Friday, October 25, 2013

On Pointing And Giggling at the Kid Across the Aisle

Did anybody else watch NC Republican precinct chairman HenryMitchell interviewed on the Daily Show Wednesday night?  The aim of the interview was to impugn North Carolina’s new voter registration laws.  During the course of the discussion, Mitchell made some pretty outrageous statements; mostly stupid-ass racist remarks, but nothing we haven't heard before.  But the interview WAS manipulated, "cut and pasted," if you will, to make it look worse than it was.  (This IS Comedy Central after all, not the Ifill/Woodruff report on PBS)

What was more shocking (to ME) than the guy's racist comments was his uncensored assertion about exactly WHY North Carolina was instituting voter reform:  "The law is gonna kick the Democrats in the butt." (Due to the suppression of voting blocs most likely to VOTE Democrat.)  He was so comfortable with that idea, he had no issue with declaring it in no uncertain terms on national television.  I'm sure it never occurred to him that what he was saying was proof positive of the illegality and unconstitutionality of the law and its intent.

So it comes out yesterday that Mitchell resigned in the wake of the airing of the interview.  And the Republican officials with whom he was associated have thrown him under the bus, calling his statements "offensive, uninformed and unacceptable of any member within the Republican Party." 

What to think about this?  Honestly?  I kind of feel sorry for the guy.

I'm sure his views did not exist in a vacuum.  I do NOT believe he came up with these "renegade" statements all on his own, at the spur of the moment.  My feeling is that the world he lives in is heavily populated with folks who believe as he does and are neither afraid nor ashamed to verbalize their views at any time, in any place. Despite his protestations to the contrary, I don't think this man had any idea how this was going to play out on a national broadcast that "leaned to the political left."  

Mr. Mitchell lives in the Neverland created by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck--the world of which we got an intimate, disturbing view on election night 2012.  On that night, the nation witnessed the live meltdown of a news broadcast when the right-wing talking heads realized that their candidate was receiving a drubbing for which they were completely unprepared.  They had immersed themselves so deeply in their own press that they were utterly blind-sided when reality intruded into their universe.    

Politically slanted commentary disguised as news has become the norm, and it's the single biggest stake being plunged into the heart of America.  People can now spend their entire lives preaching to their own choir and choosing a reality that matches their personal fears and bigotries.  Our hopelessly polluted national news stream not only allows them to do this, it actively encourages it.  This is what persuades a man to go on national television and speak confidently from his personal reality, only to be made to look like an utter fool by the opposing political ideology that arranged the interview. 

Do I in any way condone Mitchell’s statements or comfortable state of home-boy bigotry?  No, I do not.

But I DO feel that this entire undertaking was a cheap shot that, when you really think about it, is more representative of the problem than the solution.  Mitchell and his ilk are not the primary villains here.  Partisan media ARE. 

Are we now forever condemned to be spoon-fed a steady diet of political satire--ENTERTAINMENT--when we hunger for news?  When we are literally dying for lack of untainted, untwisted, unspun information?  Is it too late to go back to the good old days of the “who, what, when and where,” of the golden age of journalism, without having to steer to the right or the left to obtain the “facts?”   I hope not.  Or things in this country are not going to get better soon.               

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On "Unskilled" Labor

I spent virtually my whole working life in the food industry. 

My husband worked for Kmart for ten years, from 1974 to 1984, and held various middle management retail or food service positions for a decade after that.   

One of my sisters capped a fifteen-year retail “career” with a five-year stint at Sears.

I provide these facts as evidence of my intimate personal understanding of the retail and food service industries.  I know about hard work, crappy pay and no benefits.  I know about “salaried” retail positions (the ones where the annual salary looks pretty attractive, until you break it down by the number of hours you’re expected to work, and you realize you’re making less than $3 per hour…)  I know about being trapped working just under the number of hours per week required to qualify for benefits.  I know about being afraid to take time off because there’s a good chance your job won’t be there when you get back.  I know about the “full-time with benefits” carrot that is constantly held just beyond the reach of 90% of the work force in retail and fast food. 

Even back in the eighties, it took two full-time jobs—one in retail, one in food—to support just our family of two.  I suppose we were fortunate that I turned out to be infertile…because there was never any viable economic possibility of my taking time off to bear/raise children.  If the husband had not made the fortuitous transition out of retail management to something a little more white collar twenty years ago, I have no doubt we would both still be toiling in the trenches.  Though, realistically, I “aged out” of my chosen career about ten years ago.  There are only so many years you can expect the body and the will to withstand the sort of abuse handed out in the food service industry.     

Which is why I seethe to the point of near self-immolation when I read comments on articles about today’s retail and food-service employees, comments that loftily state that these folks have no right to complain, because they are the scum at the bottom of the employment food chain.  Retail and food service employees are lucky to have these jobs.  After all, they “have no skills.”

No skills?  Try your hand at manning the sales floor of a 100,000 square foot establishment that is purposely chronically under-staffed.  Try dealing daily with rude, abusive and even dangerous customers without putting yourself in a position that will give the company an excuse to fire you.  Try organizing your life around an income and working hours that can fluctuate wildly from week to week. 

Did you know that WalMart requires that applicants submit to psychological profile testing?  And that if your scores don’t reflect the requirements for employment, you won’t even get an interview?  Evidently you have to possess a certain set of (submissive?  masochistic?) character traits to be considered proper WalMart material.  So guess what?  WalMart really does NOT “hire anybody.”   And, unfortunately, in a lot of places, WalMart is the only gig around.

And then there’s food service.  I am currently in a position where it behooves me to keep my finger on the pulse of the type/quality of positions open locally in this industry.  And all I can do is read these ads and think, “You’ve got to be kidding!” once I get a sense of what a job entails and what the employer expects to pay.  Here’s one of my most recent favorites from Craigslist:

We seek pastry cooks for quality high-volume production for both catering and cafe service.

Qualified applicants will have some experience in production of plated and petite passable desserts (petit fours) for catering events. Familiarity with baking is also a must with an emphasis on quick breads, muffins, cookies and scones as well as classic french patisserie.
The ability to temper and control chocolate, to create custards, sauces, fillings and frostings and a basic understanding of gluten-free, dairy-free recipes are also all needed.

Candidates must be able to be punctual with a flexible schedule, have the ability to multitask, take initiative, and perform under pressure.

A clean work station, a sense of teamwork and the ability to laugh and have fun are also required and appreciated.  

Wow!  That’s an amazing conglomeration of highly specialized skills they’re asking for here!  And what would you expect the pay to be for someone possessing this skill set?

Compensation: $10-12 hr. DOE

Ten bucks an hour.  Less than $1 an hour above Oregon’s minimum wage (effective 1/1/14.)  And notice they don’t mention how many hours you can expect (any they happen to want to throw your way, depending on the business level), or what kind of benefits are available (none.) 

So I would invite any of the self-righteous jerks who scoff that retail and food are “unskilled” positions, the “I-Got-Mine” idiots who dare to pass judgment on those they believe to be a few rungs below them on the societal ladder, to take on one of these “non-skilled” positions for a week. 

Can you say, “Crash and burn?”

I thought you could. 


Thursday, October 17, 2013

On Our Retreat from the Edge of the Cliff

It occurs to me that we are a society that has devolved to the point where average citizens cannot be emotionally moved by anything that is not brutal, bloody, terrifying or abusive, and we flock in great mindless hordes to any activity or spectacle that displays those characteristics in abundance.  We consider it entertaining to watch grown men in a hand-to-hand death struggle over an elliptical scrap of pigskin; we glue ourselves to a voyeuristic portal that allows us to gawk at the deepest, darkest secrets of folks who are purported to be “just like us.”  Bad behavior attracts us like a magnet, and we not only crave to watch it, but we then take it as a template for our own lives, and so, go forth and do likewise.

Entertainment has become the Swiss army knife of the ruling class, a multi-purpose tool designed to get and keep the money rolling in an upward direction.  The entertainment industry commands billions of dollars in and of itself, and it’s also a superb diversion.  Keep the masses “entertained” while you pick their pockets.  Those clueless dolts will jones for the adrenalin rush so hard that you can rob them into poverty while they cheer and boo and wager on the outcomes of meaningless contests.  And it doesn't hurt to liberally lace the "entertainment" with your message and the type of behavior you wish the public to emulate.   

Which is, I imagine, how it came to pass that our lawmakers, our leaders, became the greedy, unmannered, ruthless charlatans they have become, and we have hardly noticed.  In fact, maybe we have sat on the sidelines and cheered.  Maybe we got confused between entertainment and government.  Our national media have been heartily helpful in the blurring of that line.  Certainly we have completely forgotten that “fact” and “fiction” are not synonymous.  As surely as it has slipped our vacant minds that society is made up of ALL people, all colors, all genders, all ethnicities, all religions, all economic levels.  And our government is supposed to be about guaranteeing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ALL the people.  Not just the rich.  Not just the fortunate.  Not just the privileged.  Not just the “winners.”         

Have we had our fill yet?  Have we reached the point where the outrageousness of the behavior of our legislators has finally sunk in and stirred the reaction in us that it should have done months ago?  Do we feel disbelief, anger and revulsion?  Do we feel those to the point where we are now, as a nation, ready to DO something about it?

Time will tell.  But I think we do.  I don’t think I could get out of bed in the morning if I didn’t believe that…