Archive for the Economy Category

WILL THE NEWS EVER GET BETTER?

These days I get my news via my ears. My wife reads the headlines and stories from The New York Times, as well as from the New Jersey Star Ledger and Newsweek. Then I listen to an audio version of the Times. Today is August 4, which marks a milestone in my lifetime, as it is my birthday. The birthday news in The New York Times this year is uniformly glum.

There is a story about the subprime mortgage business only being the tip of the iceberg. It appears that not only are General Motors and Ford suffering from lack of sales, but even the Japanese cars are suffering the same fate to a lesser degree. There are home foreclosures in record numbers and Starbucks has identified more stores to close. I do not pretend to be an economist but it seems clear to me, having survived the Depression of the 1930s, that we are again in a depressed state in our economy. Anyone who tells you that this is only a mild recession is misleading you and is also very much wide of the mark. We are suffering from a depressed economy and there is no gainsaying that conclusion.

On top of all the glum news about the rest of the economy, we find that gasoline prices have more or less stabilized around $4 per gallon. Motorists have responded by driving less and by trading downward. With the economic news being such as it is, there are fewer sales of cars which means that those of us with automobiles of more ancient vintage are holding on to see if they will last one more year. The point I am attempting to make is that in these difficult times, people respond by spending less rather than making commitments to spend more for mortgages, jewelry, casinos etc. If I may have the temerity to make a suggestion to the Honorable George Bush, it would be for the United States government to spend a hell of a lot less than is now being squandered on our efforts in Iraq.

Iraq is costing us, every single month, on the order of $12 billion. At the same time, the Iraqis are building enormous bank accounts from their sale of oil, but we seem to realize none of those profits. We are supporting a force of more than 130,000 men and women in Iraq, which is an enormously costly venture. Simply put, after five years of squandering away our manpower and our resources, we cannot afford the luxury of trying to impose our will on the Iraqi people. That war should never have been started in the first place and when we end it, there will be inevitable consequences to this country, most of them being unpleasant.

On the other hand, if that $12 billion per month were spent here at home, the bridge in Minneapolis might be repaired and the states, which have been deprived of revenue, would now offer full service. In California, the Governor, in response to depleted resources, is threatening to pay his workers only the federal minimum wage. In New Jersey, the state government is examining the question of whether it would be feasible to turn over our roads to individual entrepreneurs.

I know that the Bush administration is completely paralyzed with respect to offering any hope to the bad news that pervades us. But I will try to offer you one shred of hope. During the darkest days of the Depression, when the rich men had all the money and the poor people had none, we pinned our hopes on the election of Franklin Roosevelt. He promised us at the beginning that he would lift the restriction on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, which was then called Prohibition. From that point on, there came the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as well as Social Security. Even with the obstruction of Robert Taft, the leader of the Republican party in the United States Senate, Roosevelt fashioned programs that overcame obstructionists and prepared us for the entry into the Second World War. Roosevelt was an aristocrat but he understood the feelings and the agonies of the working class who had no work to do.

My thought is that the expenditure in lives and money in Iraq is the root cause of our economic problems here at home. I am a realist, and I know that the George Bush administration is thoroughly paralyzed with respect to any constructive suggestions. I hope that the election that will take place this November will provide us with the 21st century version of Franklin Roosevelt. If the new president and the congress have the will to do it, many changes can be made to right the American economy. But the first move has to be to stop the squandering of our resources in Iraq to the tune of $12 billion per month.

I know that the recovery may take a painfully long time but it must be done. The idea of “staying the course” should be obliterated from the American discourse. In all likelihood, I will not be around when there is a happier day in the fortunes of this country. But I remind my fellow Americans that we pinned our hopes on the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and eventually those hopes were realized. Perhaps in ten years or so the news will be much more favorable than it is today and, if that is the case, I can assure you that my ghost will be pleased.

E. E. CARR
August 4, 2008

~~~

Well, in August 2016 I think it’s a good bet that Pop’s ghost was pleased. Obama wasn’t a silver bullet but the country came a hell of a long way in three years. We of course have an enormous deficit now, which only becomes a problem if there’s a massive crisis of trust with regard to how dependable the US is when it comes to paying back debts. If we lose that, I think a lot of other things will come crashing down. Good thing our current leader is an emotionally unstable manchild! He’ll really inspire confidence in the future of the country, I bet.

THE FOLLIES OF SECRETARY PAULSON

Readers of this essay should be warned that the author is completely at sea when it comes to understanding what is taking place in Washington on the so-called bailout or now called the rescue package. I have no clue as to how the bailout package should work but there is consolation in the fact that neither does anyone else. That of course includes the President of the United States who long ago has taken his hands off the wheel as this country is proceeding down the freeway at breakneck speeds. Be that as it may, perhaps it is well to recite a few facts that have to do with the financial stability of all of us.

Henry Paulson is alleged to be the Secretary of the Treasury in this formerly grand country of ours. We can hardly call it a grand country anymore with the till in the back room showing zero and the ledger sheets showing minus zero. Mr. Paulson came to be Secretary of the Treasury after he had served as Chairman of Goldman Sachs, the mammoth investment firm. It is alleged that Paulson’s private fortune comes to somewhere in excess of five hundred million dollars. That is substantially more than essayists’ bank accounts reflect.

Sometime around September 15, Secretary Paulson’s hair caught on fire and he ran to the Congress to warn that the banking system in this country was about to be bankrupt. There was a great urgency in what Secretary Paulson had to say to the leaders of the Congress as well as to members of the Bush Cabinet, for whom Paulson produced a three-page memo that he wished to turn into a bill from Congress. That bill said that Secretary Paulson should be given $700 billion of your tax dollars and, interestingly, one provision in the little memo stated that there should be no oversight whatsoever. In effect, Secretary Paulson was to be given $700 billion to use as he saw fit. You may recall that the memo was turned into a bill of several hundred pages which was initially turned down. After adding some pork to the bill, it was passed.

The theory in Secretary Paulson’s view was that there were mortgages which he called toxic, which were clogging the system. His theory was that once these mortgages were removed, using his $700 billion kitty, the financial system would return quickly to normal, with the banks being able to lend to each other as well as to grant loans to individual borrowers and businesses. The key to Secretary Paulson’s idea was to remove these toxic mortgages, which were poisoning the whole system.

To help Secretary Paulson with his work, he brought in young man from Goldman Sachs named Neel Kashkari, who would do the financial wheeling and dealing. Mr. Kashkari may be a brilliant fellow as far as Mr. Paulson is concerned, but no one else has yet to find that out. In any case, we are told that Mr. Kashkari, who is in his early 30s and has the grand total of six years’ experience in the financial business, was given the direction to use the $700 billion to buy these toxic mortgages. This is an extraordinarily heavy responsibility for a man who has only six years experience in the financial community.

When the so-called toxic mortgages stayed in place and presumably continued to block the drainage system in our financial structure, Mr. Kashkari and Mr. Paulson seemed to turn to other devices to work their magic. Apparently the toxic mortgages were forgotten. Somewhere along the line, nine favored banks were given something like $50 billion on the theory that they would then begin to make loans not only to other banks but also to consumers. As it turns out, the banks took the billions of dollars and promptly refused to lend to other banks or consumers but instead set out to buy other banks. At this point, Secretary Paulson,
Mr. Kashkari, and President Bush should have said, “What the hell is going on here?” It is not clear in my mind that the favored banks, who were given the billions of dollars, even thanked the administration and Secretary Paulson.

It is now about two months since Secretary Paulson sounded the frantic alarm about the banking system and, if anything, we stand infinitely poorer than we were when Mr. Paulson’s hair was on fire. The stock market is down some 3,000 points and the joke is being heard that the 401(k)s are now 201(k)s. There is no humor in this situation in that lifetime savings are evaporating on a daily basis.

On Friday, November 14th, Mr. Paulson changed his mind about the toxic mortgages and announced a new proposition where he would loan money to various entities such as the credit card companies. He conceded under questioning that he apparently no longer wishes to deal with the so-called toxic mortgages but instead is casting about for some other means of solving this crisis. Mr. Kashkari appeared before the House committee and was totally eviscerated by such stalwarts as Dennis Kucinich, the former Mayor of Cleveland and former Presidential contender. Mr. Kashkari was told by Dennis Kucinich that it was clear that he knew nothing about what was going on. Neel Kashkari did not join in that assessment but objective observers agree that Kucinich’s view was precisely on point.

At the same time Secretary Paulson appeared on Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour program and was so fouled up in what he was trying to enunciate that even Jim Lehrer, the most moderate of questioners, became impatient with Paulson. Those who know Lehrer will tell you that his questioning of the Secretary would lead to the belief that he was telling the Secretary that he [Paulson] was out in left field and knew nothing about what was taking place.

It is at this point that I am attempting to dictate this essay and I hope that you are as confused as I am in trying to figure what our bailout package is supposed to do. I am told that the word “bailout” is out of style and should be replaced by the phrase “rescue package.” That really makes no difference because it is so confusing because Secretary Paulson and Mr. Kashkari simply are, as we used to say, “lost balls in tall grass.”

There is one other parallel that might fit this situation. During the Second World War, the term “snafu” came into general use. That was an acronym and it signified “Situation Normal All Fouled Up.” As you may imagine, soldiers such as myself used the “f” word instead of “fouled” but my seminary training would not permit me to put that horrid word in print. In assessing where we stand at this moment, I would say that snafu is much too mild a term. There was a second acronym that, in the latter stages of the war, was used not only by American troops but also by our British friends. That term was “fubar.” It stands for “Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition.” My case rests on the belief that with respect to our financial condition, fubar clearly applies. I can think of no other word that aptly describes where we are.

And so it is that Paulson’s follies really have turned into a burlesque. The crowning act in that burlesque has to do with twenty nations from around the world coming to Washington this weekend to have a dinner with George Bush and get the word directly from him as to how this is to be fixed. Anyone who believes that George Bush knows how to fix this financial situation is on a fool’s errand. In a speech earlier this week, our beloved President told us that the problem was not in government oversight of the market but that, in effect, the market should be ready to operate as it saw fit and would become self-correcting. This is a lot like his view on the war in Iraq, where we are told that the only way to attack that problem is to “stay the course.”

I know that this has been a confusing essay to read, just as it has been a confusing essay to write. But the facts are the facts and, as an old soldier, I am forced to tell you that the only applicable term for the follies of Secretary Paulson is fubar a thousand times over.

E. E. CARR
November 15, 2008

~~~

Yeah, I dunno. Seems like an okay initial thought with some poor follow-through. Normally the idea with stimulus packages is that if the government spends a lot of money, that money goes into the pockets of the citizenry, who turn around and spend it or save it or whatever. If they spend it, it’s going into the pockets of other citizens, and if they save it then banks get to lend it out to people. This sort of primes the pump for the normal cycle of spending and lending which keeps the economy growing but in 2008 that wasn’t really enough.

THANKSGIVING, 2006

In my longer than expected life, I have never looked forward to the year end celebrations. The long American Depression kept Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations from being joyous occasions. In our family, at best, they were subdued. In effect, I enjoyed the holidays knowing that they would soon be behind me.

When Thanksgiving arrived this year, I thought it could be endured with a decent bottle of wine, lots of music, and not much fuss. But to my amazement, this Thanksgiving was perhaps the best one I have ever celebrated.

The story starts with my firm belief that the hardest working people in the world come from Costa Rica. They clean our house, they cut the grass and they plow the snow. If there are harder working people in the world, I would like to meet them.

We sensed that something was wrong when Jenny the housekeeper, had a “for sale” sign on her Toyota. That was just the beginning. In March or April of 2006, Jenny’s husband Ronald, had lost his job as a truck driver. The job loss occurred because Ronald could not get a New Jersey driver’s license because he is not yet a citizen. The normal wait for citizenship is at least 10 years. Ronald and Jenny are legal immigrants who have six years in on that 10 or 12 year requirement. Yet here in the great sweet smelling state of New Jersey, the authorities will not issue a driver’s license to someone who is not a citizen. So, as a result, Ronald lost his job as a truck driver. Over the summer he tried without great financial success to become a landscaper.

On top of this, the Cuban woman for whom Ronald worked had claimed to the Internal Revenue Service that he was a partner in her trucking business. This was done, of course, to reduce her tax burden. When we looked into this matter, we found that this ploy is now being used extensively, particularly where immigrants are concerned. Immigrants don’t hire lawyers and do not complain to the authorities out of fear of deportation. After discussions with Ronald and his wife, I am completely satisfied that he was a truck driver, no more, no less. He was never a partner with anybody. Nonetheless, the IRS treated him as a partner and soon he was confronted with an additional $5,100 tax bill.

Immigrants who wish to obtain citizenship in this country don’t challenge authority, particularly that of the federal government. Ronald and Jenny simply bowed their necks and agreed to pay the $5,100 amount in installments.

In the meantime, Jenny became pregnant with their third child. To eat, they were required to use their credit cards. As Thanksgiving grew near, they were about $10,000 in debt to the credit card companies who charge exorbitant interest rates. The going rate for a loan from the credit card companies is eight percent. It tops out at around 18%.

As events proceeded, it was clear to us, particularly to Judy, that Jenny was deeply troubled. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Jenny said to Judy that they needed our help in borrowing $10,000. Jenny said that asking for our help was “the hardest thing I have ever had to do.” We knew that Ronald would have the Thanksgiving day holiday off so we arranged to meet them in the afternoon. Judy asked Jenny to bring the details from the IRS and from credit card statements with them. Through this entire affair, we understood that the banks would not make them a loan even though Ronald now has a new job.

When the two Costa Rican immigrants met with us on Thanksgiving afternoon, it became immediately clear that $10,000 would not cover what they owed the IRS and the credit card companies. They needed $15,000.

The long and the short of it is that we granted a $15,000 Promissory Note to the two Costa Ricans. Earlier they had said that they could repay as much as $1,000 per month. Our note specified repayment at half that amount to insure that they would not be forced back into the use of their credit cards with the attendant usurious interest rates. Furthermore, the interest charged by us was nada, which of course, is zero. We had no intention of profiting from the misfortune of the two Costa Ricans, who would at some time become citizens like ourselves.

After Jenny and Ronald signed a piece of paper for us, there was lots of emotion. Jenny called us their angels. She also said, “You will always be in my heart.” I suspect that once the banks had turned them down, they had no place to go except to us.

When the handshakes and the hugs were completed, the thought struck me that in all my now more than 80 years, this may have been the happiest Thanksgiving I have ever enjoyed. It is in keeping with the injunction from the Prophet Micah who said the Lord requires of thee to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly. By extending the loan to the hard working Costa Ricans, it occurred to me that we were obeying Micah’s injunction. It was an act of mercy just as it was an act that was just. And it was our duty to do that. But more than anything else, our treatment of the immigrant Costa Ricans provided a great joy to Judy and to myself. Speaking for myself, this may have been the happiest Thanksgiving I have ever had.

But the story doesn’t end there. You may recall from a previous essay that I take the garbage cans to the street twice a week. On Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving, the garbage collectors arrived as I was going out toward the street to retrieve the cans. The collector saw my white cane and realized that I was blind. He took the bag from the container and threw it into his truck and came back and asked if he could help me. I told him “No thanks. This is my job.” As he started to leave, I asked him to come back to shake hands. He removed his work gloves, we shook hands, and wished each other Happy Thanksgiving. I believe that that hard-working man has become a friend.

On the Friday following the Thanksgiving holiday, I again took the garbage containers to the street and left them there. On Saturday morning I went out to retrieve them. My new friend had removed the bag from the container, he had carefully placed the lid back on the container and left it in precisely the same spot where I had placed it the night before. As you know, sometimes the garbage cans are discarded carelessly. My new friend made sure that the garbage can with its lid on was in its proper place.

So between Jenny, Ronald and the garbage man, whose name I do not know, my Thanksgiving holiday was the happiest ever. With respect to the loan, Judy and I are completely confident that it will be repaid over time. And I expect, that those two immigrant Costa Ricans will become our friends for life. So you see Thanksgiving, 2006 was a day of great joy for us. What more can anyone ask?

E. E. CARR
November 25, 2006

~~~

Pop’s expectation was correct; they were indeed friends for the rest of his. You can read a follow up essay about them here. Per that essay, the two of them should have gotten citizenship in 2015, which I hope went smoothly — perhaps Judy knows.

It also strikes me that perhaps it’s for the best that Pop didn’t live to see the Trump administration, in particular for it’s virulent anti-immigrant stance, which I think that Pop would have found especially repugnant. What a nightmare.

JOBLESS NOSTALGIA

JOBLESS NOSTALGIA

During this election year, the Bushies say that everything having to do with the economy and jobs are going honky-dory. The Democrats point to three million lost jobs since the Bush Administration took office.

It might be supposed that the count of lost jobs perhaps ought to go up by one in view of the fact that your old essayist has largely been without gainful employment since 1984. And, he has not looked for work for quite a while. Could it be that my situation is part of the so called “jobless recovery”? Or is it shiftlessness? Some say that shiftlessness is a virtue. It would be hard for me to disagree with that line of thinking.

Perhaps it could be said that writing essays is sort of a job. On many occasions, it is certainly not easy work. The pay in dollars is just about zero. When an essay is well received, however, there is greater joy than dollars could provide. There is one other benefit in being a largely unpaid-in-money essayist. You work when you want to. Quitting time is whenever the essayist says it is. And there is no hassle about overtime pay. And, supervision is pretty weak.

So in the end, being part of the “jobless recovery” is not all bad. At least, there is essay work to be done which is more than can be said about some of the jobs we are talking about today. The jobs we are thinking about basically no longer exist. There may be some lone operators who still perform some of the old time functions, but by and large, society has seen fit to discard many of the jobs we should now consider.

This old essayist is struck with a sense of nostalgia about the lost jobs. Nostalgia or no nostalgia, it is fairly clear that the jobs we have in mind are not coming back. But at least we can salute at their demise, because those jobs made our lives more graceful and more comfortable.

Here are some of the jobs that have borne the brunt of the rush to modernize:

Elevator operator
Telephone operator
Butcher
Filling station attendant
Conductor on buses and street cars
Utility meter reader
Cobbler
Shoe shiners or boot black
Stone mason
Secretary
Draftsman
Cigar store clerk (endangered)

This is not intended as a complete list by any means. Everyone can probably think of other jobs that have disappeared. It is not a Bureau of Labor Statistics list. It is simply a list that Miss Chicka added to after a faltering start by your ancient essayist.

ELEVATOR OPERATORS, INCLUDING DONNA

In 1941, the Long Lines Division of AT&T offered me a job as a draftsman in its Division 5 headquarters in St. Louis. At that point, AT&T rented quarters for its offices in the headquarters building of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company at 1010 Pine Street in downtown St. Louis. If my memory is anywhere near correct, the building was 26 floors high. Nearly all Bell System headquarters buildings had 26 floors and were styled in the Gothic fashion. The Vatican of AT&T at 195 Broadway in New York also had 26 floors. No Associated Company headquarters could exceed the Vatican in height.

The building in St. Louis had perhaps 10 or 12 manual elevators. In 1941, all were operated by elevator operators who were responsible to get the riders to the correct floor and to level the elevator with the hallway so that the door could be opened and people could enter and disembark without tripping. My memory is that the doors were manually opened by the elevator operators.

Elevator operators had a round device with a handle on it, about a foot in diameter, to control the ascent and descent functions. As they neared the desired floor, the control was moved to the left to descend and to the right to go up. When the operator was satisfied that the elevator was pretty much even with the hallway floor, the operator would then open the doors. When everyone left the elevator cab, she would manually close the doors. It should be pointed out, that all the elevator operators were female and all wore uniforms.

In those days, jobs were hard to find so the elevator operators cared about their jobs. If they acquired a lot of seniority, they could get in line to become elevator starters. Elevator starters worked in the lobby . They told the operators when it was time to move the elevator. Being a starter paid more than being an operator and had more prestige.

Starters usually stood outside the elevator to direct lobby traffic. Often they would hold one arm on the elevator doors until the elevator was full and ready to move. With several elevators to deal with, the starters became an important function. At department stores, they might even remind potential customers of a sale or of specialty items. The starters aspired to become head starters, but that took a considerable amount of seniority. The head starter controlled assignments for the starters and for operators. He or she occupied a prominent position which reflected years of seniority.

Operators were dressed in uniforms and often, white gloves. Starters and the head starter wore better uniforms. Some of the starter uniforms even had epaulets on the shoulder.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a concerted move in this country to go to automated elevators. The operators and starters were then forced to look for other work. Conversion was a time consuming process with the main work and planning being done by the Otis Corporation who built the elevators. The man running the Long Lines Department of AT&T was a vengeful and a cruel man. Apparently, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area of Long Lines had once crossed Henry Killingsworth, the President of Long Lines. Killingsworth demoted Dick Wheeler, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area, and made him move from Kansas City to New York. He was then given responsibility for conversion of the elevators to automatic in the headquarters building of Long Lines. Dick Wheeler is on my list of all time good guys. Henry Killingsworth is one of my all time villains, ranking somewhere between Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon.

Finally, there was Donna, an elevator operator in St. Louis. For the last three years of my work in St. Louis, the union members made me their local Union President. In that capacity, it was often necessary to meet with the management movers and shakers. Donna extended a warm
greeting to everyone who entered her elevator. Although she worked for Southwestern Bell, a different employer from Long Lines, there were occasions in meetings with management to tell the bosses they were crazy not to hire Donna away from Southwestern Bell. They were told that Donna came from a country town, Bonne Terre, in Missouri’s lead belt and that we believed she needed a break.

Well, the long and short of it is that Cliff Duncan, the Division Plant Superintendent, a good man, said he would give Donna a job working for Long Lines. He did that. She worked hard and mastered the new job. My memory tells me that she also found a husband in the process. Your old essayist retired from match-making after that success.

After a while, Donna’s new boss thanked me for getting him such a hard worker. Perhaps this goes to show that country girls from Bonne Terre (good earth) can make it in the big city. All of us were happy at Donna’s success.

CIGAR STAND OPERATORS

Leaving elevator operators and starters, there should be a word about the people who operated cigar stands in the lobbies near the elevators of large buildings. Such operators could be male or female, but most were male as they were often asked about the relative merits of various cigars.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, cigar smokers did not earn as much as they might be paid today, so sales of boxes of cigars were infrequent. In my experience, older men in their 40’s or thereabouts, might go to lunch and say upon returning to their building, “I believe this would be a good day for a cigar.” So cigars were sold not by the box, but individually.

Cigar stands do not appear much in today’s large buildings. This must reflect a diminished number of smokers. Cigars are sold by stores around town that do a much heavier trade in lottery tickets than in cigars. Cigars have pretty much gone out of style these days. For my money, that is a great development. In my experience, there were three or four occasions when it appeared appropriate to smoke a cigar. Every puff reminded me of how much cigar smoking was revolting to me. It pleased my father, but not his son. Cigars foul the air in an office and make clothing smell bad. If all tobacco products were outlawed, it would be pleasing to those of us who are non-smokers.

A personal thought occurs here. Carl Heidbreder was an AT&T employee in St. Louis who liked cigars. He also liked to have parties on his lawn where great quantities of beer were drunk to go with the cigars being puffed. Carl never invited me to those lawn parties. That suited me well in every dimension. In point of fact, beer comes in only a step or two ahead of cigars in my all-time dislike list.

TELEPHONE OPERATORS

With that, we move on to telephone operators. The first telephone in the Carr family was a party line. It was Clayton 714-J and of course, the house was in Clayton, Missouri. When the receiver was picked up, a signal would appear on the telephone company switchboard and the operator would come on the line and say, “Number please.” She would then complete the call and occasionally, she would warn you that you had an incoming call or that someone else was trying to use the party line. This was labor intensive in the extreme. At one point, the Bell System claimed that if they did not automate, it would be necessary to hire more women than then existed in the American labor force. And so the telephone system was automated and the “number please” operators had to find other work.

The telephone traffic force was exclusively female until sometime in the 1970’s. What is left of that force is still predominately female with a handful of male operators here and there.

Now of course, other telephones throughout the world can be dialed from the comfort of your home or office. Operators are seldom involved. For several years, there has been no future in being a telephone operator. On balance, that may be a desirable outcome, but it is one more job that has disappeared in our time. As a man who had a lot to do with telephone traffic operations, it is bothersome that this has happened. It might also be added, that women who were involved with telephone operations were the most loyal and active members of my union. In times of trouble, they could always be counted on. That is a very desirable characteristic.

BUTCHERS

Butchers are like elevator and telephone operators in the march to oblivion. In large part, they have been done in by pre-packaged meats. During the Depression when my mother traded at Gualdoni’s Market, there were two butchers who presided in their blood stained smocks over the meat counter. To a large extent, they were the stars of the grocery business. In a large grocery store today, you might find only one or two butchers. Formerly, they would have as many as four or five butchers, but no more. My memory is that butchers were good guys who liked to joke with customers and other store employees. Even though no meat is consumed at this house, the semi-demise of butchers is a regrettable occurrence.

FILLING STATION ATTENDANTS

Filling station attendants are a lot like butchers. In days gone by, every car had the windshield cleaned and the oil and water checked every time gasoline was purchased. Customers were asked if they wanted the pressure in their tires checked and the water levels in their batteries looked at. In the pre-historic days of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, cars needed lubrication and an oil change every 1000 miles. The front wheel bearings had to be worked on at 3000 mile intervals. Cars today do not require such attention. In the meantime, very few if any filling stations attendants now clean the windshields. If my understanding is halfway correct, in all the states except New Jersey, customers pump their own gas. As a former employee of three filling stations, these advances don’t necessarily represent progress, but rather a desire by big oil and the owners of filling stations to make a larger profit. The car owners are in many respects, the fall guys in this proposition. But younger car owners don’t seem to care as they stare through dirty windshields and pump their own gas on rainy or snowy days.

GOODBYE CONDUCTORS

When families had no cars or were fortunate to have even one car, most people rode buses and street cars to work or for recreational purposes. In days gone by, every bus or street car had two transit company employees aboard. One drove the vehicle and he was called the “motor man.” The second employee collected the fares, gave transfers and when everyone was aboard, signaled the motor man that he could proceed to the next stop. He was the “conductor.”

Generally speaking, customers entered the bus or street car at the rear and paid their fare to the conductor. When the riders wanted to get off, there was a button to push which rang a buzzer to tell the motor man to stop. When the conductor had completed his work, he clanged a bell that told the motor man it was time to proceed. Up until the 1960’s and 1970’s, only men were hired for these two jobs.

Perhaps it was World War II or perhaps it was the executives at the transit companies, but from the 1940’s onward, the motor man was increasingly responsible for all the duties formerly performed by the conductors. Obviously, this brought greater profits to the transit companies, because they had no intention to pay the motor man twice as much salary to cover the loss of the conductors.

This is said to represent progress. If so, it means more profits for the transit companies and a less civilized way to get from point one to point two and a greater potential for accidents as the motor man now has so many jobs to do.

If it makes it seem that my thoughts are wed to the old ways of doing things, that is probably quite right. But after all, this essay is about “Jobless Nostalgia.” There was human contact in riding an elevator with an operator, just as there was human contact with telephone operators, transit workers and filling station attendants. There are those of us who miss that human contact.

METER READERS & ESTIMATED BILLS

Now we turn to another attempt by employers to maximize profits. If you look at your electric bill or at your gas bill, you may notice – in fine print – that some readings of your consumption were “ESTIMATED.” The theory is that meters need only be read every third or fourth month and that any short fall may be made up when the meter reader actually does show up. In the meantime, the number of meter readers diminishes and the customer must brace himself or herself for a large bill when the meter is actually read. This has only to do with utility company profits. There is no other reason for this development.

The Halliburton company is in disrepute these days for such things as over-billing the U. S. Government for delivering gasoline. Halliburton also did not help its reputation for honesty by billing the military forces for “estimated meals served.” A company of soldiers eats three meals per day. If the company is 1000 strong, that means Halliburton estimated that the Army ought to be billed for 3000 meals per day. The flaw in this argument of course, is that soldiers don’t stay in one place for every meal. Some are out in the field on combat assignments. Some are in the hospital. Some may die. Some may be on furlough. In tense situations, it is not unusual for soldiers to pass up a meal even after they have returned from combat. The point is that Halliburton, by billing the Army for estimated meals, is clearly cheating the United States Government. But no one seems to care.

Whether it is the utility companies or Halliburton, lots of executives take a short cut to inflate the bottom line.

THE OLD COBBLER

Let’s leave the world of estimated readings and meals served and move on to another disappearing job. Years ago when shoes were made in this country, they had a sole and a heel that were attached to the upper part of the shoe. When a sole wore out or when the heels were ground down, the shoes were taken to a cobbler who repaired the damage. Cobblers worked in shops with large lathes for trimming and cutting leather. Their hands were smudged with dirt and shoe polish which were the marks of their trade. Cobblers earned their money. They did not have time to watch their investments in the stock markets.

Like so many other manufacturers, shoe companies decided that they could ship the shoe making machinery to Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica or other developing countries where labor rates are perhaps 80 per cent lower than in the U. S. This meant a big boost in their profits. When this was done, there was another development that largely put the cobbler in danger of losing his business. That was the permanent molded sole.

There is a pair of Rockport shoes in my closet. Rockport is a major manufacturer of shoes these days. The shoes were made in Indonesia. Attached to the leather upper, is a VIBRAM sole. It is not meant to be replaced. If the sole should wear out, the shoes will be discarded. They will probably never see a cobbler. The sole is molded into the leather upper so there is no way it can be replaced. When the sole wears out, perhaps my social security check will permit me to buy a new pair of foreign produced shoes. In the meantime, this is another reason why cobblers, like elevator or telephone operators, have a very limited future.

BOOT BLACKS

While we are on the subject of shoes, perhaps we should consider another job that has just about disappeared. That would be a bootblack. They are also called shoe shiners. Bootblacks were generally found in barber shops. Even as a young man earning less than $20 per week, it was almost unthinkable to get your hair cut without a shoe shine.

Bootblacks in a barber shop always tried to get to the customer while he was in the barber chair. If the barber finished ahead of the bootblack, which sometimes happened during rush hours, the customer would then be escorted to an elevated stand elsewhere in the shop to finish the work of the bootblack. By and large, bootblacks were not talkative creatures. Often instead of asking the customer if he wanted a shine, the bootblack would wait until the customer was seated in the barber chair and simply touch the shoes while looking at the customer. In most cases, the customers would tell the shoe shiner to proceed.

Many of the barbershops in downtown locations might have as many as two or three bootblacks. As was said earlier, they had an elevated stand where customers could sit. There were two or three big steps upward so that the bootblack could work at waist level on customer shoes. Often, men would go into a barber shop for a shoe shine between haircuts. In big cities, it was possible to visit a bootblack outside of a barber shop. Often these independent bootblacks were found in rail or bus terminals. Shining shoes was their only source of income and they were hardworking.

In these days of disposable shoes, it is pretty clear that having a man’s shoes shined is part of our culture that has been forgotten. Young men of my age group would never call on a young woman for a date with unshined shoes. A man who did that would be banished as uncivilized. The mother of the date would be outraged and would advise her daughter to think about a more civilized sort for her dating.

Bootblacks in barber shops often would greet the customers at the door and hang up their coats and hats. As the customer started to leave the shop, the bootblack would hold the man’s coat and using a curved brush, would brush his hat, called a fedora. At one time the going rate was 25 cents for a shine, which was accompanied by a tip of the same size. If some special service was performed, the tip should reflect that added attention. As you can see, it did not cost much to have a man’s shoes shined so that he was presentable.

MONEY AND PAYCHECKS

It is absolutely clear that this essayist will be told, “You should also have listed this job or that job”. But this poor old essayist has been forced to stand by while the story of disappearing jobs increases daily. Without belaboring things, there are some other jobs gone down the drain or threatening to do so at any moment. Consider money, for a start.

The clerks who used to hand out the so called “weekly insults” are gone now. First, the companies insisted that everyone should be paid monthly or in some cases, paid semi-monthly. They then sent a debit to the employee’s bank and mailed a receipt to the employee. Therefore, goodbye to the clerks who visited every desk every week to pass out checks.

You will notice that the writer avoided the temptation to say “weakly insult” rather than “weekly insult.” And on semi-monthly employees, the writer avoided the trap constructed by our English cousins by refusing to call it the “fort nightly payroll.” Sincere plaudits will be welcomed for sticking to plain English.

One other job having to do with money is bank tellers. Clearly, banks want to do away with them. Fleet Bank now calls them “Service Advisors.” When Fleet merges with Bank of America, 12,500 jobs will be lost. It may be assumed that some of the layoffs will be among the recently named “Service Advisors” and others will see their jobs disappear as bank customers are encouraged and pushed towards more automation. ATM’s (automatic teller machines) and on-line banking will also have an effect on the number of teller positions available.

STONE MASONS

Stone masons are clearly on the way out. Contractors around here order strips with rocks already embedded in them. It must be assumed that the rocks are genuine fake rocks, but in any case, the strips are glued or fastened on to new structures, and viola, we have a structure with a rock foundation facing as part of the enterprise. In the meantime, goodbye to stone masons who used to cut and place the rocks to form a wall or a foundation on a house.

SECRETARIES

A secretary used to be a privileged position. It involved taking dictation and error free typing as well as good manners on the telephone and in welcoming visitors to the boss’s office. My informants tell me that personal secretaries are now reserved for big-shot vice-presidents and the like. Lower lever executives type it themselves or dictate their thoughts into a tape recorder rather than to a stenographer. Poor old Katherine Gibbs, the leading school for secretaries, is now teaching how to deal with computers. It may be progress, but there are many of us who doubt it.

WAITRESSES

In nearly every town in former days, there were restaurants that opened say from 7AM to 6PM. They served coffee and tea and lunch. They may have offered a light dinner. It seems to me that a high proportion of them were run by Greeks. In those restaurants, if a person or persons sat at a table rather than at the counter, a waitress would appear to take your order and then to deliver it, even if it was only coffee. From what any one can gather, those days are almost gone now. If a customer wants a cup of coffee, he goes to the counter (or pours it himself) and once his coffee cup is in his hand, he wonders around the place until he can find a seat at a table. Not very graceful, but the bosses can kiss their waitresses goodbye as they collect their final pay check.

DRAFTSMEN

This lament about lost jobs will close with an ode to draftsmen. When AT&T hired me as a draftsman in 1941, there were large sheets of expensive linen paper that were laid on a drafting table and were then filled with India ink lines. It could be a house or it could be plans for a subdivision. After the drawing was finished, it was sent to the printing department where blue prints were made. Getting blue prints of a large drawing might – under forced draft – be accomplished in 30 minutes to an hour, if the blue printer was free of other jobs. On normal days, it was about a three to five hour turn around.

That is changed now. It is all done by computer. If the customer wants a wall moved, it is no big deal. The computer draws a new wall and fits it into the proposed building in minutes. For a draftsman of my era, that would be a least a one or two day delay. The computer can spit its products out almost instantly.

Even though drafting was my occupation, there is no choice but to say the modern method is better. That’s too bad, as draftsmen were among the world’s professionals who worked hard, were highly trained, were afflicted by “weakly insults” from the boss and who told some lousy jokes. One more job down the drain.

A SAD CONCLUSION

As you can see, times are changing and old timers will have to make the best of it. What old timers know and that young, hard-charging juvenile executives don’t know, is that in earlier days, life was somewhat more graceful. And it might well be argued, more enjoyable. What person in his or her right mind would enjoy pumping gas into an automobile during freezing or rainy weather? What person enjoys dialing his telephone and running into a problem, finding himself largely stranded? What person enjoys being stuck in an automatic elevator between floors? The old operators would look pretty great at times of such frustration.

If after you have wrestled with this essay and you feel a sense of nostalgia for yesteryear, then this essayist has achieved his purpose. Not everyone will agree that progress demands that we surrender a graceful and an enjoyable life. For those of us who remember those graceful and enjoyable days, it makes a mighty nice memory.

This essay will close with a story from my grade school days where there was a job that surely ought to have been eliminated. Perhaps it is gone now. If so, that has my heartfelt applause.

The job in question was “elocution teacher.” Elocution was not taught in public schools. To learn that art took an outside teacher paid for by the parents of the elocution student. In the 1930’s, two of my grade school female classmates were taught by separate elocution teachers. Even at 10 or 12 years of age, the two classmates were bitter rivals. Each teacher also considered the other teacher a bitter rival. And the mothers were also enthusiastic rivals, if not bitter rivals. Great theater.

One girl was the daughter of a prominent businessman in Clayton, Missouri, an affluent suburb of St. Louis. The other girl was the daughter of the principal of the only high school in Clayton. Now for your old essayist, it was during the Depression and there was no need for me to enroll in the Boy Scouts, because their dues were something like 50¢ per month. Obviously, there was no money in the budget for scouting or for elocution lessons, which would have been rejected by me anyway. Along with other boys in the Maryland School of the Clayton Public School system, we considered the girls, their mothers and the elocution teachers as gross ass pains.

Nonetheless, every two or three months, because of the prestige of the fathers and because of pressure from the mothers of the girls, we were forced to listen to the latest recitation of the two female students complete with verbal exclamation points and hand waving. As time went on, our teachers in the public schools would declare one girl the winner and then in a subsequent month, the other girl would be called victorious. The losing side, student, mother and elocution teacher, were appropriately outraged with anything less than a resounding victory in every recitation.

The daughter of the prominent business man recited a poem about peach pie complete with arm waving and verbal gymnastics. It was so bad that most the boys told the teachers that in future elocution recitations, include us out. That ended the recitations. If ever a job should have been lost, the first choice among my male and many of our female classmates, should have been teachers of elocution. The thoughts about that lost art had been recessed in my memory for nearly 68 or 69 years. Writing this essay brought back thoughts about how terrible that poem about “Peach Pie” really was.

All is not lost. My recommendation for former elocution teachers is for them to become tattoo artists. People who used to administer tattoos formerly occupied quarters in the sleaziest part of towns. Now, one is sometimes able to get a tattoo in a mall. Perhaps former elocution teachers should concentrate on giving punk singers tattoos of blue birds on the backs of their necks. Punk shouters perform largely naked above the waist which provides a field of dreams for an ambitious tattoo artist. If the former elocution teachers put as much energy and outrage in their new profession, it is my belief that they will go far. And we will be forever saved from having to listen to recitations of elocution students.

This aged essayist laments the jobs that are gone, except for elocution teachers. He salutes them for the happiness and enjoyment that they brought to many lives. In those by gone days, it could be argued that we enjoyed life more, thanks to the practitioners of those lost jobs. When the movers and shakers of American industry decide that retirees such as my self, will be abolished, which they are on the way to do now, perhaps that will be indeed, the end of jobless nostalgia.

E. E. CARR
April 8, 2004

~~~
So this one’s interesting because it touches on automation, which is a subject that I’ve recently taken an interest in. Honestly I think I started caring about it in 2014, when I saw a fifteen-minute video on the subject by CGP Gray. His tone is — as ever — sort of condescending, but he makes a lot of strong points about job creation and replacement. Of course, we’ve always automated to a degree as we’ve modernized, but the scary part of what’s to come is that there’s basically no prospect of creating new jobs to compensate for the ones that we’ll lose. At around the 14 minute mark in the video, Gray looks at the 32 types of jobs that employ the most people; only one of them (computer programmer) is new to the last century. The others, which make up 45% of the current US workforce, are not only all very old, but largely ripe for automation en masse.

It won’t be as simple as a secretary becoming an executive assistant, or finding another job where being organized and good with typing is a benefit. Filling station attendants could be mechanics, draftsmen could learn to use the new technologies of that trade. But automated trucking alone is going to displace millions of people over the next decade or two, and there aren’t going to be a whole lot of other things for truckers do to. The human component just won’t be necessary, much like the bus conductors that Pop mentioned. I rode a bus twice today, and each time I did so by tapping a card against a card reader as I boarded; the driver didn’t have to do anything. The exact amount of the ride was deducted from the balance on the card, and we went on our way. That same card grants me access to every train, subway, bus, and even public ferry in the entire bay area. It’s insanely convenient and practical. So the job of having a dedicated person on each transit vehicle to make change is simply obsolete, and we’re going to see a lot more jobs go that way in the years to come.

I think the trickiest part to adjust to is that we’re going to have to switch up an element of our culture and society that has been taken for granted for years and years; we will have to divorce work from worth. One’s ability to compete in a 21st century economy will have to exist separately from the rights or privileges that are afforded to that person. There just won’t be enough 9-to-5 jobs to employ everyone, starting within the next decade or two. People in that future society who cannot find lucrative work in spaces like technology will need to be taken care of, which means breaking down the stigma of the welfare state, and most likely finding a way to supply a universal basic income to the entire population. There’s just no other choice. Machines and artificial intelligences will mean that output and standards of living will be higher than ever as long as those benefits are getting distributed out.

This is an okay thing. This is an inevitable thing. But we’re really, really not prepared for it. Our politicians love talking about saving manufacturing jobs from going overseas, but computers are going to take away more jobs than companies moving overseas ever could. It’s not even going to be close. But instead we keep the national focus on employment for the sake of employment. China exemplified that more than anywhere else I’ve ever seen.

In China, there were incredible amounts of utterly redundant or useless jobs, that clearly existed just to boost employment figures to the benefit of nobody. I remember a mall equipped with motion-detecting escalators, which would start moving as soon as someone stepped on them. But at the start of every escalator in the mall, there was an employee whose job it was to wave her foot over the motion detector to get the escalator started for you. The starting process was nearly instant — it took maybe a second to be moving at full speed. But nevertheless, here were several dozen escalator attendants performing an utterly useless service for the sake of employment. Why not allow them to be automated out, and all the cashiers and waiters in the mall along with them? Then, from all the revenue that the mall brings in, pay that money back out to citizens who can then pursue things that are actually meaningful to them.

When I say “meaningful to them” what I mean is that all the people who are starting escalators, or even driving trucks, would probably choose to be doing other things with their time if that was a comparably lucrative option; if you didn’t have to pick between providing for your family or doing something you like, not a lot of people are going to spend twelve hours a day at a mall, starting automatic escalators up for people. Instead those people could create, or travel, or volunteer, or do something that doesn’t just make them a slave to a wage for the end goal of just “being employed.”

We’re going to have the money to go around. We just have to be willing to distribute it out, and de-stigmatize that practice, which is obviously going to be a huge nightmare. But what other end-states are possible if trends continue like this?

A CASE OF ELEMENTARY FAIRNESS

In September of the current year, the Secretary of the Treasury came to believe that the American economy and its banking system were on the verge of complete failure. Secretary Paulson persuaded other members of the current administration and the Congress that indeed the sky was falling on the American economy. There are any number of reasons why this has happened but it seems that, finally, profligate spending, our tax cuts of several years ago, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have finally caught up with us. But no matter how you cut it, it appears that the American banking system and its economy were ready to fall off the cliff.

At that moment, the Bush administration decided that the way to fix this enormous problem was to throw money at it. I am not an economist but if they said that was the way to fix it, I said, “Let’s have at it.” Brighter minds than mine, such as Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, said that the problem was dire and maybe throwing money at it was our only hope. And so trainloads of money poured from the American Treasury and were distributed with very little oversight.

First came Wall Street with Lehman Brothers leading the way. Unfortunately, Paulson had not gotten there in time, and as a result, they went bankrupt. Next came another investment house called Bear Sterns, which asked to be saved, and the United States Treasury made an accommodation with some banks to buy out Bear Sterns. Then we were told that the giant insurance company, AIG, had to be saved or, if it failed, the results would be catastrophic to the American economy and the world’s economy. And so trainloads of cash were unloaded on AIG, which it used among other things to sponsor a trip by its executives to a spa where they lolled in pleasure for several days at the taxpayers’ expense.

The AIG disaster was followed by nine banks, which Secretary Paulson specified the leading banks in the country. He loaded a trainload of cash to take to the nine favored banks and insisted that they take $25 billion each, with the hope that they would use it to lend to other banks. Unfortunately the banks, including Chase the one that I patronize, simply did not lend the money to other banks, but rather used it to acquire failing banks in the neighborhood. And so at this point we were in the same pickle financially that we had started out from.

Then came the case of Citibank. Citibank also contended that, if it failed, other banks would also fail and the American banking system would be shot to pieces. And so Mr. Paulson made arrangements for Citibank to get large infusions of capital. When there was an inquiry about why Citibank still wanted to pay the New York Mets $400 million to have their name on the new stadium, we were told that the name would remain the same and the financial condition would not be altered. All of the foregoing deficiencies were alleviated by throwing taxpayer cash at the problem but there was no insistence that the United States government would have a deciding vote in the way the banks were to operate in the future. In effect, the investment houses and the banks and the insurance companies took the money and the taxpayers were left to hold the bag.

All of the foregoing took place in September, October, and early November. In late November and early December, 2008, it developed that the three American manufacturers of automobiles were about to drown in debt. In the case of General Motors it was believed by most people, including the United Automobile Workers, that their money would run out before the end of 2008 and that unless they received some help from the government, bankruptcy would follow. When an automobile company goes bankrupt, it will take a long string of suppliers with it into indebtedness. There are the dealers and the people who manufacture parts for the automobiles. Beyond that, if a company intends to pursue bankruptcy as a means of solving its financial difficulties, the problem that comes to the fore is that no one will buy a car from a bankrupt company.

Whereas Bear Sterns, AIG, the nine favored banks, and Citibank seemed to get their infusion of billions of dollars without problems, the automobile companies were subjected to the fires of Hell from the administration and the Congress. We are told by such stalwarts as Richard Shelby, the Senator from Alabama, and Bob Corker, the new Senator from Tennessee, that the only way to solve GM’s problem was bankruptcy. Their advice comes with a high suspicion of self-interest. In one case, Shelby from Alabama has one of the Japanese auto companies manufacturing in Alabama, which is non-union. Apparently Corker from Tennessee seems to revile unionism in all of its sizes and shapes. A cynic such as myself is only led to conclude that southern Republican Senators like Shelby and Corker are interested in having GM go into bankruptcy because that will take their union, the UAW, with them.

The fact that if the automobile companies go bankrupt, there might be as many as three million jobs lost, seems not to have entered their consciousness. What they are concerned about is their life-long effort to stamp out unionism wherever it pokes its head. I know that I am a cynic with respect to whatever those such as Corker and Shelby have in mind, but it seems to me that it is clear that bankruptcy would take the unions down with such a filing and that would please them endlessly. If I may say so, I would contend that people with that viewpoint have learned nothing. They are also the same people who have opposed granting civil rights to the descendants of slaves. When Lyndon Johnson signed the order that permitted black students to attend classes with white students and did away with segregation in eating facilities and other forms of civic accommodation, Mr. Shelby was among those who deserted the Democratic Party and became a Republican. If you want this country to return to its state prior to 1865 when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, following in the footsteps of Richard Shelby and Corker is the way to go.

I own no stock whatsoever in any of the automobile companies, but it seems to me that they are as entitled to fair treatment as the people who run AIG, Citibank, or Bear Stearns and the rest of the people who profited from the largesse of the American government that has taken place this fall. My argument is that if there is an industry that is too big to allow to fail, it is the automobile industry of this country. When World War II loomed on the horizon, it was the automobile companies that converted their facilities to produce tanks, jeeps, weapons of all sorts, and the bombers that we flew in that war. If the automobile companies go under, that ability to defend ourselves will be lost and all of us will be the poorer therefore.

It seems to me that all the automobile companies are asking for is elementary fairness. If we can not provide elementary fairness for all of our citizens, then it must be concluded that the people who run this government should be replaced by those who share a sense of fairness for everyone.

E. E. CARR
December 7, 2008
Essay 352
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Part of me wishes that we’d just pulled an Iceland with the banking situation. “Sorry you made bad loans, but that’s not really our problem” would just be so satisfying. Protect savings and checking accounts and let institutions fail when they make bad decisions.

CANDIDATE EZRA’S FIRST DAY AS PRESIDENT OF THE US OF A

The last time I ran for an office of any kind was in January of 1950. In that case, I ran to be the president of Local 6350 of the Communications Workers of America, which was located in my home town of St. Louis. As it turned out, my candidacy was successful but my tour as president of that local lasted only 17 months, in view of the fact that AT&T offered me a management position in Kansas City in July of 1951. So I have some political experience but probably not enough to suit the likes of Sarah Palin, the Governor of the great state of Alaska.

If I were a successful candidate for election to the presidency of the United States of America, there are at least two things that I would do immediately after being sworn in. These actions would not wait for the ceremonial lunch nor could they be put off by walking from the Capitol back to the White House, as Jimmy Carter did when he was elected. These are urgent matters and they demand urgent attention.

As soon as the final words of the oath of office were administered, I would gather the chiefs of the armed services in a room and would instruct them that, from this time forward, they were to carry out the orders of a new President. There would be no more of this business of “We will do whatever the commanders in the field say we ought to do,” as Brother Bush has said for so long. The military leaders would be sat down and would be told what the political leaders intended to do. My first order to the assembled multitude of four-star generals and admirals would be to tell them that this country can no longer afford to fight two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They would be instructed on an urgent basis to get the United States disengaged from those two conflicts. The Iraqis would be told that they were now, largely, on their own and the surplus that they have gained from their oil sales, which resides in US banks, would probably be confiscated. In the case of Afghanistan, General Petraeus has made the proper moves in that he is now willing to negotiate with the leaders of the Taliban. The way out of these two wars is not through further armed conflict but through diplomacy. So the first order would be, “Gentlemen, you have 30 days to present me with a plan to disengage us from both conflicts and to bring the troops home.” The fact of the matter is that the United States can no longer afford to urinate away $10 billion to $12 billion per month in pursuit of these misadventures. The billions that we would save by withdrawing from these two conflicts would be used to put Americans back to work, most likely rebuilding our infrastructure. So order number one to the military chiefs is to get us the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan and to do it post haste.

Before the ceremonial luncheon after the swearing-in ceremony is completed, I would also announce to the world that the prison at Guantanamo would be closed by nightfall and that the prisoners there would be given trials in the court system of the United States. That court system recognizes the writ of habeas corpus and it would probably throw out many of the cases on the grounds that the people who populated Guantanamo were tortured. If that is the case, so be it.

As soon as the closing of Guantanamo could be announced, I would tell the world through the international press, who would be gathered on that inaugural day, that within 60 days or thereabouts the territory of Guantanamo would be returned to the Cuban people. When Ezra becomes President of the United States, the policy would be that there would be no occupation of anyone else’s territory as we have done in Cuba and as we are doing in Iraq.

My expectation is that the announcement of the return of Guantanamo to the Cubans would probably be met with worldwide huzzahs from our friends and from our enemies. Furthermore I would suspect that the list of our enemies would be greatly diminished by the announcement of the closing of the prison at Guantanamo and the return of the territory to the Cubans.

At the ceremonial post inaugural swearing-in, my economic advisors would be gathered and would be asked to get to work on the sad state of the American economy. If it takes a czar to get this job done, candidate Ezra would be more than willing to appoint just such a czar. We have given a collection of banks $25 billion each on the grounds that they would use it to grant credit to each other and to loan applicants. Instead these banks are using that money to acquire other banks and Secretary Paulson and the eminent George Bush are doing nothing about it. If the United States has a $25 billion interest in one of these banks or in several of them, I would expect that the United States would dictate the policy. This is no time for shrinking violets. This is a time for bold action and if heads need to be knocked together, my banking czar should perform that function.

Well, there you have my planned activities for the afternoon of the swearing-in ceremony as President of the United States. Unfortunately, I am not a candidate and will not be elected to that grand office. But my hopes and thoughts are for bold action to get us out of this torpor that we are in, flowing from the housing crisis, the banking crisis, and our very low standing in the view of the rest of the world.

I am fully aware that these days have not been pleasant ones for those of us who have invested our savings in the American stock market. However, there is one great ray of hope. Shortly after the Bush administration took office, the grand Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, told the world that “Deficits don’t matter.” The fact of the matter is that deficits do matter and, if they are unattended to, can result in financial chaos. It is that financial chaos that has consumed this country since August of this year and in reality for the last 12 months. I suspect that when historians write the history of this era, they will conclude that George Bush and Richard Cheney were probably the worst President and Vice President of this country in history.

But no matter how you cut it, we live in exciting times. In my own case, I grew up during the Depression of 1929, and it looks as though my departure will be marked by another depression. If that is the case, so be it, but I hope that we have learned that in fact deficits do matter and that we should pay for things as we go rather than pass them on to our grandchildren.

Well, that is the agenda for the first day in office for candidate Ezra. I hope that when the time for the evening meal arrives the world will think better of us and that the American people will discern a ray of hope in this very dismal situation.

Now, on the other hand, if I had continued to serve as President of Local 6350 in St. Louis, by this time I would have completed 58 years of service and would qualify for a pin to put in my lapel. But service to the union was not in the cards and I am left to fantasize about being the President of the United States. Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama will be sent copies of this essay in the hope that they will follow some of the prescriptions laid out herein.

E. E. CARR
October 29, 2008
Essay 342
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Kevin’s commentary: Why not go all the way? Screw the cabinet, let’s get a czar of education, of defense, etc. While we’re at it, who said we should stop with President? Dictator or bust!

Leaving Guantanamo open despite promises to close it has been one of the biggest disappointments to me of this current presidency. There were still over 150 people there as of December of last year. Most all of these have been deemed enemy combatants and denied due process rights. Not that the prison system in the US proper is that much better, but at the very least you will (eventually) get a trial here.

“…THE LAST OF LIFE FOR WHICH THE FIRST WAS MADE”

-ROBERT BROWNING (7 May 1812 – 12 December 1889)

Those of you who have had the misfortune to hear me address several retirement banquets will know that the title of this essay is a lift from a poem by the English poet, Robert Browning. The first line is “Come grow old along with me / The last of life for which the first was made.” That quotation from Browning’s work has always seemed appropriate for those who are entering retirement and the so-called golden years. Poets are not much concerned with the realities of life, which is quite likely true in this quotation from Robert Browning. If we were to parse Browning’s words and measure them against two or three facts, they might take on a different outlook altogether.

Browning says, “…the last of life for which the first was made.” Those of us who have endured the earlier Depression of 1929 and the Second World War are clearly in “the last of life.” It doesn’t take a physician to recognize that the last of life is the period when ailments and illnesses plague all of us. I suspect that most people want to live as long as possible. That is understandable. But the unfortunate fact is that the longer we live, the more likely we are to be felled by an ailment or illness that we cannot handle at that time of life. But I am glad that Browning’s work lives on. It is good poetry and there is always the hope that those terrible illnesses will somehow elude us. That is the hope, not the reality.

When Ms. Chicka and I decided to be married, we asked the Mayor of Millburn, New Jersey to perform the ceremony. The Mayor was Frank Long. I wrote out the script for him to read from during the marriage ceremony, and one way or another Frank became confused and he failed to do Browning’s poem aptly. For that mistake, Frank Long, the former Mayor of Millburn, owes Robert Browning an apology.

Now if oldsters did not have the ailments that go with the last of life, there is now the plague of September 15, 2008. You will recall that on that day the gloomy news from Wall Street reached our ears. No less than the US Treasury Secretary and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernake, concluded that the entire financial structure of the United States was in grave danger. Fortunes were lost overnight and/or severely damaged. Whatever financial security that those in the last of life may have enjoyed was gravely threatened. Banks were threatened and a good many of them went out of business, as did some ancient investment houses. Several thousand people have lost and are losing their jobs in the financial industry.

In my own case, agony accompanied me nearly every step of the way last week. It is not that I have that much to lose, because I don’t have that sort of fortune salted away. But like most other people, I would like to keep what little I have while the last years take place.

The financial crisis of recent weeks has tended to drown out consideration of the war in Iraq that is going on endlessly. The United States is spending between $10 and $12 billion per month to prosecute that war. The plain fact is that regardless of whatever else happens in the Middle East, we simply cannot afford to underwrite this expensive misadventure that has been going on for nearly six years.

And so in the last of life, a good many of us are worrying about our financial condition, the war in Iraq, and the health of our nation and of ourselves. The health of ourselves in the last of life is something that we can do little about. But the financial crisis and the war in Iraq were avoidable and those who led us into such messes ought to be severely punished. But we all know that nothing will happen.

The gloom that pervades so many millions of Americans today as I dictate this essay on September 21 may tend to lift if we perceive that intelligent people are at work to provide a remedy. If I knew that Barney Frank, a Representative from Boston, Chris Dodd, the sane senator from Connecticut, and Robert Reuben, the former Treasury Secretary, were part of the process, I would be cheered and comforted. I put no stock in the power of prayer but if I could say a prayer that would keep George Bush and his neo-con cohorts out of the process, I would be on my knees in an instant.

When Robert Browning wrote his work about the last of life, the world was a lot simpler. In that era, life expectancy was somewhere around 50 years. But if Browning were alive today, I would be obliged to tell him that in the intervening years, life has not gotten any simpler.

This is a gloomy assessment of where we stand in the first week of this financial crisis. But if we give it enough time and if the right people go to work on it, I suspect that there may eventually be an ending that is
acceptable to the American people. Those of us who remember the 1929 Depression and World War II will be waiting. It may give us a reason to keep on hanging on for the day when we can again sing, “Happy days are here again.” On the other hand, if things do not go well, we may all be singing the Depression tune, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

E. E. CARR
September 25, 2008
Essay 339
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Well, six (!) years later and we’re starting to pull out of it. The wars are mostly over, and hopefully the U.S. doesn’t decide that it’s time to dive into the Ukraine…

I’ll admit that I don’t think I fully grasp the titular saying, in this one. Specifically the bit about “for which the first was made.” I’m reading the rest of the poem now though, and it seems like a relatively religious one. So maybe we’re talking about some type of divine making?

STAR SPANGLED PONDERINGS

In this 232nd year of American independence, as I sit here on Independence Day 2008, I often wonder why we have given so little credit to the French for our freedom from the English. The French cheered George Washington’s efforts against George III, and in the final battles their fleet was anchored off the Virginia coast. That told General Cromwell of the English forces that he would receive no more help from England and that his forces might well be destroyed if they attempted to leave the American mainland. So Cromwell gave up. But again, I always wondered why we have failed to give proper credit to the French.

The French are a pragmatic people. In recent years they have declined to send their troops into the death maws of Iraq. For that gesture, they have earned the undying dislike and hatred of certain political forces in this country. You may remember that in the dining room of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, a congressman renamed the French fried potatoes as “freedom fries.” But the French have always been our friends and they have contributed some of the best wine and cheeses and other culinary delights for the world to enjoy.

These days, taking advantage of those culinary delights has become much more problematic for Americans. Sometime after the American invasion of Iraq, the authorities in Washington decided to devalue the American dollar in an effort to make our goods more competitive in world markets. This was done for balance of trade reasons. When the dollar began to fall in value, it didn’t stop at the first floor but rather went through the basement. For example, the Canadian dollar was never worth more than 75 cents, but now it takes $1.25 US to buy a Canadian dollar. When the Euro was established, it was worth about 69 cents as compared to the American dollar. Now, however, it takes about $1.59 to purchase one single Euro. The net result is that other countries which have gobs of dollars to spend, because of our profligate ways in the last few years, are now buying things that are American-made. Their appetite is so voracious that they have bought a good deal of our real estate and our manufacturing base.

The Europeans have so much money to spend that even the Irish, formerly the low man on the totem pole, have prospered and are buying up large chunks of New York City real estate. Not many people have heard of the Belgians, but in the past few weeks we have learned that the Belgians have launched a hostile bid to take over the Anheuser-Busch Corporation, which is known for the manufacture of Budweiser beer. To St. Louisans such as myself, keeping Budweiser in American hands becomes a sacred duty. But the fact is that when we devalued the American currency, it was an invitation for financiers and hedge fund operators to begin to gamble with American industry.

There is a parallel here in that we got into the Iraqi war and did not have a plan to get out of it. We began to devalue the American currency, but unfortunately we did not have a plan to stop its decline and restore it to its normal condition. The current job losses are a testament to that failure.

The two candidates for the presidency of the United States seem to offer almost no help in getting this country on the right track again. Senator McCain has just completed a campaign swing through Columbia and Mexico. Those two countries have no electoral votes but McCain seemed not to notice. On the other hand, Obama is planning a trip to Iraq and to other Middle Eastern points in the near future. I am distressed to inform Mr. Obama that the Iraqis and the Kuwaitis cannot cast ballots in the forthcoming American election.

At this moment there is great controversy over a remark attributed to General Wesley Clark. In an interview with more than one source, General Clark observed that being shot down during a conflict does not make the pilot of the downed airplane a good candidate to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Services of this country. As a survivor of two shoot-downs during World War II, I can tell you that General Clark is exactly right. With respect to this controversy, a New Yorker with his head on straight said, “If I get mugged in the Bowery, does that make me a candidate to become mayor of New York City?” If I can find out the name of that gentleman, I will buy him a bottle of Budweiser beer and urge him to run for political office, even up to and including Commander-in-Chief.

As this day draws to a close, so do my star-spangled ponderings for 2008 come to a conclusion. It has been my great pleasure to have another Independence Day to celebrate. If there are more Independence Day celebrations for me, I will again use them to urge my fellow Americans of the great debt that we owe to the French people. And, finally, if I can obtain French citizenship for that New Yorker who spoke of mugging, I will devote my efforts to having him installed in a palace on the Champs Élysées. A man such as the mugging man who thinks in logical terms deserves to be applauded by the people of France.

E. E. CARR
July 4, 2008
Essay 324

~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I took a trip to France when I was fourteen, I think. I only saw Paris, and a few places outside. It seemed like a nice place which I predominantly admired for its selection of pastries and other baked goods. At the time I was hurt by exchange rates, but as badly as it got in 2008. Overall though exchange rates have been good to me, as I’ve done more traveling in China than anywhere else and the Chinese currency has been pegged to the dollar since forever.

STUFF THAT IS HARD TO MAKE UP

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the United States testified last week, on July 17, that difficult times in terms of the American economy would be with us for a long time to come. In his play Richard III, William Shakespeare had a line that referred to the “winter of our discontent.” If Chairman Bernake is to be believed, and I believe him wholeheartedly, we are going to have several winters, springs, summers, and falls of discontent ahead of us. As we face this melancholy gloom, the American people can look forward to one source of laughter. That laughter comes from the buffoonery of our politicians. Here is just a small sample that has occurred in this summer of 2008, a period of great discontent.

The cast of our buffoons is led by our beloved president, Mr. Bush. When our beloved president speaks extemporaneously, he usually invokes his cowboy mode of speaking. Everybody knows that cowboys do not put “g”s on the end of words where it is appropriate. And so it was that Mr. Bush appeared on July 18 in the Rose Garden of the White House to reassure the American people that everything was going swimmingly, or perhaps to use a Texas expression, peachy keen. The Duke of Crawford pronounced the American economy to be in good shape. He said that unemployment numbers were low and that there were “a lot of people workin’.” When George Bush tells you that the American economy is going great guns in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, he and his cowboy talk can be tuned out almost immediately. But nonetheless, the President of the United States, in contradiction to Chairman Bernake, said that our economy is steaming right along and every citizen should be greatly pleased. You can’t make this stuff up unless you happen to be the President of the United States in the year 2008.

A second example of things that are hard to make up occurred when former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas was interviewed by The Washington Times. The Washington Times is a right-wing neocon publication which is owned by the fabulously wealthy Reverend Moon, who has persuaded his followers that he is some sort of a god. I believe that Reverend Moon is just another Korean shyster who may in the end induce his followers to drink Kool-Aid in the manner of the Reverend Jim Jones. Whether Phil Gramm asked to be interviewed by The Times or whether The Times sought out Senator Gramm, it makes very little difference. The fact of the matter is that during his three terms as a senator from Texas, Gramm became the powerful chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. He was known widely as “the senator from Enron.” He used his terms in the Senate Banking Committee to lift restrictions on people who sought to borrow money. Because the restrictions on borrowing money were few and far between after Senator Gramm was finished, we now have the subprime mortgage crisis. Phil Gramm used his time in the Senate to lay the groundwork for the torpedoing of the American economy. That was yesterday. In the interview with The Washington Times, the former senator from Texas told all of us that we were “a nation of whiners.” In addition he diagnosed our problem as a psychological recession. Mr. Gramm and his cohorts never use the word “depression.” They say we are suffering from a recession, even if it is only a psychological one.

And so it is that the man who has lost his job and is suffering a foreclosure of his house will stand on the curb as his belongings are piled up there to be carted away. Interestingly, Mr. Bush in his Rose Garden appearance to cheer us all up also likewise failed to recognize home foreclosures and the fact that banks are failing right and left. Please remember that you should not give in to a psychological recession and, if you do, you will become just another member of the American nation of whiners.

Phil Gramm has been under a rock and always looked like a lizard as he peered forward, and has been unnoticed now for several years. However, when John McCain elected to run for the presidency, Senator Gramm became his chief economic advisor and was the co-chairman of his campaign. When the remarks about a nation of whiners and the psychological recession appeared in print, Senator McCain said that Phil Gramm did not speak for him. McCain said that he spoke for himself. In other words, John McCain chopped Phil Gramm’s legs off at the knees. While his departure as co-chairman of the campaign is reasonably clear, it is not obvious that Gramm has relinquished his title as chief economic advisor to Senator McCain. I realize that this is a bizarre set of facts but it again goes to show that this stuff simply can not be made up.

As the week drew to a close, two major changes in the policy of the Bush administration came to light. The first one involves our refusal over more than five years of warfare with Iraq to name a timetable for our departure. Recently the prime minister of Iraq has been beating the drums and asking us to please leave. When it was thought that the Iraqis had to have our presence, the Bush administration said that as soon as the Iraqis told us to leave we would leave. But in fact it was our belief that that day would never come. Now, however, that day has come and the Iraqis have asked us to please leave.

Apparently the prime minister of Iraq and the Duke of Crawford had a discussion during which it was clear that the Iraqis meant business this time. And so, as the week drew to a close, there was an announcement from the White House that was confusing in the extreme. Note that the announcement came from “a source in the White House” rather than a Rose Garden announcement. With respect to our leaving Iraq, it is now the official position of the Bush administration that our troops will leave as “time horizons for aspirational goals.” Your old essayist who has been praised or condemned as simply a wordsmith is completely at sea on the phrase “time horizons for aspirational goals.”

To settle this matter, I went to the train station in this town to ask the ticket clerk what “time horizons for aspirational goals” meant. The ticket clerk asked me to leave before he called the insane asylum. I then stood out by the tracks and as the next train pulled in, I asked the conductor what “time horizons for aspirational goals” would be involved in the arrival of this train in New York City. The conductor said that there were no such things and that if I wanted to go to New York, I had better get aboard the train as it was leaving immediately. But as you can see, it is difficult to make this stuff up. Clearly it just happens.

Finally, you will recall that for several years the Bush administration has attempted to isolate the Iranians. We do not have an embassy in Teheran and our diplomatic efforts consist of Condoleezza Rice telling the Iranians that “We do not wish to talk to you.” Our refusal to talk for no reason at all is in keeping with an ancient Irish children’s song. The song goes something like this:

It’s not because you’re dirty,
It’s not because you’re clean,
It’s just because your family
Eats margarine.

That little children’s song seems to make as much sense as our State Department has exhibited in the last several years.

There was a meeting in Geneva this past weekend wherein the Europeans invited the Iranians to discuss their enrichment of uranium. Basically the Europeans said, “If you will quit enriching uranium, we will reward you. If you keep on doing that, you will face more sanctions.” In a startling reversal of form, the United States agreed to send William Burns, the third-ranking member of our State Department, to attend the meeting. But we announced that Mr. Burns was under strict instructions not to discuss any matters of substance with the Iranian delegate. At this writing, it is not clear whether Mr. Burns was free to discuss the weather in the two capitals. But he must have sat there like a bump on a log while the six European nations had a discussion with the delegate from Iran. But our man stood by the isolation of the Iranians and said nothing. Can any sane man, woman, or child imagine traveling 3,500 miles to Geneva with instructions to say nothing? Perhaps Mr. Burns monitored the meeting but he was allowed to say nothing to the Iranians. Ladies and gentlemen who read these essays: I am an old labor negotiator. I can not imagine anything more idiotic than sending the third-ranking member of the State Department 3,500 miles to sit in a meeting and be under instructions to avoid speaking to the Iranian delegate. This is idiocy at its highest level and once again I submit that you just can’t make this stuff up.

Plainly there was Senator Larry Craig from Idaho again intruding on us. Senator Craig called a news conference to denounce the suppliers of crude oil to this country. Those suppliers are generally Arabs, together with the Persians. The climax to Senator Craig’s performance was reached when he said, “We can’t let them jerk us around at the end of a gas nozzle.” Can you imagine Larry Craig, who was arrested for homosexual activities in a Minneapolis airport restroom, saying that we can’t let those people “jerk us around?” If I may say so, coming from Larry Craig this is about as good as it gets and it proves once more that this stuff can not be made up.

Well, there you have several examples of political buffoonery coming to the American people to reward them with a laugh during the hard times that Chairman Bernake has predicted. It seems to me that in the week starting with July 13, our politicians have outdone themselves when it comes to political buffoonery. But in the end, I appreciate their efforts because I was one inch away from becoming another American whiner. If Bush and Craig have rescued me from that fate, I can only say that I am truly grateful.

E. E. CARR
July 24, 2008
Essay 329
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I’m sure Larry Craig’s comment was just misunderstood. His objection was not to being jerked around, but rather that he was having to do so at the length of a gas nozzle. If only the gas problem could be resolved, he might be jerked around directly.

I forget how good the country has it sometimes. Essays about Phil Gramm help me remember to be thankful for what we collectively no longer have to deal with.

As an update on Ezra’s Essays, I’m setting a potential temporal roughly diagonal horizon objective of “by 2015” for the aspirational goal achievement deadline for publishing.

“SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD”

Well, boys, the news on every front is pretty grim these days. My $50,000 Hummer is covered by a tarpaulin because it tends to gulp great gobs of gasoline. When I took my 350 horsepower SUV to the dealer to trade it in on a smaller car, he laughed at me and told me to please get off his lot so that I would not encourage other SUV owners to come see him.

On the airline front, we find that prices have more than anything else tripled recently. The number of planes has been greatly reduced and we find that towns such as Rockford, Illinois, Hot Springs, Arkansas and other small towns are now to be “unserved” by the airline industry. We also notice that Tulsa and Kansas City, among many others, are going to have their airline options reduced on the order of 10 to 15%. To top all this off, the airlines now wish to charge you $15 to $25 for the purpose of checking your baggage, which they may well lose.

There are economists in Washington who assure us that we are only entering a recession. But my belief is that we are now wallowing in a full-fledged depression. During the last Depression in the 1930s, there were many occasions when I personally sold gasoline at the rate of five gallons for one dollar. High test, which was called ethyl in those days, went for about 10 cents more. Not only was gasoline cheaper in those days, but we did not have a war going on that drained $12 billion out of the American economy every single month.

I usually accompany my wife on her trips to the grocery store, where I calculate that the cost of our food, which is not exotic, is now running about 35 to 50% more than it was a year ago. I can’t tell you much about clothing these days because I tend to not buy any. On top of all this, we find that a good many of our banks are going broke. The large investment banker, Bear Sterns, went belly up recently and now job seekers from similar banks are doing their best to find new jobs in the financial industry.

Then there are the home owners who find that the declining value of their homes is such that they owe more than the homes will ever be worth. The choice is to face foreclosure or simply to walk away. That is not much of a choice at all. Millions of Americans are now in great financial and mental pain. But the administration seems unconcerned with it all. We were told some time ago by the Vice President of this great country that deficits don’t matter. He was as wrong on that score as he was when he said that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators.

The President equally seems unconcerned about what is taking place because he flies around the world using precious gallons of gasoline to lecture the Africans on the merits of abstinence, which was followed recently by a speech to Arab dictators in Egypt on the virtues of democracy. I suppose that he did not realize that the guffaws he was earning had to do with the silliness of his proposals. When Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or King Abdullah of Jordan embraces democracy, I hope to be alive to witness that event. But I suspect that it is some 250 to 500 years off in the future.

Perhaps some of the grimmest news comes from our efforts pursued under the aegis of homeland security, to deport every foreign national in sight. We are not only restricting visas for people to come to this country to learn and to contribute but the forces of law have been turned against people who are simply trying to make enough money to survive. We know of a ten-year-old child, an American citizen, who is the son of legal immigrants who do not yet have their citizenship. He is petrified by the thought that his parents will be deported to their native country if they violate a stop sign or commit some such other minor offense. The irony is that our bureaucratic procedures make applicants for citizenship wait on the order of ten years before it may possibly be granted.

During that time we have had such things as the Patriot Act, which decrees that people without citizenship may not be granted a driver’s license. The family that we are helping and who are the parents of the child in question here has suffered grievously from the Patriot Act. The father was a truck driver who lost his license in the great state of New Jersey and thus his job. If a man has to survive for ten years without a driver’s license, it begs the question of how he is going to look for work. Immigration is the life blood of this country because it brings other cultures here where they may be enjoyed. But the immigration bureau is slow to process applications on the ground that such newly-crowned citizens may vote against the current administration.

So you see, the news is bad on all fronts. During the great American Depression of the 1930s, we were at peace with the world. Gasoline was cheap and we were not peeing away our resources to support an unpopular invasion of another country. So at this point I must ask, “Is this a great country or not?”

To a man who has lost his job and to those who are being forced from their homes because of foreclosure and to the immigrants who must live in daily fear of being deported, may I suggest that the old spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” should apply. Fortunately I have never lost a job during my 47 years of employment, but I know how hopeless that feeling must be. Perhaps the spiritual sums it up with the quote about being a motherless child. Spirituals are borne in the depth of despair because they had their origin in the cruel practice of slavery.

My recollection is that the first slaves were brought to the Virginia colony in about the year 1619, which means that Americans have been involved in the issues of slavery and black-white relationships for 389 years. Slavery is the most dehumanizing experience that a person can undergo. The slave has no rights and is often subjected to beatings by his owner. It seems odd at this late date to refer to one man owning another man, but that is how it was during the period of slavery in this country.

Out of that experience came the development of songs that reflected the abject conditions of being a slave. There are hundreds of songs that qualify as spirituals. Until the early 1960s, those songs were known as “Negro spirituals.” When the term “Negro” fell into disuse, it was replaced by “people of color” and then there were activists who referred to the Negro race as “blacks.” Today the popular term is Afro-American. But an old-timer such as myself finds it unwieldy to use the term Afro-American spirituals.

If Paul Robeson, the great baritone, were alive today, he might laugh his head off at the grammatical construction that defines many of the songs that Robeson sang. For whatever it is worth, Paul Robeson was a native of the great and glorious state of New Jersey who, because he championed equal rights, was labeled a full-fledged communist. The McCarthyites who called Robeson a communist intended to drive him from the American stage. He found homes in Europe where the views were less xenophobic than those that existed in this country in the 1950s.

I realize that this essay is probably a gloomy one but the facts on the ground tend to support that gloom. But in writing this essay, I also had an opportunity to tell you of my life-long love of spirituals. The second line, after the motherless child reference, is to “a long way from home, a long way from home.” The singer of spirituals will make sure that “a long way from home” is elongated and emphasized.

Well, that is the grim news about the economy. But we must be heartened by the announcement by the president of the General Motors Corporation who now says that they will try to produce smaller cars with greater engine economy. Rick Wagoner is the President of General Motors and those of us who are not economists must wonder where Rick has been for the last two years. But in the long run, and I mean the long run, the news in this gloomy essay may force American manufacturers to develop cars on the European models, which deliver much better gasoline results than come from my yellow Hummer and the 350 horsepower SUV that I cannot trade or give away. If Rick Wagoner and the rest of his cohorts finally wake up to the idea that what we need are engines that produce much better results, we may then end our dependence on Arab oil.

When we end our dependence upon Arab oil, Mr. Bush will find the kings and dictators in those countries to be more amenable to his ideas of democracy. He may be so inspired that he will make a return trip to lecture the Africans on the virtues of abstinence. I understand the greatness of democracy and I have a faint understanding of abstinence, but I must tell you that I am completely baffled by the Vice President’s view that “deficits don’t matter.” He may have something there, but I doubt it. In the meantime I would hope that he and his boss and other cohorts in Washington would bend their efforts toward restoring prosperity to the American economy, rather than to the military-industrial complex. However, I am not going to hold my breath until that happens.

If you are interested, one of the succeeding verses to the title of this essay is “Sometimes I Feel that I’m Almost Gone.” That line is repeated and ends in the thought that I am a long way from home. I fear that before this depression is finished, a good many Americans will feel like motherless children and have a feeling of being almost gone. Those are cruel sentiments, but as a survivor of the Depression of the 1930s, it is always helpful to know the facts rather than the spin that comes out of the American government.

PS: My references to the SUV and the Hummer are allegoric ones. Even the Bible uses allegories, so I guess that I am in sacred company on that score.

E. E. CARR
June 8, 2008
Essay 320
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Damn it Pop, the Bible does not use allegories because the whole thing is literally true, even the contradictory bits. One thinks you’d have figured this out by now.

On the immigration front, I’ll admit I know very little, but the process certainly seems excessive. My company is trying to hire a few programmers right now — both of whom happen to be Mexican — and we’re having to bend over backwards to find a way to get these talented workers to come help an American company. Nobody’s making easy.

More on this particular song here.