Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Heading South

I'm rushing around trying to get everything ready to head to Florida on Friday. I'm driving, of course. Everyone always thinks I'm nuts because the kids live clear down in the Keys. I take three days to get there and three days to get back.  I drive for two reasons.

The first is that I love the on-the-road part of the trip as much as being there - motels, restaurants, up close regional scenery such as cotton fields,  or the occasional side jaunt to visit a historic site, like Hank Williams Junior's grave in Montgomery, Alabama . I like getting off the highway to go through small towns in Tennessee and Georgia and Mississippi which all have their own distinctive personalities, unlike the generic fast food alleys you find at the end of the interstate exit. I enjoy eating food that is associated with a particular area. Barbeque in Georgia, chicken fried steak in Texas, grouper in Florida. I like hearing southern accents and getting into cowboy hat territory.  I look forward to all these things as much as I do reaching my final destination.

The other reason I drive is....flying. I hate it. I hate the anticipation and the airports, the take off, the landing and the actually being 30,000 feet in the air. I don't think human beings are meant to see clouds when they look out their window.

I know you are more likely to get killed in a car than a plane. But if I do get killed, I want them to be able to bury more than my left molar.

I've never used the bathroom on a plane, not even when I flew from one coast to the other. I'm afraid if I redistribute my weight, I'll cause the plane to tip over. I've never slept on a plane, considering it my duty to stay awake and worry while other inconsiderate passengers sleep. I can read a whole book on a plane and not have the slightest idea what the main characters name is when I'm done.

I'm never totally carefree during a vacation to a location reached via flight because even at the moment I win a jackpot in Las Vegas, there is a little piece of my brain that's under stress knowing I have to get back on the plane the day after tomorrow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

American Judas

American workers are expendable. Always have been. Collectively, we are in a constant state of war with our bosses. Problem is, most of us don't even know it. Some of us are lucky. We work in the manor house. We're treated kindly by the Squire. We have no inclination to side with the peons out in the fields. We prefer to identify with our betters because we'd like to be them someday. A lucky few of us will make it. Most will not.

When a resistance springs up to fight for better treatment from their employers, their biggest threat comes from within. There are always informers who want to make points with the higher-ups by playing the Judas role.

I was part of trying to unionize a plant once. Behind closed doors, the collaborators reported to management who was in favor of a union in return for promises of favor and favors when it was over. The pro-union workers suddenly found themselves assigned to the hardest, dirtiest jobs. They were written up for the smallest of infractions. Their vacation requests were denied. All of these actions were against the law, of course, but in order for laws to be effective, there have to be enforcers. In our case, the company won and the union was voted down.

The workers who fought the hardest and the longest for a decent standard of living are held in contempt by those without the courage to do the same. Who do the people on the assembly line making minimum wage hate the most? Is it their employers who see success as paying low wages, shirking on safety, providing minimal health care benefits? Nope, jealously, they reserve their hostility for their better off brethren, like the Auto Workers.

We shouldn't be surprised that management wages an on-going campaign to break the unions but what should surprise us is the enthusiasm with which our fellow laborers join in. Remember how we roared in support of Ronald Reagan when he destroyed the Air Traffic Controllers? Ronnie was the hero of the house slaves when he put down the rebellion of the field hands.

Our bosses tell us what to say and we happily repeat it? Like, "it's the Auto Workers' (et al) own fault for pricing themselves out of the market with their demands." Okay, then did the low-wage textile workers price themselves out of the market? Did I price myself out of the market when I was making minimum wage soldering transformers and the company moved our jobs to Mexico? How low do you have to go not to price yourself out of the market? Do we have to match the slave labor of China and Singapore not to price ourselves out of the market?

Now, American labor has gone from almost 30 percent unionized to about 8 per cent. How's that workin' out for us? E Pluribum Unum might be the motto of our country but it's certainly not the slogan of our working class. Whenever we have a chance to support one another, we turn on ourselves instead.

Do we not realize that the goals of the corporations for which we work are the exact opposite of ours? They want a labor force that is submissive and accepting of whatever they deign to offer. Lower wages and higher expectations. Minimal health insurance and longer hours. Holding us in the limbo of temp status rather than giving us full-time benefits. Threatening to move our jobs overseas.  We are shocked to discover promises reneged on, like insurance benefits that last past retirement and supposedly guaranteed pension plans.

And now we have another mine disaster, the worst in America in 40 years, although certainly far from the only one. Twenty-nine miners killed.

"We will conduct extensive reviews of the (Upper Big Branch Mine) accident to ensure that a similar accident doesn't happen again,"  So said Richmond, Virginia-based Massey Energy Co, in a press release issued last Friday. To which I say - "yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever." These mine owners probably keep a card in their pocket with this statement printed on it so they can pull it out at a moment's notice because it's the same thing we hear after every mine disaster.

We usually also hear a litany of violations against whatever mine where the disaster took place. In the case of the Upper Big Branch, Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors ordered all or part of the mine closed due to serious safety hazards 61 times in the last 15 months. The mine had ventilation problems. It was notorious for coal dust accumulations on conveyors (coal dust being 10 times as flammable as methane). The Upper  Big Branch had 50 unwarrantable failures in a year. Unwarrantable is defined as the most serious type of violation, issued when the threat can cause injury or death and the mine operator is aware of the problem but failed to act.

President Obama has issued a call for a thorough investigation. West Virginia governor Manchin has demanded a thorough investigation. State and Federal officials have promised a thorough investigation. Congress is going to hold thorough investigatory hearings.  All this is pretty much what happened after 12 miners were killed at the Sago mine in 2006....and after every other mine disaster. I say, "yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever."

And the rest of us? Well, we'll feel terrible for the miners and their families for about 15 minutes and perhaps we'll honor them with a moment of silence. Then we'll go on with our business, never seeing that occurrences like this, which could have been avoided if anyone cared enough, are just one more defeat in the perpetual war between workers and bosses.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

King of Sleaze

Let's see, Tiger Woods or John Edwards? Who to vote for in the King of Sleaze Sweepstakes?

I think maybe it is Edwards. First, his wife had cancer and that adds an extra element of ugliness to his affair. It's like he was playing both ends against the middle, hoping Elizabeth would just die and get it over with so he could move on with his life. Abandoning a loyal, desperately sick wife for his mistress would have meant the end of his presidential aspirations. (Although, not necessarily the end of his political reputation as that's exactly what Newt did and he's still a respected spokesperson for the Republicans).

And you have to count Edwards' raging hypocrisy against him too. After all, he was running for president by trying to sell the voters on his All-American boy-next-door virtue. Son of a millworker concerned about the common people, two Americas....blah, blah, blah. He billed himself as the "clean" Bill Clinton, giving us that oh-so-innocent white smile that fairly beamed - "trust me".  Maybe voters could have trusted him. Except for Elizabeth's cancer, Edwards followed in Clinton's footsteps and Bill proved to be an excellent president in spite of his questionable personal morals. (See also, John F Kennedy).

And then there's the matter of Edwards' child. Having another man claim paternity drops Smilin' John another notch in the Sleaze Sweepstakes (in which the lowest score wins). Look at the knowledge of his rejection his daughter will have to face as she grows up. It seems that Edwards was willing to sell out virtually everybody to protect his own ambition.

If there is any small thing to be said in Edwards' favor, it is that he seemed to confine himself to one woman. Maybe he really loved her. That hardly covers his multitude of sins but I guess it's something, if true.

Meanwhile,  here is Tiger engaging in multitudes of sordid affairs. The more we learn, the more like a total low-life Tiger appears to be. Come to find out, his keepers knew all about his proclivities for promiscuous sex, even helped make the arrangements with his various women. And he treated those women shabbily. He seemed to have an attraction to his inferiors in the socio-economic food chain, such as waitresses and strippers. I could feel a little more benign toward him if he'd at least given them a run for their money in return for their favors, a taste of the high life - expensive gifts, fine meals, etc. But, no, they all agree he was cheap.  According to what we hear, he wanted lots of sex with very little payback. Sex in the bathroom, the kitchen, the porch, the bedroom.  (Not in the master bedroom though. Come on! Give him credit for some integrity!)

Graciousness doesn't seem to be a part of Tiger's soul. He called one of his dalliances "my little coffee cup". Seriously! How freakin' romantic is that? Was this his own Freudian way of letting her know just how (un)important she was in the scheme of things?

On the other hand, unlike Candidate John Edwards, Tiger doesn't owe the public his honesty. He's not asking them to give him their faith or their vote. They can watch him or not, root for him or not, as they please. His grubby personal life has nothing to do with his golfing exploits (unless his endorsers decide it does).

I'd have more admiration for Tiger if he'd had the guts to tell everyone to go to hell instead of drowning us in crocodile tears and false remorse when we all know that if his affairs hadn't become public, he'd still be up to his eyeballs in the swamp of sexual slime.

So, in the end, who gets the Crown as the King of Sleaze? I think you have to call it a draw.