, to find ways to lift those families currently living in poverty or working classes into the middle class by providing a road map to get there. It is always up to the individual to follow the road map, but the way our society is structured now, there is no road map, only vicious cycles of poverty, lack and need.

Finally, to all the social conservatives, who claim they so love this country, living on welfare and food stamps is no life. It is a life of insecurity, worry, fear and shame. Giving the poor a choice between gainful employment and a life on welfare, most will choose gainful employment.

Feminism and Feminists

Who is a feminist and what is the definition of modern feminism is changing with rapid pace. With women like Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! saying that she’s not a feminist and that feminism today has ‘negative‘ connotations and parts of the feminist movement has a real ‘militant drive’ about it and that she’s never had that ‘chip on her shoulder’ or the need to identify as a feminist – indirectly saying that women who identify as feminists are possibly negative, militant in their views and with a big chip on their shoulders.

Singer Lana del Rey dismissed feminism as ‘not an interesting concept’  – a polite way of saying it’s boring. Actress Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting got a lot of backlash in a recent interview she did with Redbook magazine stating that she isn’t a ‘feminist’ and that she enjoys her wifely duties such as preparing lovely meals for her new husband (I emphasize new) and loves being a ‘housewife’.

The main thing that these three women have in common is that they found success early in their chosen professions. Marissa Mayer was recruited from Stanford and was Employee #20 for a little startup company known as Google then, and by age 37 she became CEO of Yahoo!, hired to turn around the flagging fortunes of an once Internet giant. It’s also worthy to note that when she was hired by Yahoo! as its CEO, she was 5 months pregnant and strode up on that stage with her burgeoning belly explaining how she will turn around the fortunes of Yahoo! without missing a beat or noticing the awkward glances from a largely male audience.

Lana del Rey and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting also found early success in the entertainment industry. Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is reportedly earning $1 million per episode on ‘The Big Bang Theory’, one of the highest paid actresses (young or old) in television today. Lana del Rey’s sweet and sultry voice along with her throwback 50’s style, is a breath of fresh air amongst the hordes of manufactured pop music today. She is Amy Winehouse without the drugs and booze but every bit just as interesting. These three women for reasons all their own feel no need to carry the feminism torch or even identify themselves as feminists. They acknowledge the feminists of the prior generation paved the way for them today and are very grateful but feel no need to follow in those exact same footsteps. They explain their brand of feminism as every woman becoming the woman they want to become, to be comfortable in their own decisions whatever they may be. If it were only that simple. Because they found success early, they never got to experience the double whammy discrimination of ageism and sexism (try being an aging older woman in any profession). All three women are also white women from stable families, but that’s another topic all together.

Each of these ladies suffered their own backlash for their remarks, and each of them were equally baffled about the backlash. They felt that their comments were misconstrued and much to do was made from nothing. Marissa Mayer took the most blase approach, since she never felt the sting of sexism in student days and obviously not in her profession so therefore it doesn’t exist to her. Society or at least the progressive tech world has moved past that. Without knowing her biography in great detail, she was born and raised in Wisconsin in an upper-middle class white family in a white neighborhood. She was a happy child and loved her upbringing and in general has had a happy and fulfilling life. Her interviews in media and in print are annoyingly and genuinely chipper but for someone so obviously intelligent, she lacks a certain introspection of her unique position. That fact alone is more galling than the fact that she doesn’t identify as a feminist. She was able to achieve all that she set her mind to, with her drive, intelligence and the support of a loving family. She found the guy of her dreams as well, and he’s also successful in his own chosen field (different from hers), so no competition or feelings of emasculation by his very successful wife and by age 37, before all her good eggs dried up, she had her son. When asked how she achieved this, she gave the well scripted answer: hard work, dedication, a supportive family and luck in all areas of her life (including finding a husband). Ms. Mayer’s notion that the tech world is more progressive than other fields is just plain wrong as the most recent case involving Ellen Pao illustrates that any organization run by men are the same, regardless of the industry involved. The tech geeks are not more in tune with their feminine side, and they are not more egalitarian and tech companies are definitely not more of a meritocracy than other types of companies. Ms. Pao lost her case as she could not definitively prove gender discrimination as no one was dumb enough to tell her to her face or document the fact that because she is a woman she was terminated, excluded, overlooked etc., they used the typical line, it was performance based, but a new conversation about gender discrimination was started. Companies now know that their ‘old boys club’ antics cannot shield them from gender discrimination as it was done previously. The male only golf trips, spa trips and dinner parties where major company decisions are made cannot be used as a venue and excuse to exclude women.

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is well aware of her status as one of the highest paid actresses in television under the age of thirty and acknowledges what a honor and how unusual it is, to achieve that level of success at her age. The actors from the show ‘Friends’ didn’t receive those kinds of paychecks until they were well into their 30’s and 40’s and it was towards the end of their tenure on the hit show ‘Friends’. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has just been renewed for several years. If the ratings hold and the show doesn’t get canceled, she will be earning $1 million per episode for years to come. Mrs. Sweeting is newly married and very loved up with her new ‘wife’ status. I’d love to ask her in 10 years time, after she’s had a couple of kids and if she’s still married to Mr. Sweeting on how she feels about her ‘housewife’ status or if she’s still ‘not a feminist’?

As for Lana del Rey, she’ll eat her own words sooner rather than later. She is in an incredibly fickle line of work where it’s mostly run by men, most of them probably closet misogynists who view women as a product or commodity (regardless of your raw talent) and when you cease to make money for them, you are tossed over for the next young and hot thing. When this happens, the ‘concept’ of feminism will suddenly become very interesting and vital to her.

These ladies are each extremely talented and successful in their own chosen professions and they all deserve their successes, and I don’t think anyone begrudges them that. However, to say and imply that feminism doesn’t matter in the modern era and that society has moved past it is just willful ignorance and deliberate disregard for the facts. Women young and old in all professions and situations are routinely discriminated against. College campus assaults are at a record high and reporting and punishment of perpetrators are at an all time low. Due to the proliferation of social media use, slut shaming of women is carried out at levels previously unseen. Women have been photographed and video taped passed out drunk, drugged or under some kind of influence, in mid assault state, in various stages of undress and those footages have been shared by their perpetrators like trophies.

To prove any rape case against a perpetrator, the woman has to basically be a virgin or at least a chaste sexual history, stone cold sober and a prude, a situation of wrong place wrong time when she was assaulted. Therefore, raucous campus parties flowing with booze and underage drinking is a place normal and acceptable for sexual assaults. Even a prominent woman like Ashley Judd was abused on Twitter for simply tweeting during a basketball game. The abusive tweets she received were disgusting but even more disgraceful. Some twitter users threatened to rape her, to physically harm her – all because she said that the opponent of Kentucky State (her hometown team and Ashley Judd is a well known super fan) had possibly cheated or something, and the torrent of abuse from the fans of the opposing team surfaced. Some of the tweets are truly disgusting and cannot be reprinted, and when she reported these tweets and said that she will seek punishment for all the people that wrote tweets threatening to physically assault her, she was told ‘to get a sense of humor’ or stay off twitter if she can’t handle the backlash.

Most of us are not born feminists, we become feminists through the bullshit that we are put through in our lives, most women experience some sort of sexism and misogyny early and that paves the way for us to become a feminist and fight for what’s ours, to not be overlooked, stepped on and crapped on over and over again. When you have been walked on over and over again, sometimes even by members of your own family, any woman would become a feminist out of self-preservation. The battles between the sexes are real, they are not the figment of the imagination of militant lesbian feminist threatening to steal the femininity of straight women. Gender roles have changed very drastically since the 1960’s and onwards, and as a result of this change, they are not as clearly delineated as previous generations. The man no longer just brings home the bacon and the woman prepares it, fries it up and makes sure everyone eats it. Domestic duties are not just relegated to women anymore and with more than half of women in the workforce today. Survey after survey have shown that even when the woman is working full time, she still takes on 70% of the housework, which concludes that in America, there are scores and scores of tired and exhausted women. Being overworked, exhausted and over harassed puts anyone in a foul mood, makes anyone angry and bitter at times, it’s nothing to do with being a feminist or not. Men should know this, as previous sole earners, they were probably at times overworked, exhausted and over harassed. In Barbara Walter’s memoir ‘Audition’, she was in the unique position in the pre-feminist movement era to have a full time job alongside her fellow men, even when she married as her family needed her to support them all. She wrote that for the first time she understood why some men were driven to drink and promiscuity due to dissatisfaction with their work. She said that being out there working is not as fun or glamorous as it seems and cautions all young women against believing that having a career will solve the boredom faced by staying at home. She noticed that many men do not have the satisfying career that they want, many work because they have to, many men never get that brass ring, never reach their maximum potential, never get the recognitions and promotions they deserve, and frustrations with work compounded with the need to provide for his family makes him view his family as a ‘ball and chain’ and it drives him to be angry and bitter. Of all the revelations in her book, I found this passage to be most insightful as only an observant journalist can see the real, beneath the surface struggle of a working man and astute enough to realize that having a career isn’t the only answer to the malaise that women felt during that time. Ms. Walters said in hindsight that perhaps she was a feminist, but at that time she simply needed to work and didn’t have the luxury of fighting for the feminist cause, which I felt was very gracious of her. She fought for us all by setting a stellar example.

If I were to be honest, when in my 20’s my thinking was not too different from Mrs. Sweeting or Lana del Rey, I had just met my husband, feeling very happy and in love, I loved cooking lovely meals for us, mending his shirts, pretending to be a ‘wife’ even before I was engaged. Even my devotion to the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem wavered a bit, thinking that if they were just a little more feminine and give a man what he wants sometimes, their views won’t be so extreme in certain instances. I didn’t realize then that pretending to be a housewife is no where near like being a real housewife.

It’s been over 10 years since our very loved up days, we are now married, with 2 small children, we are still very much in love, but not as loved up as our early days as to be expected. The daily stresses work, managing a home, childcare and other obligations has taken a certain spontaneity and liveliness out of me. I’ll be the first to proudly admit that I am not the same girl I was 10 years ago nor do I wish to be. I am a real wife now (not pretending to be one) a mother and a grown woman. And if having children doesn’t turn any woman into a feminist, I am not sure what will.