Thursday, May 22, 2003

This is the bottom line result of Reaganomics II: Up until last August I was a senior IT administrator for a small high tech firm in the mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State. Before that I was a technology trainer and before that a DBA. After being laid off in August and searching for jobs constantly within a 50 mile radius, and getting nowhere doing so, I'm selling cars for a living. Now, I actually enjoy the new career and would like to think it will eventually lead to a good income, but what happens to all the time and education invested in IT? I know I'm not the only one with this problem. A good friend of mine, also a DBA, got laid off at the end of May. He's having trouble finding work, too. I know New York has been hit hard for a couple of years, but for a region that keeps hyping itself as "Tech Valley", the fact that thousands of IT pros are out of work doesn't exactly sing its praises.

Once in a while, there will be an article about this in one of the papers, but you rarely ever hear about it on TV, not even the cable news networks. Instead there will be some pundit saying that the upturn in the economy is only a matter of time or is already happening. Tell that to the 400,000 people who lost their jobs last month, or the 400,000 that lost theirs the month before, etc. Jobs are disappearing like endangered species and some people are starting to think that they may not be coming back any time soon if at all. At least one state's governor has gone on record saying so, and he's a Republican (Nit Romney, R-MA).

At least a dozen Nobel laureates in economics have issued a joint statement that corporate tax cuts do not lead to job creation or economic recovery. In fact, they can have the opposite effect, as corporations can post profits without having to spend any money on development. The stock market can go up or down without having any effect on jobs or consumer confidence. The trickle-down theory was proven false back in the Eighties, yet here is our leadership touting the "benefits" once again, depending on the electorate's short memory or lack of concern for anyone but themselves. In the meantime, CEO's have caused the biggest dollar loss of wealth in history (Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, etc.). And these are the people our government keeps trying to help in the name of helping the rest of us. It's sickening. It's reprehensible. It's nuts.

Monday, April 14, 2003

I don't like Mondays...

I've been sitting in a tech class relearning what I already know while listening to the instructor drone instructions from the front of the room because the text books haven't yet arrived. Bored? Oh, yeah!

And after class, I get to go to another job fair over at the Mariott. The last one led nowhere. I'm not expecting too much from this one either. Many of the same companies are represented, supposedly there to fill what turns out to be the same jobs for which they had "openings" the last time. I'm tempted to ask some of them, loudly enough for others to hear, why this is so. If tens of thousands of Information Technology workers are jobless in this state (NY), why are job openings that have been announced since last October (at least!) still not filled?

Has anybody else found themselves logging on to, say, and trying to apply to "new" postings only to be informed by the site that "you already applied to this job" some months past? What is going on here?

I know I'm not the only one with such concerns. A couple of friends who are also laid off are describing the same experiences when we get together to compare notes. Is it some kind of cruel joke, or something more sinister? Perhaps an attempt to make the economic "recovery" look more hopeful than it is?

I should mention that this particular job fair is sponsored by the local newspaper, which is published in the capital of the state.
More about my feelings on Iraq and another country we Americans know so well:

re: thumbs up

It could be that the Iraqi people are smart enough to know what we think the symbol means, and smart enough to know that we don't know what it means to them. In which case, they are enjoying the double-entendre (there's that Fr. again) at our expense. Those clever Iraqis.

re: Saddam

Is he or isn't he? Will we have to wait for the next tape on Al Jazeera, like we do with Osama, to find out? Stay tuned!

re: WMD's

The last batch of barrels they found buried, between a mosqe and a pesticide factory, turned out to be hazardous waste dumped in the spot most convenient to the industrial site (not the mosque) that created it; much like our own super-fund sites. If this is evidence of a "WMD", so is the Hudson River.

We know what we gave them. We know some of what they got from others. We don't know what they created, nor do we know what they did with all of the results. Sounds like a good excuse to go into Syria and Iran to look for the stuff that somehow disappeared from where we "knew" it had to be, since it couldn't possibly have found its way into the lands bordering Iraq that are run by our "friends." I like it. Has a nice circular efficiency to it. And when we don't find what we are looking for in Iran, we can go after the next unfriendly bordering nation, etc... Heck, by the time we're done, we'll end up in North Korea after all. And we know there are WMD's there.

re: democracy (not mentioned much any more)

Rummy, Powell, and Bush keep saying that Iraq will be ruled by Iraqis in a form of government chosen by Iraqis. The U.S. has already chosen at least one imam to be among the choosers. The likelyhood of an open and freely elected government being the end result of all of this is roughly equivalent to hell freezing over in July.

When the media reports that Turkey is nervous about the Kurds getting uppity and trying to set up their own government in northern Iraq, they never go on to explain why this (a Kurdish government in norther Iraq) would be a "bad" thing. If our commitment to self-determination is real, why shouldn't the Kurds be allowed independence and the right to govern themselves? Could it have anything whatsoever to do with the fact that they inhabit one of the most oil-rich territories in the Middle East? Naw! Turkey is an ally and therefore must be a "good" country run by good people who wouldn't want to suppress a people, either within or without their own borders, for such a materialistic reason anymore than we would. The Kurds will just have to get used to the idea of a "representative" government like we have here, where elected officials listen oh-so-intently to all of their constituents (not just the ones with money) and always strive mightily to respond to their needs and wishes.

Ironically, Iraqi women were better off in regards to civil rights and social opportunities before the first gulf war. Hussein gave them the rights and access to higher education, work and jobs, and other niceties back in the eighties because he needed their support to build and hold power back then. After '91, with the return to the cities of a beaten and demoralized military force, the men took their jobs, sometimes by force. "Honor" killings and polygamy have returned as well. Women's groups here and abroad are terribly concerned that after this war, the plight of Iraqi women will worsen as a formerly sectarian government becomes increasingly clerical, like so many others in the region. It may just be that true democracy, where all people are equal in the eyes of the law and have the same rights and privileges, is antithetical to a muslim (or christian, or jewish) state (or at least to a fundamentalist state in general).

On the other hand, a true democracy is antithetical to an aristocracy (where, say, 1% of the population holds 40% of the wealth?) as well, and that's why we don't let the wealth and power of the few outweigh the needs and rights of the many. Right? I mean, the campaign reforms our representatives passed will guarantee that even a poor or middle-class person could someday be president. Right? You know, like Lincoln? Right? And that's what we'll teach the Iraqi people, too. Right?

And we won't let those who amassed incredibly huge amounts of wealth on the backs of the working majority pass on that wealth to their heirs without giving back a good and gracious portion of it to the people in general now will we? I mean, they have to pay their bills too, don't they?

And we won't let those who became incredibly wealthy at the expence of their contributors, their own shareholders, fail to serve a suitable time in punitive meditation (jail), will we? Let's see, if a poor man in a big city gets 3-to-5 years for stealing $500.00 from the corner liquor store, then some ungrateful CEO who cooked the books to make it look like he was doing a better job than he was and reaping the benefits in the form of millions or even billions in compensation, etc., should get, what? A couple of centuries? No, millenia! Yeah, that sounds about right. I bet that Lay fellow gets an eon! And has to do community service for at least half of it!

re: oil

It belongs to the Iraqi people, and that's who will benefit from its sale to others. Right?

Monday, February 17, 2003

With all the talk about Saddam and how bad he is and why we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars and who knows how many lives to go into Iraq and arrest or kill the bugger, I thought it timely for an article about dictators and, lo and behold, one appeared in the Parade that came with the Sunday Times-Union:

From Parade Magazine, Feb. 16, 2003

The 10 Worst Living Dictators

by David Wallechinsky

1. Kim Jong Il, North Korea
2. King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
3. Saddam Hussein, Iraq
4. Charles Taylor, Liberia
5. Than Shwe, Burma
6. Teodoro Boiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea
7. Saparmurad Niyazov, Turkmenistan
8. Muammar Al-Qaddafi, Libya
9. Fidel Castro, Cuba
10. Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus

Now, the first thing I noticed about the rankings was that Saddam only got third behind Kim and Fahd/Abdullah. Was this more evidence that our priorities as a pre-empting superpower are screwed up?

To compose his list, Wallechinsky "consulted independent human-rights organizations that are willing to expose both left- and right-wing regimes, such as Freedom House, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 'I looked at the documented suppression of those freedoms and rights that Americans take for granted,' he says. 'Freedom of speech and religion, freedom to choose elected representatives and to disagree with their government, and the right to a fair trial.' He gave 'extra credit ' to those dictators who torture prisoners and others, execute political opponents, cause their citizens to starve or to suffer malnutrition and who interfere violently in the politics of countries other than their own." (Don't get ahead of me now.)

Interestingly, Saddam wouldn't even have made third place if it were not for the attention he's getting as Bush's numero uno threat, "Saddam was considered over the hill as a global-scale dictator until President (sic) George W. Bush began to promote his status as a threat to world peace."
The one that got me thinking, though, was Obiang of Equatorial Guinea:

This tiny West African nation (pop. 500,000) was ruled from 1968 to 1979 by Francisco Macias Nguema, a violent dictator who murdered thousands of his people and drove a third of them into exile. Macias was overthrown and executed by his nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has shown no more respect for human rights than his uncle.

Equatorial Guinea was a forgotten dictatorship until oil was discovered in 1995. Since then, U.S. oil companies have poured $5 billion into the country, raising the gross domestic product $4676 a person, though the average citizen takes home barely $2 a day. Most of the rest goes to Obiang, who controls all branches of the government and continues to arrest and torute political opponents. In December, he won 97% of the vote in an election that had little credibility, as many potential opposition candidates were in jail.

{emphasis mine}

Now, I hadn't even heard of this guy until I read this article. So many tyrants, so little air-time! I suppose he's smart enough to keep a low profile when it comes to being noticed as a heinous dictator who deserves to be put away for the cause of democratic ideals and human rights. He'd have to, since he also sits atop a vast store of O-I-L, and besides, it's such a tiny little country in terms of population; even tinier since he took over. Heck, he didn't even have the cajones to declare himself elected by 100% of the vote like you-know-who. And he's got friends in big O-I-L, who wouldn't want to see him getting any unfavorable press, especially now (which is why, I suspect, I had to read about it in the "family" magazine section of my local newspaper). Besides, he loves the U.S! Where else could a sixth-worst-dictator-in-the-whole-freakin-world get that much dough-re-mi, you know? And the more oil we buy from him, the less we have to buy from those other guys in second and third place. So it's easy to see why we support him and not those other guys -- uh, make that -- guy. The one's in second place are a bad example.

Monday, February 03, 2003

First of all, two words: unfunded mandate. That's Schrub's way of leaving no child behind and rebuilding NYC and just about every other supposed program for improving the quality of life for the majority of people in this country (and let's not forget that it was that same majority that voted for the other guy in 2000; Julian, take note). This is a primary reason why the states are having to make cuts in areas they should never have to: law enforcement, educatation, mental health care, care for the elderly, etc.

One thing I've learned from my social-worker wife is that the local and state programs here are funded according to performance and result. That's why D.A.R.E. is a thing of the past here; it didn't work. I'm afraid that Schrub's plan to give tax money to "faith-based" addiction treatment programs won't be so dependent on review of results. They couldn't be, because many of those programs don't work now. Here I'm talking not only as someone whose wife works in the area of treatment, but as someone who had need of such treatment and is in constant contact with others who do, too.

But, my fellow citizens, I have a SOLUTION, and I'm going to say it here so you know who said it first: the states should simply increase the tax on gasoline until they reach parity with their budgets.

Think of it; while Schrub ignores his own blue-ribbon panels by allowing greater amounts of polution, favoring the purchase of SUV's over hybrids, and re-opening national parks to snowmobiles, the governors can offset the effects of said actions by taxing gas (but not heating oil or diesel and jet fuel) as much as necessary to balance their budgets. This would also put a kink in the dividend exemption, since it should reverse the gains already seen in oil stocks and keep a balance by favoring high-tech (people will want to buy more efficient cars and trucks once the government stops subsidizing oil by manipulating the price of gasoline downward). We wouldn't have to buy still more oil from Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The Middle East would lose their strangle grip on other countries' economies, including ours. The air quality will improve. Global warming will be slowed.

Any governor who raises the gas tax can say it's for the good of the country and the world as well as his or her individual state. They can even earmark some of the money for specific programs to show their constituents what good can come from paying more at the pump, instead of giving it away to them foreigners. People who drive gas-guzzling vehicles can still claim patriotism because they are helping to pay for better living here at home. People who drive gas-sippers can still claim they are doing their part to reduce dependence on foreign oil and clean up the environment. The ultra-affluent, who have limos and jets and yaghts and such, will pay a bigger piece of the price, as they should for taking a bigger slice in the first place.

That's my proposal, and I'm sticking with it!

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I just got finished reading and posting in a web-forum where the discussion was the second amendment; you know, the one that is interpreted to mean that it's an inalienable right to keep and bear arms. The conversation was both stimulating and frustrating, as is the norm when discussing this vexing issue.

Am I the only one in this country that wonders why it's easier to buy a gun than it is to buy an automobile? I'm not allowed to drive in this country unless I've passed both a written and real-world tests. I have to renew my driver's license and car registration regularly. I have to have insurance (in my state) in order to operate the vehicle. I have to take an eye exam every five years to prove I can still see clearly enough to drive. If I want to continue to drive, I have to obey the rules of the road. If I drink and drive I can be arrested. It seems reasonable, then, that similar restrictions be put upon those who own any potentially dangerous technology, especially one designed to take life!

I've noticed, too, that in most states it's more difficult to purchase non-lethal weapons, such as mace spray or Tazers, than lethal ones. If owning a gun is for personal protection, why not let people protect themselves with non-lethal technologies? And since when does a hunter need the equivalent of an assault rifle to kill a deer? Why are such highly lethal rounds such as the .223 allowed to be sold to the general public? The .223 is designed to inflict the most damage possible, killing or at least maiming severely with a single shot. Wasn't the old .30-30 enough for hunting purposes? And why does a hunter need the ability to fire ten or more rounds in rapid succession? If a hunter can't hit the target on the first or second try, that hunter needs to practice or find another hobby.

If it's a "right" to own a gun in this country, why is it a right to do so with so little constraint on the type and number of guns? The state's can no longer have their own militias, something that's also mentioned in the second amendment. Maybe it's time to rethink the rest of that amendment. Or maybe make an appeal for repeal?

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

So, I try to explain to Janet who the three female characters are in Birds Of Prey, and she looks at me crosseyed like I was one of the guest characters on a show like it. The woman has no inkling of the social significance of science fiction! Oh, well.

It snowed another three inches overnight, and according to the local stations we will get another two or three tonight. It's definitely going to be one of those winters. It's already snowed more than three times the local average for the winter to date, and should handily break the season record. This could very well be an early indicator of the effects of global warming; the climate grows more and more chaotic as the energy level goes up. The two nor'easters we got in the last few weeks would have been pretty humungous hurricanes if they'd occurred in the correct season. My generation will probably miss the worst of it, but it's sure to be worse than interesting for those to come.

And with the current administration, it's not going to slow down any time soon.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Another two feet of snow fell last night. The plow guy had to come by twice. It's really looking like a winter wonderland outside. All the trees are covered with inches of snow on every branch. It's still snowing, but lightly. Just enough to turn the whole view into one big holiday greeting card. It almost makes being unemployed a pleasure.

Janet and I shared the shoveling this time. It wasn't bad, because the snow was fluffy once again. Now we're sitting in the playroom and doing our things. It's been a real nice couple of weeks; spent together in the warmth and comfort of home. We had planned to go to Dippykill today, but decided not to tempt fate and the weather....

We just went out to shovel again! The plow didn't get close in front of the garage or the mailbox, so we had to dig those out. It wasn't as bad as it could have been; though the snow was packed in, it wasn't wet. Shovels alone did the job.

I called our friends, Joe and Beth, to see if they'd actually gone to Dippykill. They were home, like us. For some inexplicable reason, Joe was still considering going up there for dinner. I think we helped talk him out of it. They have a young girl and and baby to think about now. And Olivia, the baby, is having some bowel problems. I don't know what he was thinking. It's not like you have to go to the mountains up north to play in the snow.


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