This Page Intentionally Left Blank -Just Like the Paychecks of the Workers by Robert S. Swiatek - HTML preview
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If priests can’t be married, didn’t the apostles have wives? (I won’t accept the argument that Judas wasn’t married – he had a tough time getting dates, let alone any kind of commitment. Who can blame any woman? They heard about him.) For you religious scholars reading this, I’m kidding about that apostle, but not about the others. Some time ago, a friend of mine was ordained a priest and he met a woman. That is not unusual – clergy are allowed to talk to the opposite sex – except that he fell in love with her. He decided to alter his life and left the church and married her, since the Catholic Church wouldn’t allow him to tie the knot. Many say you can’t have two masters – an argument that I don’t accept for not having married priests. Anyone who enters into matrimony has at least two masters! My friend eventually became a minister in the Presbyterian Church, so he is still a preacher of the faith.
Married priests have been around for some time. Celibacy wasn’t introduced in the first century, so spouses were in the rectory – or wherever they resided – for many years. Since the times change, the church must do so as well, although these ideas need not be drastic and radical. I don’t read many novels but one Sunday at Mass, Father Robert Wood recommended a book by Morris West, The Clowns of God. I must have liked the book and especially the writer – that usually follows – since I have read over twenty of his books, all fiction. West is very insightful and progressive in his thinking, even if I found it in his novels. I can only recommend that other religious people – clergy and lay men and women alike – see what he has to offer in his writing.
I mentioned that clergy advise married couples, so allowing the former to get married would certainly give them more insight into that sacrament. If this change doesn’t happen, what will probably take place is such a shortage that eventually those in the sacristy and sanctuary will be the lay people, deacons and sisters, replacing those with the collars. Of course, this is what the church really is – all of us serving others. However, why not allow priests to marry today, thus eliminating this crisis in the future?
I mentioned retirement in the church and many can’t do so because they have no pension. I doubt that the diocese pays into social security so priests and nuns can’t file at sixty-five. However, in their old age they are taken care of by the order, which in turn is supported by donations from the parishioners. There is a tradeoff as retirement age gets delayed to the point that clergy in their sixties still work, even if their hours are reduced somewhat. So if they worked sixty hours a week before, does that mean that their workload will now be only forty hours? That is not my idea of retirement.
As far as women priests goes, if my brother agrees that priests should be married, maybe I’ll not push the issue of females saying Mass. Naturally, that will upset many women. Of course, there are ministers of that gender in many churches – I met one at a “stop the war” demonstration in September 2006 and she offered eloquent and inspiring thoughts. We have nuns and mother superiors and even sisters who think they run the parish – I’ll write anything for a laugh. Why not allow women priests? They make up over half the church and weren’t they the majority of the spectators at Calvary when Christ was hanging on the cross? The disciples went AWOL and they weren’t even in the National Guard.
All throughout history, women have been denigrated as second-class citizens. In the past the nuns did much of the instruction of the children in the schools. I don’t recall any teachers that didn’t look like penguins in my parochial school days. Women take care of the sanctuary of the church all year long and are hard pressed during Christmas and Easter seasons. They also cook the meals for the pastor and clean the rectory. If we don’t allow women priests, at least acknowledge the fact that the female population played an important role in the church throughout the ages.
The clergy are people just like the doctors, nurses, consultants, coal miners and mob bosses. Each can be overworked but nuns and priests have further difficulties. The obvious shortage and low remuneration enter into the equation, despite the fact that their room and board is usually taken care of. They are still human beings and remedies for them having better lives are no different than for the people in the pews. 15. Health care
Doctors and nurses are another great example of workaholics, some by choice. This occupation works people to death and not only do those in the profession suffer health problems, on too many occasions their patients don’t make out too well either. You’ve probably heard of individuals who had the wrong leg amputated or the patient whose gall bladder was taken when he came in for a colonoscopy. The latter gave up something two days in a row when that wasn’t prescribed. Without great health care, a society can only wither and die.
My cousin is a health care provider and she gets off from work for four days in succession. The bad news is that she puts in twelve-hour shifts for three days in a row. As you can see, this is a few more hours than the goal of the thirty-hour workweek. She is not alone as many nurses and doctors are trapped in fifty-hour weeks and more. This is due to the shortage in the field. Some love what they are doing so much that they can’t take themselves away from the job. They are to be applauded, but it would be more beneficial to hire more help and give these people raises while reducing their hours. In their zeal, these doctors and nurses may have involuntarily become workaholics.
As with any occupation, there are those who put in the long hours for many reasons, one of which is greed. This is not good for them or the patients, as I have already stated. Just as a consultant can’t be that productive in an environment where she is asked to be on the job for fifty hours a week, the same applies to those in the health care field. Don’t believe a doctor who tells you otherwise. By now you should realize that doctors don’t know everything! I also think that because of the high stress levels in hospitals, even a forty-hour workweek is too much.
You won’t be able to get assistance and relief for the help if there are no people to fill the positions. To entice more people to the field, there is not much need to raise the salaries of the doctors, since they seem to be doing fine in that regard, but don’t overlook the fact that they do have high insurance costs. Reducing their workload should result in their being more effective, resulting in fewer lawsuits. Raising the pay of the nurses as well as limiting their hours should make a big difference, with more recruits.
There are a few other things that need to be done as well. The first has to do with revamping health insurance. With skyrocketing costs and mismanagement, you may just as well have no plan. Something needs to be done to limit these expenses. I present what has to be done without the actual solution. All I know is that what we have now does not help those people who need health care; the employees are overworked and stressed out and there is too much waste and fraud in the system. Changes need to be made.
The people in the system have to pitch in too. For example, some with health insurance will visit the doctor at the first sign of a cold or when they break a bone. Well, maybe the fractures need to be checked out, but too many patients feel that since they have coverage, they should use it. This attitude only indicates that someone else who needs assistance may be waiting longer for care with a more serious concern. There is also the strain placed on health care people, as if their days weren’t long enough already.
The one suffering needs to have some knowledge of medicine and the human body so as to limit visits. After my first cancer, I wanted nothing to do with researching the causes. After the passage of time, I got more involved and this reaction is only to be expected. Nonetheless, each of us has to be more responsible about his own health, as well as that of her beloved. This means that we should probably not visit McDonalds every day for dinner. Instead see the movie, Super Size Me and read the companion book, Fast Food Nation: the Dark Side of the all-American Meal by Eric Schlosser. You’ll never eat at a fast food restaurant again. The book was also made into a nondocumentary movie of the same name.
I’m not telling you to change your diet to soy burgers and rice cakes. In fact, you may want to limit your soy intake since it may not be that great a substitute for anything. As far as rice cakes go, if you haven’t figured out that they don’t taste much better than Styrofoam – which you should avoid – this warning should save you the expense of trying them. I’ll never be a vegan, but I have leaned more towards the practice of vegetarianism, which is not a cult and you don’t have to contact my family since I haven’t been abducted as I write this. I still eat meat, but not as much as I used to.
Moderation is the secret to enjoying food as opposed to having to get an angioplasty after sitting down to a thirty-two ounce steak. This small change in diet should limit your doctor visits to checkups rather than trips to the emergency room. After my encounters – if you haven’t already figured it out – I really don’t care to have surgery of any kind, if it can be avoided. That should be your goal too, and it will benefit the doctors and nurses as well as people in hospital beds or those waiting for one.
Another aspect of medicine that my system isn’t too thrilled about is taking antibiotics and drugs. While recovering after surgery, I had the pleasure of trying a few drugs to reduce some of the pain as well as to prevent other problems that may have resulted. Demerol and Darvoset may offer relief after surgery, but they are not without other difficulties. I can vouch for that because the pill I took at home may have seemed to help provide some relief, but at the same time I had the worst case of constipation in my life. It wasn’t worth taking the painkiller to get that result. This seems to be true about most drugs. Even if it appears that some pill really works without side effects, it is very possible that somewhere down the road the user will have to pay. This is besides the premiums.
I was introduced to Tequin, Levaquin and Cipro in the year 2004. You will notice that the first letter of each represents TLC – I really hate acronyms. In each case when I took the tablet, I didn’t get constipated, but just the opposite. It wasn’t a fun time. Maybe I should have taken some Darvoset at the same time and hoped for a standoff, something I would have preferred – in my case standing would have been a blessing! After my adventures, I heard that Cipro – the mother of all antibiotics, appropriately enough – was used against anthrax. Those are three nasty pills that I hope to never, ever see again.
In the summer of 2006, I had a minor case of gout. I visited my doctor but didn’t see him. Instead his assistant prescribed an antibiotic, cephalexin – not to be used unless necessary – and two anti-inflammatories, colchicine and indomethacin. The documentation accompanying the pills wasn’t very assuring. One recommended contacting my local poison center in case of an overdose while another warned of the risk of serious and sometimes fatal heart problems. I didn’t feel like taking any of this stuff, despite my big toe troubles, but did wind up taking the absolute minimum of each antiinflammatory after four meals. I am not convinced that any of these drugs had any effect since my pain seemed to be disappearing by the time I started ingesting the tablets.
Drugs or surgery may be needed at times, but too many doctors never consider alternatives. They seem to be nothing more than cut and run people – they do surgery and run to the next patient. They also make you run to the pharmacist. Our society is so tuned in to the television culture of drug advertising that we are out of touch with our own bodies. The knowledge of all the possible side effects should get us to make some changes in our lives and use drugs only as a very last resort. Even if some chemical can prevent some initial suffering, remember that getting through it without the pill may result in a great deal less pain later. Too many side effects from drugs just aren’t worth it.
As I’ve said, working too many hours causes stress and many health problems, which in turn generate problems for doctors and nurses since they have to work longer hours. Even if we are not overcome in any way from the long days at the office, the situation may lead us to unhealthy eating habits – such as stopping in at Burger King – which then can get you to the medicine cabinet for some drug that you shouldn’t have needed in the first place. I used to love the Whopper, but you won’t catch me in any of those places again.
I hope I have convinced you that we have to remove the stress from the workplace. Bringing it home from the shop or cubicle and releasing it on loved ones should never be an option. Keeping it bottled up inside isn’t good either, as it will result in health problems, which wind up affecting the nurses and doctors. People who are in this frazzled state too often settle in front of the tube in order to relax. I can assure you that even though people fall asleep watching reality TV and baseball, that medium was never – and more so today – meant to relax anyone.
Overworked people – any color collar or no collar at all – also turn to drugs for relief, many of which are illegal. I can’t recommend the legal ones, even alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. None will help you in the long run. You may feel relieved or numb at first, but there will be bills and hell to pay later. You can see why we all need legislation for a thirty-hour workweek, an increase in the minimum wage and a boost in the salaries for the others.
16. Where did I find the time?
On many occasions I talk to retirees, and so many mention that they enjoy their new life and wished they had left the work force sooner. A few wonder where they ever found the time to actually have a full-time job. I asked the same question since I hung up my consulting shoes. If you are wondering, I only had a couple pair, but one contractor I knew had shoes to match every suit he wore. I recall he had a red suit, blue one and green one. He could wear any clothes he wanted since he was six-foot-five and weighed two hundred fifty pounds.
I finished writing my workaholics’ guidebook in August 2001. On December 31st of that year, I retired because I felt that if I hadn’t, I would have been a hypocrite. I had enough of the business world and now I just write about it. I’m retired without a paycheck, but for me, there aren’t enough hours in the day. Somehow, I am a great deal happier and many people who took the identical route feel the same. Some never retire because they either love their work, the money or they wouldn’t survive if they had no office to go to each day. The last two indicate a sad state of affairs, but you could retire and then wind up bored. There are too many individuals who wind up like that – they just can’t cope with the free time. It is unfortunate that people can’t relax and remove themselves from the rat race. I’ve known many people who fit this mold.
If I compare my life today to when I was schlepping off to Rochester on various contracts, a few things haven’t changed that much. I still am involved with computer programming since I maintain my own web site. I haven’t escaped email and the Internet – I wish I could. Even when I received a paycheck regularly from consulting, I was writing; now I’m still doing it but dedicating more time to my books. The good part is I don’t worry about snow and commuting anymore. I also have a great deal less apprehension on Sunday evenings, as I need not worry about getting up the next day at some ungodly hour. The mileage on my car is much less than during my contracting times and that means less frustration on the highways. I don’t miss any of that, at all.
Of course, no one can retire unless she plans it in some way. I mentioned the consultant who favored various-colored suits and matching shoes but I didn’t know him that well. I did hear that he got the big bucks when he was doing his thing. He also had no qualms about spending either, so much so that he came back begging for another contract later when he ran out of funds. He violated one of the first rules of consulting: plan for days during a recession when there may not be work for a while. I saw a few of those stretches over the years.
Each of us needs to think about our future relative to retirement. This will mean using that finance tracker I discussed earlier. If a raise is forthcoming, you may not want to get out your credit card and buy that indoor swimming pool before you see the increase. Heck, even after you get your paycheck with more cash, you may want to consider paying down one of your credit cards instead of heading over to the bar and buying everyone drinks.
I’m not implying you should survive on a diet of red beans and rice. By the way, you can find a recipe for that dish in my cookbook. I like that combination of starch and protein, but you’ll get sick of it if you have it day in and day out. Also remember that if you dine at fancy restaurants too often, it will postpone your retirement date. You could also get gout, a form of arthritis. I had a case of the latter in the summer of 2006, according to my doctor, although the symptoms resembled gout. You’ll also be in the work force longer with overenthusiastic participation in Boxing Day. Perhaps I was blessed to get to the point where I absolutely abhor shopping. If you don’t go out to the mall, you can always spend money by tuning in to the Shopping Network or going online, which I do, but sparingly.
You can read finance magazines that tell you when you can retire, based on your savings as well as your living habits. With little invested and living high off the hog, your retirement may not come for some time, even when you turn sixty-five. For quite a while I subscribed to Changing Times magazine, which then became Kipplingers Personal Finance Magazine. My only complaint – I cancelled the magazine a few months ago – was that it seemed to cater to the rich. Since the majority of the people aren’t in that category, the publication may not be that useful for most of us.
Less than two years after exiting the business world – at least from a paying job – I sold my house. Materialism will hold down people so that they can’t retire, especially when it comes to home ownership. Recently someone inquired if I missed the house and I said that I didn’t. Obviously, there are aspects that I cared not to give up, but as is always the case, there are tradeoffs. The home had three bedrooms but I could only recall one instance in which all the beds were used, including the sofa bed in the living room. That was after a party.
The house bordered an empty lot and I tried to buy that property but didn’t succeed. When I sold the house, I realized that I really didn’t need that extra land after all. People who buy 6,000 square feet homes might eventually feel the same way. The space might be nice, but you’ll need furniture to fill those extra areas and your mortgage will be higher than for a smaller place. You’ll also spend a great deal of time cleaning and maintaining the place or else opening your wallet to pay someone to do the work. All this will postpone your retirement.
What you collect can have a great impact on when you can leave your job. If you collect antiques – cars or furniture – you will need more room as well as more money. If you are into all the latest overrated high tech gadgets, the same applies and this can only mean a delay in retirement. One of the things I love to do is view movies, but I don’t collect them. That’s because I generally view a movie once since there are so many available. You may be able to get DVDs from the library and it won’t cost a cent, unless you fail to return them on time. Buying means you’ll have to work more to pay for the flicks but you’ll also need more shelving to store them. That will cost you as well, unless you build it yourself, but then you’ll have more work.
Spending something seemingly insignificant as a onecent piece results in nickels, dimes and eventually dollars coming out of your wallet. You need not account for the pennies and nickels, but you have to worry about the dollars. I again emphasize the financial spreadsheet to monitor where the money goes.
As you can see, in order to retire, you need to think about it as soon as you enter the work force. I have already mentioned the Individual Retirement Account, which everyone should take advantage of, no excuses. If you are self-employed, you need to invest in Keoghs, profit sharing plans or whatever people call them. They have so many names, but they’re nothing more than your own pension or retirement plan. If you are employed in a full-time position, you can only hope that your employer will take care of your future. Too often, people thought their employer was looking out for them after they turned sixty-five, but as corporations experienced tough times in keeping up the huge profit margins to pay off upper management and the shareholders, they felt the only option was rolling back benefits. As a result, employees lost some or all of their pension plan. This would have given them the benefits they deserved when they wanted them.
17. Nickel and dimed
The above three words are the beginning of the title of a book by Barbara Ehrenreich, who also wrote Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. The full title of the companion book is Nickel and Dimed: on Not Getting by in America. Both works are hilarious and insightful and deal with work, the subject of this book. I highly recommend each. Dealing with the financial spreadsheet, I stated that you don’t have to enter data to the penny; you can just enter dollar amounts. However, if you use credit card receipts and checks for the entries on this document, you already have the expenditure to the nearest cent, so why not use it? Besides, if you lose enough pennies, they add up to a dollar. I’m sorry for mentioning that so often, but it’s definitely worth repeating.
You may have heard of the grocery store scam in the 1970s. If not, it happened when some creative checkout clerks used the subtotal key when they were doing their thing up front. Let’s say that a customer with a full grocery cart followed another with a very small order. The worker would ring up the first order, but only subtotal it. The purchaser would pay for the goods and leave with her receipt. Then, when the larger order was calculated, the total would include the amount of the order preceding it – that which had been subtotaled.
The first amount may have only been two dollars, but the checkout clerk could pocket this amount and continue his thievery with more orders in the same manner, thus enhancing his wallet at the end of the day and ripping off the consumer. The customer with the large order probably wouldn’t check to see if he had gotten ripped off. It was a grand old scheme, while it lasted. As you can guess, the subtotaling doesn’t happen anymore. Now people get ripped off because of the missing intelligence of the help. Of course, computers can also be simply programmed to do robbing from time to time, and who would know the difference? In either case, the buyer pays more than he should have.
I went to the same grocery store twice within a twoweek period and on each visit I was charged more for a few items than I should have been. Quite a while ago, I was charged some outrageous amount like seventy-nine cents for some shrimp that should have been $7.90. I didn’t discover the undercharge until I got home and didn’t report it. I also didn’t go back to the store when I was overcharged recently on those two occasions. Eventually, all this probably evens out but I think by this time the food business owes me.
I generally don’t check if the transaction is what it should be, but on many occasions I do a mental calculation at the register to get a rough idea of the bill – I did major in mathematics so that is not that difficult. Once in a while, I’m really close in my guess and not long ago, I came up with the exact amount – that’s downright scary! On a few other occasions, my bill was more than I anticipated by a long shot. When I finally did the checking at home, in most cases my mental calculator just needed a battery, but every so often, I have paid more than I should have.
The same thing happens in department stores as we get nickel and dimed to death. By that I mean we pay more than we should. With technology the way it is, this shouldn’t happen, but the people working behind the counter enter into the picture. Even if the computer is wrong, you have to be aware that it is programmed and controlled by humans, who can make mistakes, even if they happen to be honest ones.
Over the years, it seems to me that many businesses are making a living by overcharging for items. They figure that if the customer complains, they will reimburse him and apologize for the error. There’s no harm done and they could even wind up with extra cash in the till. Actually, customers can stop frequenting these places and head over to a different store to make their purchase. That is what I recommend. On one occasion, I used my credit card at a service station for a repair and I was charged double. I fixed the problem by refusing to pay for any part of the bill and the merchant accepted that.
Pennies are important, but some people get really carried away because they are always counting them. These are the “humans” that can be classified simply as cheap. At the other end of the spectrum we can find those who spend every last cent they earn and more. I have known both classes of individual. You may want to avoid hanging out with either of these types. As in most things, we need a balance. The brilliant cerebral comedian, Steven Wright, pointed out that there’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the dock looking like an idiot. Similarly, there is a small distinction between being a miser and being thrifty. Our job is to save money rather than go out of the way to save a nickel.
Some people will drive fifteen miles out of their way to save a dollar for gasoline. In the process, the gas they used cost two dollars, but they didn’t calculate that. Then there is the individual who returns to the food store – which I didn’t do – and gets a quarter refund because of an overcharge. Unfortunately, he gets home much later since the trip causes him to run out of gas. What about the “handyman” who decides to get his energy supply for his wood stove and buys a chainsaw to cut down some trees. In the process, he gets the wood but damages his house and winds up paying hundreds of dollars for the repair. His insurance doesn’t cover bumbling lumberjacks!
We get nickel and dimed when people scam us and on too many occasions we would really be grateful if it only involved those few coins, but unfortunately it usually involves big bucks. This is going to be a really long story so you may want to get a beer. On second thought, make it a coffee, as I don’t want you to fall asleep. I won’t preview how it turns out so you will have to read all the way to the end of the episode.
Education that comes later is better than none at all or as they say, “Experience is the best teacher but it’s a hell of a way to learn.” In January 2005, I received an email from a Snidely Whiplash (not his real name.) He had been to my web site and thought that I could benefit by using his site to sell my books. I had to put information on his site about my books along with images of the covers. This would give others an opportunity to see and buy quantities of books from me, at a discount, of course. The fee was $340.
I have always believed in doing things big. Why sell books individually when it’s much more beneficial to sell a hundred copies to someone else who then sells them for you, one at a time. You make less money per book, but in the process you sell more books and get more exposure. Overall, you wind up with more money in your pocket. Because of this feeling, I decided that his fee wasn’t that much and figured that I would give it a try.
Snidely’s company name was TYM, which now that I think of it stands for Take Your Money. I should have known better. I used my Borders Credit Card to charge the fee and proceeded to add the data necessary to the TYM site, including the images for my book covers. I had been on the phone a couple times with Snidely and he seemed decent enough. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see his mustache because I didn’t have a picture phone. That would have been another good clue.
A few days after my data was on TYM, I returned to the site and noticed that the images of the book covers were distorted and I figured, not ideal for selling books. I emailed my mustachioed business associate and mentioned this. He didn’t respond so I sent another email. I got no reply so I called him but didn’t talk to him, so I left a message. He didn’t answer that message either. I was frustrated so I decided to log on to the TYM web site, figuring maybe someone remedied my problem. I made a mistake entering the web site name so I did a google search and what I found was very interesting. It was a list of complaints against TYM. You may be able to find some bad things about a company by doing just what I did. The Internet is not without flaws and lies, but there is a great deal of information that you can use to your advantage. Just do so before you get burned, not after, like I did.
At this point, I came to the conclusion that I had wasted my money. I checked out some of these complaints and these victims weren’t happy either. I recalled my attempts to reach Snidely and I couldn’t come to any conclusion other than that I had been scammed. I found the charge information for TYM on my credit card bill and saw a phone number for the company, so I dialed it. I got the message, “The person you are trying to reach is unavailable,” and that was the end of the call. I thought that was peculiar. Wouldn’t a phone that rang without stopping accomplish the same mission? It wouldn’t cost as much or frustrate the caller, either.
I called the credit card people and related what had happened. I was told that I could get a refund provided TYM didn’t live up to their part of the contract. I had to send some documentation, which I did and a few weeks later, the charge was reversed. There is justice in the world.
Unfortunately, when Snidely got the news that he was out $340, he was upset, so he took action. I didn’t find out about his being annoyed until sometime in March. I was contacted by Chase Bank, which had taken over the Borders credit card – their real names. I was given a chance to prove my case to Chase, although I had done that, weeks ago. I did the Internet thing, got documentation and sent an email but was told that the stronger my case, the better chance I would have. I emailed more proof and got another response along the same line. I figured I would get more information and email it first thing the next day. By the time I got ready to send what I had, I was informed that the charge had once more been reversed, so I owed Chase a few dollars, $340 to be exact.
Now, not only was I upset with TYM, but with Chase as well. Through all the proceedings, I was forced to do unnecessary work, and I wasn’t very happy. In the days that followed, I contacted the Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Chase Bank, trying to establish my case. I even talked to my lawyer and he gave me the lowdown: it would cost me a hell of a lot more than $340 to win my case, no matter how good it was. Attorneys were of no use to me in this situation. I was down but not out but then I received the Chase credit card bill, even though the account wasn’t active. I still don’t like banks!
At first the bill was just $340, but then with each passing month, it started to grow, like the national debt. Interest and late fees were piling up while I continued writing letters and contacting people. I concluded that the BBB wouldn’t help, nor would the attorney general. Nonetheless, I didn’t give up. Contacting TYM was worthless because I figured I wouldn’t be able to reach them. I tried before with no luck so why would it be any different now? In their fabrications to prove their case, which I happened to see, they had the nerve to state that though their response to me had been slow, they had lived up to their end of the contract. What response? To this very day I have yet to hear from them! Maybe the people at TYM are planning to go into politics.
In July, I saw a bit of hope in my Chase credit card statement. My bill had been reduced by $143 and I hadn’t written them a check in months. It was a courtesy credit for being a good customer. I wrote another letter in early August to Chase, mentioning that were I to pay the remaining charge, I would be an accomplice to a crime, condoning rip-offs in the business world. I didn’t use exactly those words, but you get the idea. In August 2005, my Chase credit bill arrived and it was zero and closed out. I had persevered and won, although not completely. I wasn’t quite done with Snidely and TYM.
The lessons from my debacle should be obvious. Watch out for scams, do as much research and checking ahead of time as possible and don’t give up. One person can make a difference. Of course, you can accomplish more with a group of people. Unfortunately, in some cases, you may have to do it on your own and worse still, you will have to spend time doing things that you really shouldn’t have needed to do. You can’t retire if you allow people to scam you.
Another individual gets ripped off by some con artist for $39 so he spends days and nights and tanks of gas to make things right. I’m sure that happens to most of us and even I have to admit that I was a victim, got upset and thought I’d do something about it. Eventually, I came to my senses and realized that it was only a few bucks and I would never recover the damage. People think of using the courts to settle matters, but the amount of return doesn’t approximate the costs. They do it as a matter of principle, but meanwhile their principle is diminishing in their checking account. You may not even win the case and consider the time you have wasted.
All considerations have to include a realization that your time is involved in recovering what someone took from you. Maybe things were better when we were struggling to come up with cash for some special event. We seemed to be happier then, but changing times have something to do with that. If you don’t have money, people can’t rob you. Money may be the root of all evil, but we still need some to survive.
18. Art Vandelay
If you haven’t already figured it out, I am a big fan of Seinfeld – the show and the comedian. Even before the program made it to the top, I felt that Jerry was an insightful comic and many of his observations were hysterical. Initially, the twentytwo minute program was just all right, but eventually, it soared. It reached a peak and then started on its decline, as the writing seemed tiresome and the creators seemed to be stretching to get a laugh. Maybe the writers just ran out of hilarious ideas. It was at this point that the decision was made to end the show. When the final episode aired, many were disappointed. On the contrary, I found that the conclusion was brilliant and an absolutely fitting end to the long-running series.
If you never saw the show, you have plenty of opportunities today. It runs in syndication on a host of stations and if you have cable, you may be able to see it four or five times a day, not that doing so is a good thing. I catch the program at times, but really don’t have to worry about which episode I will watch since I taped the program. I don’t have every half hour tryst, but I have most of the production, including the shows that featured the non-existent character Art Vandelay.
The reason I chose the title for this chapter is because I want to talk about art – the other kind, not Linkletter, Garfunkel, Donovan or Vandelay. This includes writing, music, drama, opera, ballet and Picasso and his friends, for starters. All those in this category work to make a living at their craft, but it’s a real challenge. The same disparity in wages between the corporate head honchos and the workers can be found between the top artists and those that are waiting on tables and struggling to make a go of it.
You’ve heard too often the directive to those who want to be writers or musicians, “Don’t quit your day job.” This calling will limit you to action part-time, while forcing you to report to the office each day. If you already have a nine-hour day and come home to a family, there won’t be much time or energy left to do any painting. That is why something needs to be done so we don’t lose all the artists.
Not that long ago, we witnessed too many branch closings of the public libraries in Western New York. One library closing was too much for me to accept. I blame those in charge for the failure to keep these branches open. I expected them to do this as well as to do more to improve each unit of the system. A community that loses it art has lost its soul.
You might indicate that funds were just not there, but I don’t accept that excuse. There’s all kinds of grants available that should have been looked into and if they couldn’t be obtained, it was the duty of management to somehow get funds from somewhere. If you can find DVDs, videos and CDs throughout the county libraries, this indicates that the money is there, so go get it. Not obtaining resources only indicates incompetence and no planning whatsoever.
Another gross injustice is cutting funding for the arts. You may argue that some of the stuff that passes for art shouldn’t be awarded any encouragement at all, especially in the form of grants. Putting any limits on what should be subsidized and what shouldn’t, goes completely against the idea of creativity, whether it’s music, sculpture or writing. If we say sayonara to certain art, even the good, you may just as well say goodbye to civilization. Today, many large corporations give huge grants for starving writers and drug-infested musicians. Detoxification isn’t cheap, but it is necessary.
There’s no reason why funding needs to be cut at all. In fact, it really should be increased. If a country can waste vast sums of cash for defense – more than should ever be needed – then there is no reason why there should be a shortage of money for the arts. After 9/11, it was evident that our tax dollars were wasted since it looked as though “the defense” took the day off. Maybe people were too worried about the offense. I myself, found the leaders of the country to be quite offensive, but that’s me.
If we want the arts – and we can’t exist as a progressive society without them – we are going to have to put up with some mediocrity. With the good, comes the bad. We have television, don’t we? Most of that “art” isn’t funded at all and I can’t see why it should ever be. It’s about time that the people in charge of programming finally put quality ahead of greed and come up with some innovation soon. It’s long overdue.
Over the last few years I have gotten familiar with many aspects of the writing profession. I need not tell you that the numbers of books available for you to read is endless. Unfortunately, with some of the great stuff comes a lot of trash. I read a lot, so I do have to put up with the good and bad. I eliminate some of the chaff when I pick out the books I want to read. Even then, I wind up with some junk from time to time. Some of these books are best sellers, too. That description only means that a book has been marketed and subsequently sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Hitting the million mark in sales doesn’t mean that a book is good or even that many people have read it.
Generally, publishers don’t help writers in a big way. The bottom line for them is what will sell. A book that has the potential to sell a million copies is what they are looking for – they don’t want sentences ending in a preposition. To them, some standards – such as decency and the truth – are not all that important. I’m talking about the major publishers but the smaller ones also have the same outlook. There is another type of publisher that has gotten into the market: print on demand (POD.) These seem to be environmentally friendly as they only produce a copy of a book if someone wants it. The writer doesn’t need to rent a storage unit for the thousands of books that his publisher makes him purchase after publication.
This latter type of publisher is how I got my first book published. Just as there are the high-standard royalty publishers and those with no concern for anything except making money – what I described first – the POD business also has companies to avoid. Unfortunately by the time you realize that your publisher isn’t the best, it will be too late. I’ve had two publishers to date and expect to have a few more. As you can guess, I chose the second one because I wasn’t all that pleased with the first. Don’t worry, they won’t read this – they didn’t read the three books they published for me.
I have found that the most enjoyable part about writing is the actual sitting down to create a book. Successful marketing escapes me and I think it is even a puzzle for those who specialize in it. If they can’t master the art, I don’t expect to be able to either. Let me do the writing, get good reviews and I’ll leave the rest up to the promoters.
When I worked at Nestle Foods – my first job in the business world – one of my bosses would give me record albums that he didn’t like. I love all kinds of music, so I thanked him and listened to every disc. Many of them I thought were fine efforts and yet some of these artists never made it big. They had talent, but they missed the one ingredient for success: marketing. We have seen numerous examples of just this phenomenon. There are also cases where someone has no music talent or less and she still sells millions of copies of records.
Lauren Bacall was said to have no acting talent – I dispute that – she couldn’t sing or dance and yet she brought people to the theatre – movie and Broadway stage. I can think of a few other performers who fit this category. It all has to do with the editing room, adding the right musical accompaniment or what have you and throwing in tons of promotion. Meanwhile, the artist who works hard and smart and has talent but doesn’t get marketed, struggles to make ends meet.
The other concern for the artist is the reviewer. In early October 2006, I saw a group from New York City called the East Village Opera Company. Their performance was a fusion of rock and opera. Besides Carmen – I only stayed for the first half – Jesus Christ Superstar, and Rock-a-bye Hamlet, I have seen one opera in my life, Andrea Chenier. On various occasions, I have heard bits and pieces of operas since I do listen to classical music. That may be why throughout the performance of the East Village Opera Company, many of the selections sounded somewhat familiar.
The critic who reviewed the group from New York probably is as big a fan of rock as I am of opera. Actually, I think I like opera better than he loves rock. He panned the performance, despite the fact that the sparse crowd – me included – loved it. The crowd got so much into the show that this enthusiasm spread to the group on stage, who in turn contributed to the appreciation by giving their best effort. What I especially enjoyed was that you could see that the East Village Opera Company loved what they were doing.
If you are an artist, you have to be able to put up with the bad reviews – they will come every so often. If you get nine good reviews and one bad one, you’re on the right track. On the other hand, if nine hate what you did and only one cares for it – even if it is your mom – you’ve got to regroup and you have work to do. Getting back to the rocking opera, I know the critic’s name, but I don’t know what he looks like, and my friend mentioned that he and his partner might have been the two people who left the performance early. I don’t know, but if that was the case, he had no business doing the review. Too often someone will pan a movie or book but not see the flick or read the book. I am almost positive that I experienced this same review process for one of my books, although I can’t prove it.
I mentioned favorable words for what you do as an artist, but I should caution you that too much praise isn’t good either. You really shouldn’t please everyone. If so, you are doing something wrong and you’re not human. Chances are you won’t have to worry about that happening. As you know, even great books and movies have been given crap reviews but people experiencing them have felt otherwise. Movie critics are no different from other reviewers. I have seen films that the reviewers raved about and I thought were less than average or worse. At the same time, I absolutely loved some of the flicks that they panned. This is to be expected since subjectivity enters into the equation in any review.
Artists are a part of our existence. Don’t despair if you happen to be struggling as one. If your career seems to be stagnant, think of what your role is in society. However, it should be obvious that since this work has to be done on a parttime basis, it is imperative that two things are necessary today. First we need to implement the thirty-hour workweek. You know the other. We need to raise the minimum wage. 19. Bumps in the road
Speedbumps: Flooring it through Hollywood is the biography of the actress, Teri Garr. It’s hysterical, informative and inspiring as I learned much about her of which I wasn’t aware, including the fact that she has Multiple Sclerosis (MS.) However, she does not let this challenge stand in her way of living.
We, too, face obstacles in life, especially when related to work. Up to now, I have mentioned quite a few things that we aren’t especially thrilled about in the corporate environment. A business that posts record profits and at the same time downsizes and outsources jobs probably won’t have a position for you. It may not be a place you’d want to work anyway, even if you could find a job there.
I mentioned the oil companies before but might not have stated that besides moaning about losing money doing business, these corporations posted record profits. They were also on the receiving end of tax write-offs and subsidies. Giving people money when they don’t need it isn’t good for the economy and the gouging continues. Driving through the inner city on too many occasions, I can’t help but notice that gas prices are always higher there than in other areas nearby. If it walks like a quail and talks like a quail, it probably is a quail, even if a person shoots at someone else.
A company that doesn’t allow the workers to unionize is not my kind of place. This is especially true of companies that pay their employees the minimum wage and ban the formation of unions. It gets much worse as a company does quite well financially, hires mostly part-time help so that it can avoid paying benefits like vacation pay and health insurance. When an employee cannot even afford to shop at the place she works, maybe it’s time for all shoppers to go somewhere else.
Unions were formed because of the horrible working conditions and long hours imposed on those on the job. Given the similar conditions that exist today, it appears that it’s time for a resurgence in them once again. If a company treats its workers so well that that the laborers are content, then the unions aren’t needed. Unfortunately, the vast difference in pay between the CEOs and the employees is so great, the working conditions so pathetic and the hours so long, that the unions are the only way that the companies can be brought to do the right thing.
People will argue that we can’t have the resurrection of the labor union because of all the corruption that took place during the twentieth century. Are their practices any worse than what we are witnessing today on the part of corporate America? You’ve heard of the major scandals over the last quarter century, so I won’t bore you by listing them. Each day we hear more and more about sleaze in the business world, brought about by companies from whom we purchased goods.
We hear about recalls every day for automobiles, appliances and electronic goods. That is not encouraging but in a way is much better than not being informed of these problems. The alternative I have already discussed earlier: keep the people in the dark and pay the lawsuits. Still, pride in workmanship as well as better quality control can eliminate many of these problems.
I don’t have to remind you of our “service” economy. This is the new business model where we replace those who answer phones with “voice maze,” or maybe I should properly refer to it as, “voice malaise.” Whenever I hear these words, “Your call is very important to us,” I want to add, “But obviously not that important.” Too many times you can’t get through to any human being about your problem. In many cases you wander through the menus only to eventually hear, “Thank you for calling,” followed by a dial tone. This is the new way of doing business.
There seems to be a simple word for these efforts: greed. This uniting of people in order to do unethical things is nothing more than a conspiracy. If you haven’t figured it out, I believe in them since conspiracies aren’t theories, they’re CRIMES! Just such a travesty occurred on October 17, 2006 when a judge reversed the conviction of Enron founder Ken Lay, turning over a jury’s verdict that he had committed fraud and conspiracy in one of the largest scandals in history. This decision was most likely made because Mr. Lay died a few months before. I believe in forgiveness, but do you think the victims of Enron’s theft will be able to feel the same since this outrageous judgment means that they will never recover any of their losses? Actually, the judge wiped out a conviction because the defendant could not appeal the decision – a good thing in case someone is falsely accused.
In my view, there is just one problem with this recent decision. The deceased had an attorney to file an appeal in the event that it was needed, so why was this ruling necessary at all? You may have heard about the person who faked dying and then crawled off to the Cayman Islands to retire without using his social security benefits. This is another example of a conspiracy since I doubt that the perpetrator could have done it alone. Just because something is legal does not make it ethical.
If someone is found guilty of robbing the people, not only should he be put in jail – have fun with Bubba, dude – he should also be made to restore to the victims whatever was stolen. There should be no provision made to protect any part of his estate, whether we are talking about residences, gold, paintings or Bibles. There are laws to protect the possessions of criminals, but they are obsolete and should be thrown out. Everyone has rights including the innocent victims. I think we can trust those in the courtroom to do the right thing where those involved in these cases are concerned.
Tort reform is another big joke to protect the criminal corporations. Who cares what the amount of any lawsuit happens to be? Don’t we have judges and juries to limit payments if the claim is excessive? If so, then why is there any need for reform in this regard? All it does is protect the companies for their irresponsible actions. I’m sure you’ve heard about the destruction of the environment by these thieves. These are the entities that have been treated as citizens. They have the same rights except they don’t want to be bothered by responsibilities. The sad part is that the Environmental Puke on Americans (EPA), Department of Environment Corruption (DEC), Don’t Overlook Hallucinogens (DOH), Can’t Provide Anything (CPA) in Iraq – you may have thought that the acronym stood for Coalition Provisional Authority – and other organizations of the government either are too shorthanded to be effective or they just don’t have any concern for the citizens of the country.
Another pet peeve of mine, which you know about already and I can’t emphasize enough, is doing stuff that really isn’t necessary. One blaring example is what the Congress passes off as work, showing they deserve the salaries that they get: introducing legislation. I pointed out that we already have plenty of laws and don’t need more. The Patriot Act wasn’t needed and only reduces the rights of the citizens, which our government was supposed to protect. Before it was passed, there was enough legislation already on the books to handle any scenario that resulted. Another example of wasted time has to do with flag burning. Since there is a statute about not starting fires in public places, why do we even have to introduce any bill for flaming flags? Unfortunately, these redundancies happen every day in congress.
Some will disagree with me about my feelings about the Patriot Act and tell me that if I have nothing to hide, why should I worry about someone looking into the books I read. On a trip to Maine in September 2006, I only took a single book, Where the Money Was by Willie Sutton and Edward Linn. I’m not planning to rob any banks or anything else for that matter, but when I left the motel room, I did hide the book in my overnight bag so that the cleaning lady didn’t report me to the authorities. This should point out the lunacy of the Patriot Act. It’s amazing and quite ironic that the administration that believes in this piece of legislation is the most secret government in history. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Those who sacrifice freedom for safety deserve neither.”
For a society to exist, it needs laws. If a country has none, the only thing that will result is chaos. On the other hand, too many laws mean that they won’t be able to be enforced and the result is noncompliance or rebellion. Obviously there needs to be some rules, but there is a limit. You can’t have too few precepts nor too many. That middle ground will result in a successful society that most will accept and be happy with.
Despite the promise of our legislators – trusting them is like believing that the eighteenth century Native Americans and the colonists were buddies – we know of the huge failure of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO.) If you want a few good laughs, view the movie, The Yes Men. The heroes of the movie created their own web site called GATT.ORG. It appears to be legitimate, but it’s a huge scam – one I like. Nonetheless, there was a method to the creators’ madness. They wanted to have some fun and make a statement at the same time. This web site did fool some individuals and the duo was asked to give some presentations at various meetings of the WTO. What these two came up with was outrageous, hilarious and very enlightening. What was more unbelievable was the acceptance by those in the audience of the ludicrous ideas presented. This is where the title of the movie originates and we all need laughs to survive the daily challenges in the workplace.
In the summer of 2006, I sent off a manuscript to my agent about the failure of technology, Press 1 for Pig Latin. In the last chapter, I mention that there is something that we can do to correct the problem. There are so many reasons why our lives are so messed up by technology. It doesn’t take a genius to see that it should have made our workweek shorter but it has done just the opposite, and hence the huge failure. If I am blaming management and corporate America for our predicament, you can see that I have very good reasons. They are a huge factor in our arriving at this point.
Just consider email. When I got my first email address, I was quite excited by the possibilities of this new type of communication. As I write this today, I realize that I was hallucinating since it never came anywhere close to what was promised. I need only remind you of spam, viruses, spyware, emails with FW (forward, not the middle initial of someone preceded by the first letter of another word) in the title and racist, degrading jokes that you see over and over. Don’t forget the replies that you are expecting which never come as well as all the promises that you and your entire family will be turned into circus people – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but what if you’re scared of heights and they ask you to be a trapeze guy – if you don’t pass on the email.
In a two-year period, I changed my Yahoo email address twice. The first was necessary since I was getting bombarded with obscene overtures, having nothing to do with music – I didn’t open them but the subject title gave that away. More recently, I did another change because I was getting about thirty junk emails each day. With my current address, I’m getting a couple daily, but many of these are for mortgages. I can’t figure out how anyone got my name for this possibility since I haven’t had a home loan for years now and I have no intention to buy a house.
I was at a family reunion in the summer of 2006 and one individual argued that email was a great thing. In this case, we seem to have an exception, but remember, I had that same feeling initially. Email was created to keep everyone connected and promised instant communication. Unfortunately, the designers forgot about the fact that some people only check their messages every three months. They also didn’t take into consideration that every transmission doesn’t take place. I have sent emails that people have not received and simultaneously have not gotten stuff that others have directed to me. It’s possible these correspondences were accidentally or otherwise deleted, or perhaps the sender didn’t press send, but it still points out the flaws of the system.
Email is a one-way communication. Certainly spam fits that category as does just about any other piece you get with FW in the subject title. You can’t respond to spam, but if you open it, beware! I don’t keep track of responses to the emails I send for which I want a reply and I don’t pass on FW emails and jokes, unless they’re really hilarious. If I did keep track, I am sure that the rate of returning mail is very low, probably about five percent, if not less. I recall one specific occasion when I emailed someone, who didn’t reply. I needed an answer so I resent the email. At this point the recipient told me to stop my spamming! When I got that message, I didn’t respond, figuring this person wasn’t worthy of any more of my time.
This new creation was supposed to help us be more productive, but now we wind up keeping lists of people and spend time maintaining more than one. When someone goes on vacation, on her return, she will have to spend hours checking the messages that have accumulated. This applies at home as well as at the office. Yahoo has an option to direct your email into the inbox or the bulk folder – another name for spam. It somehow determines which is which, but every so often, I will get spam in my inbox and good mail in the bulk folder.
Yahoo – your provider might do the same – offers the option to have the junk deleted and go directly into the spamopshere and you’ll never see it. There is another option that goes with this, giving you a chance to save the email addresses of all this crap so you can see who the sender was. In doing this you might find that Uncle Leo emailed you but it was deleted instantaneously. Maybe that was really what you wanted, but you can see the problem if you were a favorite niece of the guy, who was loaded – money, not alcohol. As far as I can tell, this last option doesn’t seem to function properly since I tried it and no email addresses were saved so I could send a correspondence and request another email from the sender. You may just as well have the separation of the mail and look at them all before deleting. In any case, you can see all the work that has been created. Do you still feel that email is all that great?
There are a few things that can be done to make email what it was supposed to be. The elimination of this junk “correspondence” will go a long way to another goal: improving communication by this means. No one has talked about this so maybe it’s time for some email etiquette. Here are the rules that should be put into practice:
1. Each individual is limited to sending one email per day to each recipient.
If you send an email and get one back and then decide to follow up with another to this person on the same day, it’s time to pick up the phone.
2. No Ponzi schemes of any kind are allowed. Avoid sending stuff with a threat that they will have to sit with an insurance salesman for the entire afternoon if they don’t pass on what you sent to ten others.
3. If you plan to send jokes or humor of any kind, make sure it’s funny, not racist, sexist or condescending and above all, get new material.
If there won’t be laughs without these considerations, don’t send it. You can always pick on politicians, lawyers, agents and businessmen – they’re still fair game until they clean up their acts. On too many occasions, I get the same funny material over and over and it’s old stuff – some of which I included in my books or unpublished manuscripts. Either this person didn’t read that book or he is a speed reader – he reads without comprehension.
4. An email with no subject should never be sent. If the title is “no subject,” it appears that you have nothing to transmit, so don’t send it.
5. A greeting and signature is always an example of civility, so use them both and avoid emails that are one word or less.
You really don’t need to send just the two words, “Thank you.” If you really feel you should, add a bit more to the message. I get many emails without the names of the sender. Should I reply, “Hi no name or senior moment person?”
6. Don’t send epics.
People don’t care to read long, boring emails so keep it short and to the point. If you go on and on, you are not being concise and people won’t read what you sent. I certainly won’t.
7. If you get an email demanding a response, answer it. Why have an email address, if you are not going to check to see what is in your inbox, so you can reply? Above all, don’t wait three months to respond. Perhaps it would be better not to give out your address if you have no intention of answering. Checking your email three times a year is not very considerate.
8. If someone emails you with something that isn’t too nice, don’t respond.
Answering means you have crawled into the gutter with the sender. If you still feel you must respond, wait at least a day before doing so.
9. Don’t send links or FWs.
If you have to send the latter, at least go to the subject and remove those two letters.
10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
On October 12, 2006, Western New York was on the receiving end of some snow, because of the unusual falling temperatures. From what someone told me, the people who bought my house got about five inches. Others weren’t so blessed as they saw over twenty inches of the white stuff. The problem was that the snow was extremely heavy and leaves hadn’t departed the trees. This resulted in power outages and almost unheard of damage to oaks and maples. Some individuals didn’t lose electricity at all, while others were without it for days or even weeks. Within two or three days, the snow was gone. After two weeks, most but not everyone had power. The damage to the hardwoods was still around in many places for months.
Someone mentioned that this event was our Katrina or our tsunami. They weren’t even close as this event was an inconvenience of the smallest order. The temperature rose on the days that followed so that very few were troubled by the cold. What was illustrated was the fact that we rely too much on technology. It failed us for those few hours and yet many panicked. How could they watch Survivor or As the Stomach Turns? There were some creative people who figured out they could watch their DVDs by going to their own cars or those of their friends or parents. Meanwhile, the non-vegan mothers and fathers of these geniuses wondered how to keep meat in the freezer from spoiling as well as how to preserve the dryness of their basements without a functioning sump pump.
Besides these natural disasters that are bumps in the road, I should also add a few words on another thorn in our sides: the Political Action Committee (PAC.) They haven’t helped the people and their contributions to our plight are as damaging as any factor. It does not appear that we can move away from eventual erasing of the middle class unless these leeches are destroyed or at least regulated so that America can progress to a more just society. It’s time to bring the poor into the middle class so that both can advance. Let the rich – at least those who just accumulate wealth and do nothing for others – contribute to arrive at a more sustainable, equitable society.
You can see what the obstacles are that we face in our daily living. Big business doesn’t seem to help either the worker or the consumer and yet wants people to buy their goods. If there is not a soul to bring out the product because management is overworking the help to death, how can the goods get to the market? If you expect the government to solve any of your problems, you will have a long, long wait. All three branches seem to be on permanent vacation. I’ve sent letters to my representatives and on many occasions received nothing in reply. When something was forthcoming from a representative or senator, it merely thanked me for my input but ignored my suggestions anyway.
We, the people, don’t really have the time or energy to do other people’s jobs. With all the hours just trying to put food on the table, we’re exhausted as is. You won’t feel like going to a meeting of the town board. Joining grassroots organizations is fine, but who has time to do it? That may be another plot of the bad guys, whether corporations or politicians. If the citizenry is too busy, the rulers and CEOs can carry on business as usual (BAU) – a phrase I really hate – doing whatever they care to do in their quest for riches and power.
In this way, we are slaves since we can’t assert ourselves. This has been going on for years and it is an example of the perpetrator using all kinds of tools. Drugs and alcohol enter into the equation. Being tired or depressed may lead to cracking open a beer or two, and in this state, our attitude may be one of procrastination, maybe even a permanent one. If you want to control a group, why not sell them some kind of narcotic – legal or otherwise? This has added benefits as you not only get to have people in the palm of your hand, but you can also make a few bucks on the deal. It’s obvious that the possibilities are almost endless here: nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, illegal drugs and legal drugs. This is what you call a captive audience!
Assuming ordinary folks don’t get hooked on dope or anything else, they shouldn’t excuse themselves since they may be part of the problem. After all, corporations are made up of individuals who are human beings. The same is said of PACs, law firms, the government, and all its agencies. At times people resign good-paying jobs because the organization that pays them is corrupt beyond belief. I applaud these people and I also send out kudos to those in the business world who leave their offices for good and realize there is a better way to live. Despite all the bumps and potholes in the road, there is hope. 20. My pothole adventures
I received some information in the mail about a lawsuit. I’m the plaintiff – one of many – for a possible whopping payoff of $45 – actually it’s more like $20 and a $25 E-store credit, whatever that is. The company is Epson, and it appears that for some time the software indicated to the printer that the cartridges were empty when there actually was more ink inside. Of course, the customer had to do a replacement at this time. This small scam meant more bucks for the company since more print cartridges had to be purchased. I doubt that I’ll be getting another Epson printer. I probably will never see the refund, as small as it is, since I responded to this rip-off over four months ago.
I had planned to relate another appropriate incident in which I was involved that stretched out over a few years but decided to not do that for security reasons: my own. Let me just say that I saw a great deal of incompetence – that shouldn’t give you any clue to the company – followed by what I thought was a shady, if not illegal practice. I signed a document that would give me some cash – it wasn’t in the millions or even hundreds of thousands, but it was substantial – in return for saying nothing about the situation to anyone. My vagueness here should cover me, but I will talk to my attorney before publication.
This deal occurs every day when businesses settle out of court but then refuse to accept any blame for what happened. There seems to be billions in payoffs for all this incompetence and criminality. How can businesses survive that way? The power is in the hands of these giant corporations, so much so that we the people have no chance at all to do more than get a few dollars from them while they proceed on their evil ways. In my case I could have refused the money and not signed the release, but not only may no reprimand or fine resulted for the situation, I could have been out the payment completely. It could have been worse if I had been offered a pair of concrete shoes, which don’t match any of my suits. Unfortunately, this is what we see every day in the way companies run their businesses.
I was visiting friends in Mississippi a few years ago when my friend John mentioned a news flash on the Internet about the town of our youth, Bellevue. My parents’ home was downwind and less than two miles from this area in Cheektowaga, a suburb of Buffalo. It seems that there was a huge lawsuit against some of the businesses there for destroying the environment and getting the residents sick. Cancer, asthma and autoimmune diseases were way above was what was expected from a neighborhood.
The list of defendants was quite lengthy and as it turned out, there were to be about three hundred plaintiffs. My sister, Pat, and I were both involved because of our cancers, and in 2006, my brother – he had lived at that same house during his teenage years – also had a bout with cancer. Fortunately, we are all survivors – so far. The major polluters and possible cause of all the sickness and death are a stone quarry, an asphalt plant and a few landfills. You might think that the plaintiffs weren’t alone as the lawyers, politicians and government organizations such as the DEC, EPA and DOH could step in to help us. We had a great case and legal representation, but the law firm eventually backed out of the case for lack of funds and the other support became as useful as having W teach a course in balancing budgets.
It boiled down to staying the course – that reference was accidental – without legal representation, which would have been three hundred separate hearings against the defendants. That would have worked in our favor because the judge would probably have demanded some kind of settlement on the part of the toxic trespassers since she simply didn’t have enough time for that many cases. However, by this time many had dropped out of the lawsuit – coffins aren’t allowed in the court – and now we were stuck with a handful, about thirty or less. This didn’t help us at all and eventually the lawsuit was dropped.
The reason why so many people gave up had to do with the feeling that they couldn’t fight city hall, if you know what I mean. It would have been different if the people there – in city hall, or in this case, the town hall – had been on our side. That’s another story. Other plaintiffs lost interest because they were too sick to even think about going through this lengthy process. In all, it dragged on for over two years before we saw the disappointing conclusion. Both of these reasons are understandable and the latter may be part of the strategy of the caustic corporations. If you kill off the people or at least get them sick, they won’t have the energy to react in any meaningful way. At the time of the litigation, I was in good health, despite everything that had passed, but after a while even I got disgusted and tired. How do you think those with really serious illnesses felt? The law may say that companies have to follow regulations, but if they are not policed, do you think they give a hoot?
Recently I was informed that the Norton Anti-virus Protection software for my PC (Piece of Crap) had expired and needed to be renewed. I had a few options. I could go online and take care of this. I could also call an 800 number, which is what I did. The whole transaction was a bit fuzzy but I do remember being given an update option for about $50, but being warned that I should probably get the 2006 version of Norton Anti-virus, which would set me back about $60. Either choice seemed a bit excessive but I decided to stay current and asked for the more expensive alternative. I was told that I couldn’t order it at that moment since their system was down. I was asked to call back later, which I agreed to do.
I did some thinking and realized that maybe there was a better option. I checked out the Sunday bombardment of ads in the paper and discovered that a few places had the same software for $39. The ad indicated that with a mail-in rebate, the software would be free. That sounded too good to be true and it was a much better deal than what I had been offered, so I picked up the product at Office Depot. While buying the software I mentioned to the checkout person that I could have had the same deal for $60, with no rebate. Why would Symantec – the maker of this fine software charge so much when I could get it for nothing?
As is true with most rebates, there was a waiting period of six weeks or so, but after doing the requisite mailing, I did get an email saying that my claim was received and the $20 dollar rebate would be processed shortly. You might think that praise is due for the marriage of Office Depot and Symantec for this excellent deal. As you can see if you’ve done the arithmetic and were paying attention, the refund should have been almost double that since $39 - $20 does not equal FREE! I’m somewhat happy to report that I did receive a check for $20 after about six weeks. It’s possible that Symantec offered the $20 and Office Depot was to kick in an instant rebate of $19 to affect the full rebate, but as you can see that didn’t happen. According to my dictionary, this sounds like a conspiracy.
How can customers believe that this Anti-virus software isn’t a huge scam? I run it every week or so and week in and week out, I see the message after it is done, “There are no threats found.” That is a good sign, which means either the software is working or it’s really not needed. I’m not sure which option applies here, but if it is the latter, I just wasted $19. I would have been happier with a $39 rebate so I could care less about a scam by Symantec. This also seems to apply to all the other software on your PC (Positively Crud) such as spy ware and fire walls.
I figured that I would never see the $19 but I called the store where I bought the software, anyway. It turns out that you had to mail in two – not one – rebate things to get the full refund. One was a green label attached to the box that Norton Anti-virus came in, which was nowhere to be found on what I brought home from the store. I was quite pleased since the person I talked to was very helpful and offered a way for me to obtain the rest of the rebate, which I actually pursued. In my mind, Office Depot may have been off the hook, but I can’t say the same for Symantec and I was waiting for the rest of the rebate, when I received a postcard stating that my request was denied because the original proof of purchase was missing. I was almost ready to resign and do nothing further, but then I saw an 800 number on the card and I decided to call – what could it hurt? After suffering through voice maze I finally got a human on the line in a far-off country. I mentioned to him that they had the required document since I had sent it in months ago and he said that my rebate check would be mailed within four to six weeks.
On December 8, 2006, I received a letter from Symantec and thought that I had my check, but they sent a plastic thing with Visa written on it. At first I thought it was another credit card – which I really don’t need – but it was actually a debit card in the amount of twenty dollars. Surprisingly, the refund arrived within two weeks. Symantec thanked me for being a customer and added these words, “We have decided to offer you this rebate method so you can instantly use your reward without having to make a trip to the bank.” Apparently they are unaware that I cash my checks at the pawnshop.
From this episode, I give Office Depot and Symantec two huge thumbs down – even though my name is neither Roger nor Richard, but it does start with an “R.” For the two people I talked to at Office Depot and Symantec, I give praise because of their efforts, without which I wouldn’t have gotten the full rebate. Of course, I would have been a great deal happier if there had been an instant rebate, without the need for mailing anything. My choice would have been to get to the checkout and be told that I owed $5. This scenario is not the exception but rather the normal way big business is done. I mentioned BAU before but maybe it should be Crooked As Usual (CAU.)
If you really want to head down a road loaded with potholes, try being a writer. Besides bumps in the road, there are huge crevasses, at times. I even wrote a book about those adventures in my third profession, I Don’t Want to Be a Pirate, but that’s another story. My agent has that manuscript, too.
One thing writers do is sign books, sometimes even at bookstores. On the evening of the last day of September in 2005, I was part of a group of local writers at the Barnes & Noble store on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Buffalo. In an hour and a half, I sold six books – not bad for an evening’s work. What wasn’t too great was the fact that I brought the books in myself and for each book sold, was only to receive 60% of the cost of the book – that at least was my impression. You may think that’s not bad but don’t forget, I paid the publisher for the books in the first place.
Authors were encouraged to tell their friends, family and groupies about this event to fill the store with customers. The thought was that with so many people congregating at the tables, other people would drift over to see what the buzz was all about and may even buy a book or two. Maybe they were giving away cheesecake. I didn’t tell many people since I figured that my friends didn’t like dessert, they either had my books or they could buy them from me, increasing my profit. I also felt that too many people congregating might actually get in the way of buyers, something the store didn’t consider.
People that bought books took their purchase to a register and paid the list price of the book, plus tax. How many books each writer sold was done by an inventory check with each writer before and after. Prior to the event, each book identification or ISBN was entered into the store system. B & N got paid for the sales that very night. You might feel that the authors should have gotten paid at the same time, but are you ever dreaming! Allow at least a week for payment, but I was more pessimistic and gave them a month or two.
I am a patient person – although not that thrilled about being a patient in the hospital – but in February 2006, more than four months later, I had still not received the check for the sales of these books. I called Dawn, the woman in charge that September evening and she said that there had been a snafu, which she would handle. After a few more weeks I still hadn’t gotten the check so I emailed her, but there was no response. I emailed again with the same result. Then I composed a letter to corporate headquarters of the company, getting the address from their web site. In it, I demanded the full cost of the books since I had to wait so long. That made no difference so I contacted Diane Newton, a friend who also sold a few books that night. I included a copy of the letter to her and she advised me that I needed to include the ISBNs for each book. When I talked to her, Diane mentioned that she got paid for her sales a few months after the event.
By this time I felt that headquarters should have contacted the store here and verified my claim and the ISBNs should not have entered into the picture. Anyway, I redid my letter, including sending a copy to the local store, but all these efforts proved futile. At this point I figured it might be better to end this caper and forget about the profit for that evening. I could have avoided all this had I been a prophet.
Sometimes, someone smiles down and looks after you because on one Sunday, I saw a feature in the Buffalo News by Karen Robinson, a woman who writes a column handling complaints by consumers against corporipoff America. I emailed her about my predicament and within a few days she called. A day later I spoke to a B & N company representative, Mary Ellen Keating, who wanted to settle the matter as quickly as possible. I guess you could say we had her “sweating bullets” – which would come in handy at the gun club. It might be more accurate to say that this was Karen’s doing, since my efforts until this point had been completely futile, as I mentioned.
Ms. Keating mentioned that there had been a screw-up, but no one was to blame. What? Do I have to forget everything I learned in logic class? Well, I can tell you who was to blame. First, the local people were culprits because they knew that the writers had to get paid, within a reasonable amount of time and they didn’t take care of getting at least one check sent. I got the corporate address from their web site, so if it was incorrect, the main office messed up. Since I wound up sending three letters, corporate headquarters gets blamed again. Certainly Cliff Claven may not be the best government worker, but from my experience, the mail does eventually get delivered with great regularity. Granted, it may arrive mashed, crushed, pureed, mangled and broken, but at least you receive the gist of what was sent. I think I would still have been able to cash the check.
A day after talking to Mary Ellen, by overnight mail, I got a check for the entire amount of my book sales. In addition, there was a one hundred dollar gift card. From that September evening, B & N should have gotten $15.27 from the sales of what I wrote – I later discovered they took merely twenty percent of sales. Instead they wound up paying approximately $120 for their screw-ups.
I was grateful to Karen, so I sent her thanks and the following Sunday, my letter was in the business section of the paper with how it was resolved. Somehow the article seemed to exonerate the company, especially after such a long wait. It wound up being settled in June 2006, over eight months after the book signing. The headline was, “Barnes & Noble more than makes up for delayed payment.” I can only conclude that Karen either has a relative working at B & N or else Ms. Keating agreed to settle the matter, throwing in a $100 bonus if Karen agreed to have it sound like the store should be recommended to consumers.
Needless to say, I used the bonus and bought a few books, but how can I recommend this store to anyone? I won’t shop there and probably won’t get involved in any more of those book signing evenings there. This last decision is based on the fact that this caper gets even worse, even before it started. Diane, who I mentioned earlier, another writer from the Authors Guild of Western New York, emailed me news of this event about a month before it was to take place. At first I thought I wouldn’t get involved because of past experiences with this store, but then I thought that even if I sold nothing, I would get some exposure – not that kind, I’m not that type of person.
I called Rene, the woman who was in charge but didn’t talk to her. Instead I talked to Dawn and she said that she was doing the event and would call me the next day. I’m not sure what she considers to be a “day,” but a week passed and I heard nothing from her. A week later I phoned again and she told me to be patient and she would get back to me soon. Another week passed but she failed to contact me.
By this time, it was getting close to the event and when I reached her, she mentioned that all the slots for authors were filled. I was furious but stayed calm on the phone with her, becoming even more determined. She said that there could be cancellations. I then asked if she wanted me to drop off my latest book and she said that would be fine. My house is nearby, so I stopped in with the book but she was at a meeting. Managers spend too much time at those things rather than working. I gave the book to someone who said she would deliver it.
The next day, I called Dawn again and asked if she got the book and she thanked me for taking the trouble. She also mentioned that no one had bowed out of the event but I just said that I would still be there with my books, despite no writer withdrawals. She then stated that she wouldn’t have a flyer for me and I wouldn’t be listed in the program but I told her that was not a problem; thus I became part of the night. I’m sure I sold more books there than some of the people in the program.
I mentioned my apprehension at first because I also got involved there on a similar evening the year before. On that occasion, I managed to sell no books. Two years before, I had given my books along with contact information – including my address, email address and phone number to Rene. She didn’t contact me and when I reached her by phone, it turned out I wasn’t part of the agenda. Why she didn’t contact me I don’t know. Maybe I should have sent her some Godiva chocolates! 21. Grocery freedom
The only way to avoid doing the grocery thing in obtaining food is to marry someone who loves shopping – I’m sure you can find people like that. However, then you will probably cry because that person spends too much of your paycheck. There seems to be no solution to this dilemma. Well, I think there are a few things that can be done to make foodfinding fiascos far more favorable. Obviously, we can’t do it alone and will need some help.
The stores have to pitch in. They can start by not accepting coupons. Simply lower prices on items. Another great idea is to get rid of those bonus cards that fill up our wallets. I will return to those cards shortly. Buffalo has two main players in the grocery business and a few smaller companies trying to keep pace. The big guys are Tops and Wegmans. The former has an awful reputation, which I can attest to from the feelings of others as well as from my own visits to their stores. That wasn’t always the case. Wegmans is somewhat better and even one of the top 500 companies – whatever that means – which they like to brag about, but I really find that difficult to believe from my experiences with them. Maybe I just have a bad attitude from all those days when I worked at the supermarket all through college.
Now the two major players just brag how much better they are than the other. Instead of bickering like politicians before an election, why not simply show results in your store. Actions always speak louder than words. Wegmans and Tops seemed better for the customer years ago. On one occasion, I walked into one of the two places – I can’t remember which one and it doesn’t really matter – and asked a clerk if they had gumbo file, a necessary ingredient for making Creole dishes. Actually, it’s nothing more than ground sassafras leaves, but what a flavor it adds. That store didn’t have it, but the individual I talked to suggested I try their competitor, right around the corner. I thought that this bit of assistance was a really great thing, above and beyond the call of duty. They satisfied my needs even if I had to head into another store. I found it on the shelves of the grocery store just recommended and was really impressed by this civilized gesture.
As far as those bonus cards go, they are a big joke and not needed. At one time you could have used them to get into your apartment if you lost your key, but today they are not even good for doing that. About a year ago Tops closed one of their massive stores, remodeled it and re-opened it under the name, Martins. I went to the store, did some dreaded shopping, went to the checkout and handed over my Tops card, but the checkout person said that it was no good there. You might think that I lost all those discounts but that didn’t happen. Instead, the clerk got a generic card, processed it for my order and I had those savings, implying that the card never was necessary in the first place. I went back to the store on another occasion or two, but did not get one of the cards for the store. It wasn’t many months later that Tops reappeared and Martins was history, at least at that location.
This same scenario plays out any time you shop at either store. Just tell the checkout person that you left your card home. They will accommodate you and you’ll still get all the lower prices. I have been asked for my card to be used for another customer ahead of me, but I refuse to give it to the cashier – I don’t want to get into trouble. Of course, I’m kidding, as we shoppers are all in this together. Nevertheless, you probably won’t be blessed with the discounts if you don’t say anything about leaving the bonus card home. The clerk usually is kind enough to ask for the card if you forget to bring it out. When Tops first instituted the cards so many years ago, someone roamed the store asking if you applied for the card. This assured that all the consumers were on an even keel; but as I pointed out, you could have shopped for months in the store – nay, years – obtained the benefits without ever enrolling in the system.
All the card does is create two prices for many items: the regular one and the discounted value. Executives say this process was carried out because shoppers’ trends and shopping habits were needed for marketing purposes. I ask, “For what reason?” Save a few dollars on promotions, get rid of those cards and the result will be more contented people in the store and more business, which is the bottom line. I have too many cards in my wallet as is.
We have been blessed today with the superstores. As far as I am concerned, even the large stores cover too much ground and you can never find anything without a safari. I get more exercise than I need when I shop. It’s nice to have a great deal of choices in making purchases but I’d be more content to know where everything happens to be. You can master where each item is by limiting your venues to a single place or two; but wouldn’t you know it, just when you think you had a handle on where everything is supposed to be, someone moves things around. I think that effort is a huge plot to keep us in the store longer. They figure we’ll buy more stuff, or at least pay them for the opportunity to find our way out of the joint.
Every store has at least ten checkouts, but when people are trying to pay for their stuff and head home, only two or three are open. It’s rare that you see every checkout open, but why not open more lanes if shoppers are backed up down the aisles? The answer invariably is that there’s not enough help. Well, wake up some of the stock clerks in the back room or do some hiring. The latter option will help the employment problem – somewhat – and result in happier customers. That translates into better business. It doesn’t take Einstein to reach that conclusion.
You will also see shopping carts large enough to buy groceries for the entire army in Iraq. It’s good to have roomy carts but they also block up the aisles. Any family that needs that much room for groceries may want to consider the South Beach diet or move there, if such a place exists. I believe – with minor exceptions – that the smaller wagons should give you sufficient room. Another phenomenon is the circus cart – created to entertain the spoiled brats. Some kids even get their own tiny vehicle, which I’m sure you’ve seen. How quaint! Are children so out of control that these devices have to take up room in the aisles just to calm them? Haven’t parents heard about Ritalin and Dexedrine? I will allow for the motorized carts for the handicapped, but not the other vehicles.
This gets me to one aspect over which management has little control: road rage in the grocery store. It’s not really that bad but sometimes I really want to ask customers if they drive that way on the highway. Fortunately, I keep my mouth shut – it’s hard to talk that way – so they don’t run me over. On one occasion in the fall of 2006, my mouth wasn’t open but that didn’t help in the least as a woman ran me down. I’m exaggerating – one of the wheels of her cart touched my foot, so it was no big deal. It didn’t hurt at all, and she did apologize. I assured her I had another foot, to which she smiled.
None of the employees can do much about the aisle hogs. These are the ones with the big carts who park on one side of the row and then stand right in front of their carriage looking for chocolate covered ants, effectively blocking off the way and you can’t get around them. Actually, a small cart can achieve the same effect. If the stock clerks are filling the shelves, they can also do their part to add to the congestion. When I did my thing stocking shelves, I usually worked on less busy evenings or early in the morning, like midnight to nine a.m. – the graveyard shift. Those were fun if you liked being a zombie!
Today, with very few supermarkets not being open twenty-four hours a day, there probably won’t be a time when the store doesn’t have customers. Fortunately, the wee hours of the morning are appropriate for the help to load the shelves with cans and bottles since customers at that wretched hour will either be minimal or so inebriated that they won’t see the employees. The problem can easily be solved as mentioned earlier in this book by closing on Sunday as well as during these times when decent people should be sleeping. The workers can still stock the shelves during those bewitching hours, because from my experience, they’re not decent.
I could go into some of my recent grocery gathering adventures, but instead let me talk about some ideas for management. They probably shouldn’t hire someone who can’t tell the difference between bananas and summer squash. I know: they’re both yellow, at least the one kind of squash. After a time, the help should learn the difference between leaf lettuce and romaine, just from repetition. I was at Wegmans one day, and was charged for Chinese cabbage and mushrooms. That day, I had neither fungus in my cart nor anything Asian. If you are checking out a customer – that’s not the way I mean – and don’t know what an article is, ask the buyer. There is a very good chance he’ll know what it is. She may even be able to tell you the code of the fruit.
One annoying aspect of life is that tiny tag that you find on fruit from the supermarket. Having read this far, I’m sure you have a fairly good idea of where those tags belong! Those stickers do come in handy for the clerks since all she – in my day, there were only female checkers – has to do is punch in the code. In fact, with bar codes and entering the cash handed the checker – assuming he can read – there isn’t much that can be messed up in the process. I like to really confuse those people behind the terminal by handing over unusual amounts of cash that would give me quarters back for the laundromat. I don’t do that now since I use my credit card for purchases, but I still need the change for the wash.
I was about to advocate that employees have some basic skills in math but that really isn’t necessary with today’s computers at the front of the store. Everything is done for them except taking breaks. Nevertheless, being able to do a bit of addition, subtraction or multiplication wouldn’t hurt, especially during a power outage, when these basic skills could come in handy if the store remains open. This alternative I have seen at Wegmans on occasion and my hat goes off to them for giving people the chance to shop, even if it might be too dark in the store to read the labels on the products. I hope they don’t pick up a summer squash when the missus wants bananas, but that’s why we have night-vision goggles.
When I compare shopping for food today with the time I bagged groceries, chased grocery carts and stocked shelves, it appears that a great deal of progress hasn’t taken place. In my workdays, we did our best to get the shoppers away from the checkout and on their way home as quickly as possible, something that doesn’t happen much today. This is despite the fact that the advances in technology should lead to shorter times checking out. Years ago, we didn’t have unit pricing and the cost of every item had to be input and sometimes wise-ass shoppers handed the clerk $11.23 for a $10.73 bill because he needed change for the washer and dryer.
A few things that I see every time I shop could be eliminated. Invariably, I will be asked if I found everything I was looking for. I might answer in the negative, but that’s the last of the conversation. So, why even bring it up? Also, when I purchase bottled aqua – I go through it like water – the individual who checks me out puts a sticker on the top of the gallon container to show that I didn’t use a five-finger discount. For those of you not familiar with that method of shopping, read Helene Stapinski’s Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family
History , an entertaining, sometimes hysterical biography of the maturing of a journalist, growing up in New Jersey. That added tag for the water seems a bit redundant since I have a receipt to verify that I am not a thief, at least of that liquid. Perhaps, this person has stock in a paper company. I like to save the forest as much as possible. Another thing that you are always asked is, “Paper or plastic?” Isn’t there another choice? Actually, there is an answer to that dumb question. If you can, bring in your own cloth bags. You’ll have fewer bags to carry and you will help save resources and the environment. The only challenge you might face is lugging the bag outside the store since the bagger managed to get everything into it. I guess it’s better than seven plastic bags for six items!
22. Can he run again?
I realize that as I write this, the president of the United States can only serve two terms in office. Does that mean that George W. Bush can be on the ballot again in 2008 since he really hasn’t served the majority of Americans? Granted, he has catered to the rich, but I don’t think that counts. If you have been awake during the twenty-first century, you might feel that the Congress hasn’t earned the pay raises that they approved for themselves in the middle of the night. This lack of effort on the part of our rulers does not help the people of the land. That is why those in the middle class or at the poverty level have such a tough time.
The government has failed big time and so have their agencies, some of which I have already mentioned. Favor the Elite but not the Majority of Americans (FEMA) should return their paychecks and they still would owe us. I mentioned writing those in the Senate and House of Representatives earlier. These are activities that I engage in that I really should not have to do. I am forced to proceed because others have not done their job – something that we the people pay them to do, through our taxes.
I should not have to write someone in Washington to see to it that the minimum wage is increased so that people can have food on the table and a decent place to live. I also shouldn’t have to tell my representatives that the idea of going to a conventional war to fight something quite unconventional as terrorism might not be the right thing to do. I shouldn’t have to write my senators to do something that is ethical and makes sense, and give a laundry list of why something should be done or avoided.
When people mention that politicians are not serving the populace and it’s time for a change, but still reelect their representatives, I only hope that these individuals are people who deserve to be elected. Unfortunately, if everyone in the country feels the same way and elects those in the neighborhood, the slime will remain. The situation won’t ever change. If the elected fail in their duties – as I write this, the Congress has an approval rating of 20%, so that says something – boot them out and give someone else a chance. If the newlyvoted-in are also below par, another election will be forthcoming and they can be removed as well.
Unfortunately, it’s not who votes that counts but who counts the votes, as the last two presidential elections point out. If you think both were on the up and up, you need to read A Black Way of Seeing: From Liberty to Freedom by Paul Robeson, Jr. If I have to tell you who his father was, you’re not reading enough books. Turn your television off for a few hours. You can also read Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud and the Official Count by Steven Freeman and Joel Bleifuss, as it’s always nice to get a second opinion, even though the verdict is the same. All we can hope for is that this never happens again, but don’t hold your breath.
Along with others, I blame the wimp Democrats for allowing this to occur. At least Al Gore put up a fight, but others could have said something after the final decision was made on who would be president after that election. In 2004, one clear indication of foul play was the result from the exit polls, which showed Kerry to clearly be the winner. These type of polls are quite indicative of the winner in an election and there’s a lot more chilling testimony in the Freeman / Bleifuss book.
If you didn’t skip history class – although from some of the books that are still used in the schools, doing so may not have been a bad idea – I’m sure you are aware of the system of checks and balances. The three branches of the government police each other. How do you have a just society when laws are passed and the president signs them but then decides not to follow them? George W. Bush has done this on quite a few occasions with signing statements, an attachment to a piece of legislation that indicates disagreement. Boston Globe writer Charlie Savage mentions that W has used this device 750 times during his tenure. This is not the first time that signing statements have been employed, but others have used them very sparingly, especially before the Reagan siesta. As far as I am concerned, why not just veto the bill, something until recently that the president “elected” in 2000 and 2004 hadn’t done in six years. Maybe this wasn’t done because the veto could and probably would be overridden.
I thought that we had a branch of government to check the powers of the other branches. There wasn’t much monitoring before heading off into another war in Iraq in March 2003. Apparently, politicians figured that they might be considered traitors if they exercised their rights and duties by questioning the idea of this unjust, unnecessary and illogical war. If you start with the premise that war should be avoided at all costs, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that a doubt here can save a hell of a lot of money over the years if conflict can be avoided. If no thinking or debate on the issue is held, you’ll be sorry later.
You may have heard of King George and it appears as though he’s back. Unfortunately, I was under the impression that we lived in a democracy and weren’t especially fond of dictators. In the summer of 2006, you probably heard a great deal of noise about fascism from the people in power in Washington. Well, they got that right, but they were talking about themselves. It seems that our capitalistic society has evolved into the “F’ agenda. Webster defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement or regime that exalts nation and race and stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
You can blame anyone you like, but you won’t do badly by faulting all three branches. I might also add that the inkstained wretches, i.e. the media, went on vacation too. At one time we had great journalists. I need only mention Ernie Pyle, Walter Cronkite, and my favorite, Edward R. Murrow. I also think that we still have great people in the press today, but many were silenced over the last few years. Here I am chastising the incompetents who cared only about collecting a paycheck and had no concern about integrity. This describes too many of people in the media. If you are not familiar with how the press has let down the public, read Watchdogs of Democracy? the Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public by the great dean of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas. Bush booted her out of the staged press conferences because she asked too many good questions. She’s the real hero, and I hope you understand the question mark in her title.
I might add a few more accomplishments of those who serve us in the Nation’s capital in this decade. There’s the huge national debt and then we can’t forget the tax cuts for the richest Americans, but squat for the people that really could use it. I stand corrected: squat should be pennies. This maneuver took place during “war time,” something usually not done.
Long after I wrote this chapter, I asked myself if it really belonged in the book. As you can tell, it’s all about a really nasty business, politics. A while ago I emailed a friend something, which had to do with that same agenda but the response was that he didn’t get involved in that raunchy realm. Those weren’t the exact words used – you know I’m embellishing, here – but I think you have an idea of his feelings on the situation. Well, I told him that he couldn’t ignore what was happening and each of us has to participate, even though we know that most elected officials are crooks. Actually, there are some good ones, but you wouldn’t know that from all the scandals and the way the country is being run today.
You may not be a candidate for public office at any level – although I wouldn’t discourage you if you felt the calling – but as a citizen, you need to vote. One of the reasons for much of the mess today is the failure of people going to the polls in recent elections. A country that sees less than 50% of the population exercising its right to vote is on the way to disintegration. Also, it is much more difficult to rig an election if 80% of the people get to the polls.
Many people don’t participate because either they feel that their vote doesn’t count or they aren’t familiar with the candidates. Many are turned off – myself included – by all the filth in the campaigns. The dirt can be eliminated in some way by sending messages to those who employ those underhanded, sleazy tactics that they just won’t be elected. Every vote counts, or at least it should and you won’t know who to favor if you aren’t familiar with the candidates. This means you have to do some homework before the election – but don’t worry, you won’t be graded on it. Obviously, you won’t agree with everything a politician says or plans to do if elected, but one person running should have enough of what you believe in to earn your support. You also shouldn’t base your choice of a candidate on a single issue. Each of us needs to do our part. Things won’t improve if we are apathetic. Of course, working more than one job and having to labor for fifty hours a week for pennies won’t allow us the opportunity to study any political race. That’s the dilemma.
23. Get up and dance
One of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld was the show that found Kramer’s degenerate friend making a bootleg movie, which I found hilarious. You may not have heard that Cosmo is part of the new comedy team of Borat and Kramer. For that laugh, I thank my friend JJ in Minneapolis. There was another storyline in that same episode in which Elaine started up the party by dancing, or an unreasonable facsimile thereof. Our female star had the guts to get up on the dance floor and we should do the same. It really doesn’t matter if we can boogie or not. Eventually, we’ll learn and get better.
I complained about some pet peeves of mine, and you can see that all seem to be tied in to “work.” We go to school to be able to get a “good job,” which as I pointed out is an oxymoron. Too many people are hung up on careers, when all that really is necessary is to make a living and be able to retire at a reasonable time. To do that, one must get an education, but to be able to go to school, someone has to pay for it and that falls on the family. Most of us are not blessed with the resources to be able to attend classes without getting part-time employment. You just can’t glide through the process by being on campus in the dorms – they’re gone now but that’s what the out-of-town students lived at in my days in college. Attending the university today is a huge financial challenge for the majority of students, even with scholarships. Just buying overpriced textbooks will require getting a part-time job. Paying for education will require monthly payments for some time once graduation day passes.
To be able to have dough – I’m not talking about bread, although that’s slang for what’s necessary, but the green stuff – you will have to work, or you could follow the career path of Willie Sutton. I have already mentioned his book, which should entertain you as well as inform. Willie “The Actor” Sutton was an exemplary thief, something that can’t be said of crooks today. For a few laughs at thieves behaving without brains, check out the 2001 movie, Big Trouble, based on a book by columnist Dave Barry. For a humorous look at missing intelligence, especially “criminal behavior,” pick up a copy of my book, for seeing eye dogs only, which was published in July 2005. In the summer of 2006, I sent another manuscript of similar material to my agent. There is so much stupidity in the land – exemplified by our Nation’s Capitol – that I am already collecting material for a third book on temporary brain deficiencies.
If you are into changing your address often and love garage sales, you must realize that you won’t be able to get involved in either without cash, which once more means you need to work. Of course, you can be excused from that preoccupation by inheriting huge sums of money or by gambling. It is a possibility for people to not have to work, provided they are lucky. You may not want to actually believe that buying lottery tickets can replace getting a job. If you feel otherwise, I recommend reading my novel about the national lottery, Don’t Bet On It, published in 2003.
Any way you look at it – unless you are blessed with hand-me-down bucks – you are going to have to work. You can’t escape that reality. Fortunately, there are possibilities to go through life without having to suffer all the stress that comes with the 9-5 grind, which unfortunately has “evolved” into 24/7 service and never-ending work. As I have pointed out, society is set up so that the richest people do the least amount of work while those who labor the longest and the hardest, get paid peanuts and these people are the ones who prefer pretzels.
I mentioned many obstacles in the way, but I alluded to the unfortunate baccalaureate procurers who face a double whammy upon graduation. If they go on to higher education, there will come a time when they will face the prospect of actually getting a real job. This can really be a hassle, especially when graduates have Stafford loans to settle. Moving into a job outside one’s field or getting a position with inadequate pay only means that life will be quite a challenge making ends meet for these new entrants to the work force.
The correlation between stress, work and a good family life should be obvious and I pointed out that many workaholics really never cared for that way of life in the first place. It gets worse when one ism leads to others, which then leads to sickness and numerous hospital visits. The human race is in a spider’s web and not only can people not exit the maze, the arachnid’s trap gets deeper and stronger. Yet, we have to do something to change this circle, which has turned quite vicious.
Throughout the previous chapters, I have offered a few suggestions. What follows in this chapter should summarize what I have already pointed out as well as supplemental suggestions that I made in my other book on work. There are numerous things that we can do individually to improve our lives and get to the point where we can retire sooner. This is only done because today we have too much stress, which in turn causes health problems and if we are fortunate enough to be able to retire, we should be people who get a chance to enjoy those years away from the rat race in the best of health. As should be obvious, it will take effort by each of us to achieve that goal.
Since the press, unions, government and corporations are made up of individuals, we the people are part of the problem but fortunately, can help in accomplishing the solution. I have mentioned the need to keep track of expenses as a way to control them by the EXCEL spreadsheet. A few other financial choices that we shouldn’t ignore have to do with credit cards and mortgages. If you carry a balance on your plastic for too long a time, you are only asking for trouble and you will have to work a lot of overtime. That extra cash still may not pay down those cards. A better idea is to control your spending and don’t buy everything in sight. You’ll need a place to put it! Use some discretion – it will enable you to retire sooner.
Also, materialism is way overrated, as is owning a home. Why buy a 10,000 square-foot place as a residence if you live alone or with only your loved one? If it’s necessary because you moved away and need it for when your family visits, and you have plenty of brothers and sisters, motels are always a possibility and the sofa bed and a few extra beds in a bedroom or two should do the trick in many cases. Have people bring tents – the outdoors are really invigorating and guests can still have bathroom privileges if they set up in your back yard.
That big house means more cleaning, more furniture to fill it and a longer time to pay for the goods. It implies a bigger mortgage as well, which you really don’t need. It is also more likely to get robbed than a smaller, humbler abode. Your goal to retire sooner is to pay down your mortgage as soon as is humanly possible, without having to do jail time for embezzlement. Granted, the meals there could save you money, but you have to think about your new associates, of whom you probably won’t approve and may have some different habits than your friends and family. You really don’t want to be sent away to decide if it is the place for you.
In order to get to be the exclusive owner of your home, consider adding a bigger payment each month for the mortgage. If your payment is $500, send $550. This will mean two things: you’ll reduce the times you have to make payments and you’ll pay less interest. It’s true, eventually you’ll have less of a tax deduction, but no one wants a hundred-year mortgage, even if the banks are dumb enough to offer them – yeah, they are that stupid. The interest alone for that period will mean your grandchildren won’t be able to retire either!
You should also consider the painless bi-monthly mortgage, if your bank offers it. Instead of making $500 payments twelve times a year, you wind up with twenty-four of $250. As you can see, you pay the same amount, but write more checks and your mortgage is paid off sooner. To hasten the process further, add a few more dollars in each bi-monthly payment. Scratching and straining to do this will reward you with an earlier departure from the rat race.
24. It’s time for a new band
We can get up and dance – which I recommended in the previous chapter – but sometimes the people responsible for the music should realize that they shouldn’t have given up piano or singing lessons, especially when we can’t gong them. Those responsible for the band or orchestra for our pleasure need to be kicked off the stage and replaced. Unfortunately, that may not always be possible, so they have to be advised about what measures to take. It seems that a few groups have been playing music that we the audience aren’t exactly happy with.
Corporat America – since I’m missing a vowel, maybe I should contact Vanna – has to change its practices. What I have already put forth about the product / laborer connection can’t be emphasized enough. Creating an outstanding product and having the work force to get the goods out to the consumer accomplishes one thing: the company will be a success and that will keep the stockholders happy. What more can you ask?
Studies have shown that outsourcing and downsizing simply don’t work. If that’s the case, why are these still being practiced? We need new solutions and a variation on downsizing should be employed. This one gets rid of the dead wood in a place, the non-productive people. More benefit can be gained by reducing the exorbitant salaries of upper management as well as slimming down the thick wallets of the CEOs – another form of downsizing for the better. Too much weight in the butt area isn’t healthy as illustrated by George Costanza in one of the episodes of Seinfeld. Individuals should be able to survive on a salary of a few hundred thousand rather than so many millions!
The chasm between the pay of CEOs and the people who actually do the work is obscene and needs to be addressed. I have discussed the huge disparity between the Simon Legrees and the imprisoned lowly laborer so much but the gap is only increased when you throw in stock options and other perks. The CEOs can still have their high salaries, but let’s level the playing field here. Perhaps it’s about time to raise taxes for those who have so much money and roll it back to the people. This gesture will do much to boost the economy. History has shown that enacting tax cuts for the rich is never financially beneficial to the country. On the other hand, tax relief for the workingman will help the workers and the economy. Anyone with butter beans for brains can figure that out.
Since there is a limit on the low end, it’s time for one on the high end too. No one deserves or should be paid a salary in the seven-digit range, which includes benefits – decimal points don’t count in this discussion. Let us set a limit of six, as far as the digits go. I’m talking here specifically about athletes, entertainers, news anchors and CEOs and they will have to pay more taxes. They will still have plenty to live on but if their yearly salaries get to be more than a million bucks, they will have to write a check for even more to Uncle Sam. This “incentive” should make people realize that five hundred thousand might be enough for one year.
The corporations that have left the country need to be highly taxed rather than given tax credits. If you want to incorporate in Bermuda, that’s fine but it will cost you and forget about any payola to stay in the United States. The penalty for moving should be so great that corporations won’t even think of leaving a location for other areas to do business. The criminal oil corporations shouldn’t be given exemptions so that they can pile more cash into their pockets by gouging the public while the latter struggle to fill up their gas tanks.
Companies need to be accountable for polluting the planet. If you pollute, not only do you have to pay for the cleanup, you will also be heavily fined. Repeat the crime and you do the time. In addition you will be made to pay even higher fines as well as clean up the mess you made. This change in the way business is carried on should keep the air, land and water cleaner and the inhabitants of the earth will also benefit with less sickness. This in turn means that the health care people will not be overstressed with work, since there will be fewer patients in the hospitals.
I hope I have convinced you of the lunacy of the fiftyhour workweek. Even forty hours should be replaced with a new maximum thirty-hour period for that same time frame. It’s just common sense, something that seems to be in short supply today in corporate America. I spent over a quarter of a century in the business world and saw too many examples of what shouldn’t be done there. The only good thing I can say for my experience is that it gave me plenty of material for books. Nevertheless, I would be a great deal happier if I didn’t have to report on all these deficiencies.
I should also talk about overtime. Not long ago some workers were reclassified as managers so as to give corporations the option of not having to pay them extra for working beyond the call of duty. This is grossly unfair and I recommend that along with the thirty-hour maximum, we also set a five-hour limit to the amount of overtime one can put in during each week. The pay will be double the hourly wage of the employee and this would help out those who have been abandoned by the corporations over the years. Salaried workers would also receive the same consideration and compensation.
One of the great ideas that has been implemented at some companies is the ability of the workers to buy stock in their own place of work. This is a fantastic idea because it makes the company better as well as the work force, and it lets those who labor share in the progress and future of the corporation, as well as in the financial gains. Perhaps the retirement plan should be tied in to the company’s success and this might eliminate some of the losses that investors suffered when the Enrons and Global Crossings tanked.
The fair minimum wage has to be implemented. If you still aren’t convinced, why do some many businesses now pay nine or ten bucks an hour for the help. That magic number of fifteen is certainly doable. Don’t worry where the money will come from as I have already pointed out the huge profits at corporations despite the downsizing and outsourcing at those same establishments as well as the bursting wallets of the overpaid upper management people. Taxes and fines for mismanagement and fraud can be used to fill the void. By the same token, since the workers will be rewarded in such a manner, it is up to them to earn their paycheck.
Paying a minimum wage of fifteen dollars an hour indicates that management needs to keep track of the help so that people are productive. Hiring the right people is a no brainer – that’s why you interview prospective employees. If do-nothings are employed, you have to fire not only the sloth but the manager who hired him as well. Telecommuting, true flex time and the four-day workweek should be a normal way of doing business. This will help morale, increase productivity and reduce movement of workers to other jobs. If you have good workers – which you should have because of competent managers – you certainly don’t want to lose them.
Corpoorate America – this is the term for the companies that complain about losing money while reaping huge profits – needs a huge restructuring as far as technology goes. If you are going to have Automated Phone Systems (APS), make sure that the process doesn’t frustrate the callers and drive them away. If you can’t figure out how to make the system user-friendly, simply go back to the old way of communication, which many businesses still use. You may think the automated system saves money, but it won’t if consumers abandon the business. The first clue that your phone handler isn’t working is if people think the acronym stands for Agitated People Screaming.
Technology needs a huge revamping. First of all, it has to be made user-friendly. Many people are into the process, but you shouldn’t have to be a nerd to take part since we can’t exist by avoiding what’s there. The second improvement that is needed is to eliminate all the bugs in the software. I cannot understand how any programmer would accept a paycheck with all the defects in what he produces. Isn’t management watching what’s going on? Also, how can any company put out a product with so many deficiencies? Some people call these things challenges, but I call them bugs. A book could be written about all these problems, and having been there as a software consultant as well as having endured – and continue to suffer the defects of PCs and the Internet as I write this – I have done just that. The manuscript has been submitted to my agent and I can only hope that it gets published before the new millennium.
It is time to come up with some innovation and replace the mouse and windows with processes that all will welcome, no matter what age, and eliminate crashes, restarts and calls to the help desk – have your credit card handy! I included what follows in my manuscript of my experiences as a writer, which I hope to get published soon. You’ve probably seen it in emails, but it’s worth another look.
At a recent computer expo, Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated: "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving twenty-five dollar cars that got 1000 miles to the gallon."
In response to Bill's comments, General Motors issued a press release stating the following: "If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would be driving cars with the following characteristics:1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.
2. Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.
3. Occasionally, your car would die on the freeway for no reason, and you would accept this, restart, and drive on.
4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart; in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
5. Only one person at a time could use the car, unless you bought 'Car95' or 'CarNT.' Then you would have to buy more seats.
6. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was more reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would only run on five percent of the roads.
7. The oil, water, temperature, and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single 'general car fault' warning light.
8. New seats would force everyone to have the same butt size.
9. The airbag system would say 'Are you sure?' before going off.
10. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
11. GM would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of Rand McNally road maps (now a GM subsidiary), even though they neither need them nor want them. Attempting to delete this option would immediately cause the car's performance to diminish by 50 per cent or more.
12. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
I couldn’t agree more! As you can see from these points, Apple, Microsoft and GM – and they’re not the only ones – need to get with the program. Changing the way they conduct business will go a long way to making all of our lives better. It will also increase profits for the corporations. How many times do I need to point that out? Does corporate America have the intelligence of a rutabaga?
Technology needs revamping since it has such great potential. Unfortunately, it is a major contributor to the increased hours of the workweek. Advances are supposed to make the week of the laborer shorter, but the computer companies are responsible for just the opposite effect. Take advantage of the possibilities, but get rid of the problems. Once this is achieved, corporate America can use the improvements to lower the workweek further. This gesture would also make our lives easier when we log on to the web to surf or get our email.
I spent a great deal of time on email and all its headaches earlier, but the Internet service providers can be more responsible to make our lives easier. It will take effort on their part, but spam can be eliminated, with a bit of enforcement and policing. I realize that spy ware and viruses create jobs. However, you can create some other jobs that will remove all these annoying hazards completely from our lives forever. It can be done and the people will be eternally grateful. I know I will.
With the state of affairs of what we the people are going through as workers, it appears as though it is time to bring back the unions. It wouldn’t have been necessary had corporations dealt with their employees in a caring manner. The whole idea of forming these types of groups may be avoided if somehow companies make some changes. It really would be better for everyone, since any color collar workers – and those without collars – would save on dues and have more for groceries. Management would save time since they wouldn’t have to do any negotiating, except with those whom they hired.
However, since management hasn’t treated the help that well, it looks like the unions are needed. Economists Lisa Lynch of Tufts University and Sandra Black of the Federal Reserve Bank point out that studies show that American factories that are unionized and utilize the methods of participation and profit sharing for employees, such as those at the Saturn Plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, are twenty percent more productive than the average similar company.
It’s is up to those in government to do their part to justify their exorbitant salaries, rather than sit around taking kickbacks from the political action committees, which I have already mentioned. I have written and emailed members of Congress with suggestions and comments and either have been ignored or thanked for my correspondence. However, no action was taken on what I offered, even though I justified what I was writing using common sense. Perhaps that was the problem. Still, all these attempts on my part would have been unnecessary if senators and representatives were simply doing their job and serving the people that elected them to office.
Politicians also have a part to play as far as social security goes – because of its uncertainty, some people have referred to it as so-so security. There are a few things that can be done to remedy the situation. First, grant all the people the same coverage that the Congress currently receives. The second suggestion is to eliminate what those in Washington, DC get now and replace their benefits with what the average American is blessed with. Instead of either possibility, I would suggest a compromise where both legislators and those governed receive appropriate compensation to live out their retirement years in a worthy lifestyle. It would also be appropriate to have the same outlook for health insurance.
Speaking of cash-coveting corporations and politicians who want to get on a different page, some of their members feel that global warming is a huge hoax. At least one of them is of the opinion that rising temperatures aren’t really that bad. In a short time, we’ll be able to grow bananas in Buffalo along with the yellow squash. These individuals will be extremely happy when St. Peter turns them away at the pearly gates – I should add that it’s a dry heat.
Because people are so busy with their jobs and their lives, they really don’t have time to sit down and write those in government, whether at the local, state or federal level. However, since they have the right to vote, they can and should vote out of office those individuals who only care about their own pockets and political futures. That’s what democracy is all about. It is also up to the people, whether in political parties or those of us who vote for them, to see to it that everyone qualified to vote can do so. We must also make sure these votes are counted and done so correctly.
Maybe it’s time for the people of this nation to form a new organization, using the same acronym I mentioned earlier. The organization I’m referring to is People Against Corruption (PAC.) I was at a party and someone mentioned that we have to accept payoffs, bribes and crooked politicians, since they exist and we will always have them. I don’t buy that and you shouldn’t either. It may take some time, but we need to demand that our representatives serve each of us. If they don’t, they will only be in office for one term. It is our right and our duty as citizens to remove these deadbeats and bloodsucking leeches from office.
I mentioned my trip in 2006 to the state of Maine. It’s a beautiful state and it is also responsible for the Clean Elections Act, which allows candidates running for office an alternative to the corrupt practice of campaign financing. Arizona and a handful of other states have also joined in on the procedure, which was featured in a 2006 broadcast of the NPR program NOW with David Brancaccio. Five-dollar contributions are accepted but no big money. So far, the results are so encouraging that I think more states should use it. For more information, do a google on “Clean Elections Act.”
Two days before the election in 2006, I watched the highly entertaining flick, Welcome to Mooseport. Gene Hackman and Ray Romano are the two candidates for mayor of the town in the title after the incumbent dies in office. The movie gets into politics and all that goes with it, but it also underlies the fact that there is good in everyone. Best of all, it illustrates that everyone’s vote counts. If you don’t think one person can make a difference, you haven’t heard of Rosa Parks, Paul Rusesabagina or Rudy Acuna.
The press needs to be more responsible. I mentioned Helen Thomas earlier and you may also want to get a hold of her 1999 book, Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times which describes her life covering presidents and dealing with press secretaries and First Ladies. Most important of all, this book confirms the fact that members of the press don’t keep regular hours. Thomas took a lot of criticism for just doing her job the way it should be done.
There is good news as the Woodwards and Bernsteins are still with us today. In fact, we have a new team from that same paper, the Washington Post. Their names are Scott Higham and Robert O’Harrow and they reported on the overspending at the Department of Homeland Security in a weekly program on public television called, America’s Investigative Reports. The amount of your tax dollars that was frittered away was seven hundred million dollars. The duo determined that this was money that was misspent and abused and, in some cases, involved fraud.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for any journalist to do any serious reporting that isn’t tied to sensationalism, Hollywood or anniversaries that really shouldn’t be celebrated. It has to be infotainment. Laura Poitras spent eight months in Iraq reporting on the elections there and she made the documentary film, My Country, My Country. She risked her life doing this, but it seems that she may be in just as much danger in the United States because she carried out this project. Apparently her production isn’t exactly what the government wanted any American citizen to view.
I watched the movie and thought it was outstanding. I am in awe of anyone who does dangerous and courageous work of this kind. There are others who carry on just like her and I really support them, as well as some charities, since they are in need of our help. Collecting money for many organizations is necessary today because of cutbacks over the years. You may find it difficult to decide which groups that ask you for contributions are legitimate. Some are downright scams, while others mean well but spend too much on administrative costs. The remaining charities are those for which you may want to open your wallet. You can get help for making decisions in liberating your earnings by going to the web sites, www.charitynavigator.com & www.charitywatch.com.
Not long ago, I received an email with a bit of information, which I thought I should pass on to others. Marsha J. Evans, President and CEO of the American Red Cross received a salary for the year ending on June 3, 2003 of $651,957, plus expenses. Brian Gallagher, President of the United Way receives a $375,000 base salary, plus numerous expense benefits. The Salvation Army's Commissioner, Todd Bassett receives a salary of only $13,000 per year plus housing for managing this $2 billion dollar organization.
Someone will say that my ideas about minimum wage and the length of the workweek aren’t plausible because it will bankrupt companies. Are you kidding? There’s plenty of money – just look around. The intelligence agencies – all two dozen of them – should be dismantled and replaced with one effective group and really return intelligence to an organization. This will save huge amounts of the taxpayers’ money. Apparently, those departments took a holiday on 9/11 – yet no one got terminated for dozing on the job.
What about cutting off pork? Read and weep about some of those outrageous overspending endeavors in the first chapter of for seeing eye dogs only. You can laugh about it, but the money came from your pockets and continues to do so. Too many of our taxpayer dollars – I send the government money from time to time – is wasted on the Department of Defense and corporate welfare. Corporations that rake in the profits don’t need incentives or huge write-offs. Moreover, if they downsize and outsource jobs, they should be taxed, and fined as well. Those are the kinds of incentives the government should offer. The Department of Homeland Obscurity investigation described earlier talks about more wasted spending. Why are taxes for the rich reduced when they ask not to have them lowered?
We have numerous problems: immigration, health care, social security, terrorism and security, intelligence, and employment in all its forms – including the minimum wage and the workweek. The citizens spoke in the U.S. elections of 2006 when they voted to immediately get the men and women in Iraq home. Why are they still there? This option will probably decrease terrorism there as well as in the United States and save billions of dollars. Another progressive idea to make terrorism a nuisance – yeah, Kerry was right – has to do with two courses of action.
The first is to get all those Americans stationed in foreign lands home. There is plenty of work for them here. The second idea is a new American service for the world, which creates high-paying jobs and helps other nations become selfsufficient. This is the new Peace Corps, without guns or uniforms. This is the alternative to sending bombs, weapons, foreign aid – which too often has turned into bullets – or even food, which may not get to where it is needed. Another suggestion is to reduce spending for defense. This country does not need to spend all that cash, especially with these two suggestions.
As I have already pointed out, there is money and plenty of it. Even more can be gotten by rescinding unfair taxes, increasing taxes where they should be levied, policing corrupt politicians and corporate criminals and that’s only the beginning. Don’t ignore my endless harping about cash sources. Not only can high-paying jobs be created, the goals of the thirty-hour workweek and the fifteen-dollar minimum wage can be reached, and we will solve a few problems besides. These challenges I have mentioned and in the process we can make the world a better place for everyone. However, we shouldn’t stop there.
As you can see, we need a great deal of change and many individuals have to pitch in. Actually, many of them just have to do their job – these are the leeches in the companies who want a job without reporting for duty. However, we can all benefit from this effort. Corporations can rake in more money – even doing it without risking prison time for the CEOs – by lowering the workweek to thirty hours, paying people more and investing in green technologies and behaving ethically. I realize that’s a new word for corporate America, but it can increase the bottom line. Cleaning up government results in a better workplace, shorter hours for everyone at the office, less pollution and healthier people with less stress. Lastly, getting rid of those obnoxious words, This Page Intentionally Left Blank means that the work force is more productive, they can retire sooner and we’ve destroyed fewer trees.
I close this book with a sighting. No, I didn’t catch a glimpse of the King – he’s in Tennessee doing Elvis impersonations. On Friday, November 17, 2006 I was on my way into the grocery store to pick up a few things – you may have guessed that it would end this way, but this is not about fruits, vegetables and meat. I spotted some windshield wipers on a car. You may feel that this isn’t unusual except that they were on the headlights. On the way out of the store I noticed the car was a Volvo, but I didn’t see any washer squirts. That will come with the next model.
References and recommended reading
Bill Buford – Heat: an Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker, and Apprentice to a Dantequoting Butcher in Tuscany (2006: Knopf – New York)Fred J. Cook – The Corrupted Land (1966: The Macmillan Company – New York) Art Davidson – In the Wake of the Exxon Valdez (1990: Sierra Club Books – San Francisco) Kenneth C. Davis – Don’t Know Much about History (2003: HarperCollins – New York) John de Graaf, editor – Take Back Your Time (2003: BerrettKoehler Publishers – San Francisco) Barbara Ehrenreich – Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2005: Henry Holt – New York) Barbara Ehrenreich and Tamara Draut – Downsized But Not Out, The Nation magazine (November 6, 2006) Barbara Ehrenreich – Nickel and Dimed: on not Getting by in America (2001: Henry Holt – New York) Rafe Esquith – There are No Shortcuts (2003: Pantheon Books – New York)
Steven Freeman and Joel Bleifuss – Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud and the Official Count (2006: Seven Stories Press – New York)Teri Garr with Henriette Mantel – Speedbumps: Flooring it through Hollywood (2005: Penguin – New York) Lois Marie Gibbs – Love Canal: the Story Continues (1998: New Society Publishers – Gabriola Island, BC, Canada) Richard N. Goodwin – Remembering America: a Voice from the Sixties (1988: Little, Brown – Boston) Andrew M. Greeley – The Making of the Pope 2005: (2005: Little, Brown – New York)
Linda Greenlaw – All Fishermen are Liars: True Tales from the Dry Dock Bar (2004: Thorndike Press – Waterville, ME)Linda Greenlaw – The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island (2002: Thorndike Press – Waterville, ME)
David I. Kertzer – The Popes against the Jews: the Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern anti-Semitism (2001: Alfred A. Knopf – New York)
Peter Kurth – American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson (1990: Little, Brown – Boston)
Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro – Five past Midnight in Bhopal (2002: Warner Books – New York)
Ilene Philipson – Married to the Job: Why We Live to Work and What We Can Do about It (2002: The Free Press – New York)
Frank Rich – The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006:The Penguin Group – New York)Thomas E. Ricks – Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006: The Penguin Press – New York) Paul Robeson, Jr. – A Black Way of Seeing: from “Liberty” to Freedom (2006: Seven Stories Press – New York)
Karenna Gore Schiff – Lighting the Way: 9 Women Who Changed Modern America (2005: Miramax Books / Hyperion – New York)Eric Schlosser – Fast Food Nation: the Dark Side of the AllAmerican Meal (2001: Houghton Mifflin – Boston) Upton Sinclair – The Jungle (1988: Peachtree – Memphis)
David Sirota – Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government – and How We Take It Back (2006: Crown Publishers – New York)
Douglas B. Sosnik, Matthew J. Dowd & Ron Fournier – Applebee’s America: How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community (2006: Simon & Schuster – New York)Helene Stapinski – Five-finger Discount: A Crooked Family History (2001: Random House – New York) Willie Sutton – Where the Money Was (1976: Viking Press – York) Robert S. Swiatek – Don’t Bet On It (2003: Infinity Publishing – Haverford, PA) Robert S. Swiatek – for seeing eye dogs only (2005: Aventine Press – San Diego)
Robert S. Swiatek – The Read My Lips Cookbook: a Culinary Journey of Memorable Meals (2002: Infinity Publishing – Haverford, PA)
Robert S. Swiatek – Tick Tock, Don’t Stop: a Manual for Workaholics (2003: Infinity Publishing – Haverford, PA)Helen Thomas – Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times (1999: A Lisa Drew Book – New York)
Helen Thomas – Watchdogs of Democracy: the Waning Washington Press Corps and How it Has Failed the Public (2006: Scribner – New York)Morris West – The Clowns of God (1981: Morrow – New York) Bob Woodward – State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (2006: Simon & Schuster – New York) Mike Wright – What They Didn’t Teach You about the (2001: Presidio – Novato, CA)
David A. Yallop – In God’s Name: an Investigation into the Murder of John Paul I (1984: Bantam Books – Toronto) Alla Yaroshinskaya – Chernobyl: the Forbidden Truth (1995: University of Nebraska Press – Lincoln)