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The following contains strong content that may be offensive to the reader. If you are faint of heart, have a weak stomache, or bend far to the left, turn back now. You have been appropriately cautioned. Enter at your own risk…
It’s taken me a few days to calm down enough to actually write about what’s on my mind. For the most part, I don’t have a defeatest attitude concerning the larger world with all its ills and ugliness, but sometimes it just gets to be too much. In these times, my natural cynicism goes to Def Con 9 or so.
Late last week was one of those times that took me to a level PISSED-OFFness that I didn’t know existed. I could actually feel my blood pressure rise.
It started with the seemingly impersonal happenings in Madison, WI concerning Public Workers’ Unions protests against having their collective bargaining power eliminated via state legislation. I’m not a Civil Servant and I don’t live in Wisconsin, so initially I saw the rucus as just more hot air coming from the bowed up chests of the political egomaniacs that reside in State (and National) politics.
However, once some of the detailed facts began to be reported (ad nauseum), it was evident that this situation is/was a microcosm of the larger problems facing our society today. After a 17-hour debate, Democrats who were on the obvious losing side of the argument skipped town to avoid a vote on a bill to reduce or eliminate the collective bargain ability of public employee unions. Nice. They couldn’t have their way through Democracy (majority rule), so they effectively QUIT. How hypocritical…they did the EXACT opposite of what their party is NAMED FOR. So, what this shows us is that when you are on the short end of a vote, simply run and their is no vote. Yeah, that’ll solve alot of problems.
Let me be clear, if it’s not already evident. I am NOT in support of Government Unions or Unions, in general, for that matter. I think that it’s patently unfair to have such dispartity between the private and the public sector in terms of labor structure. The danger of these unions has been obviously apparent in this latest “Great Recession”. While millions in the private sector have (AGAIN) taken cuts in pay structure, paid higher portions and overall medical costs and seen employers Retirement plans reduced, the public sector employees have continued to “bargain” for yet more benefits and more guarantees.
The math is EASY. You cannot spend what you don’t have, yet our consumption society continues to do just that. The U.S. is largely owned by China (who holds our bonds), due to the fact that our government is leveraged to the tune of over $14 TRILLION dollars. How can state and national governments continually be allowed to operate without a balanced budget? When people we know do this for an extended period of time, eventually the piper arrives for payment, right? Well, why should we think that this is not going to happen with our global governments? The real problem is the path we’ll have to travel BEFORE meeting the piper. $5.00 gas; $6.00 loaf of bread; $8.00 gallon of milk; $100 pair of Levi’s…is everyone prepared for that?
At some point, everyone has to do their part to fix this mess. Individually, we have to be responsible in our own finances. Much of this has already taken hold. Part of my job is to keep up with consumer attitudes towards finances and to understand the associated behavior and one of THE biggest trends that we’ve seen over the last three years is the massive shift of consumers from “spend” to “save”. As a whole, credit card balances have dramatically decreased and average Savings and Checking balances have risen. Everyday, people around the country have tightened their belts, put off unnecessary purchases, and tried to “live within their means”.
The federal government continues to try to “save” homeowners who couldn’t afford the home they bought a few years ago and can’t afford it now. Mortgage “workouts” are largely a failure as homeowners without wherewithal still can’t pay and ultimately end up in foreclosure…just six months down the road where more interest has been tacked on. These foreclosures produce a glut of inventory that is battered and fire-sale priced, adversely affecting other home values of people who have diligently paid their debt and taken care of their properties (ahem).
So, I AM PISSED. Pissed because I’ve worked hard, paid my taxes, paid all my bills on time, stretched to save for a “rainy day” and for retirement, and in the end I get screwed. We’ve often sacrificed what we “wanted” for what was prudent, yet it feels like we’re the only ones. Young people today think that they should own a house by age 25, have a job with 6 weeks (or more) vacation, a 30 hour work week, and a $100k plus annual salary. The current culture immerses this younger generation in entitlement and instant gratification. The character traits of hard work, dedication, and honesty are largely forsaken for the path of least resistance to get what they want, now.
In many ways, I see these public employees doing the same thing. Guaranteed higher salaries, platinum healthcare plans, FULL pay retirement after 20 years of service are ALL fully subsidized by the taxpayer, who are largely facing lower salaries, higher healthcare costs and cuts in their retirement (not to mention the on-going risk of 401k losses through a volatile stock market). While these public employees SAY they are willing to discuss cuts in benefits, the collective bargaining agreements allow them to re-address and effectively reverse anything put into place at any time — like when the political environment is more favorable. All they need to do is dedicate a larger portion of their union dues to Democratic candidates who become beholden to their bidding, and we’re right back where we started.
I think that unions’ focus on worker safety and protections, particularly in the age of sweatshops and gender inequality, were and are important. Negotiating FAIR wages is also a benefit of union strength. However, multi-millionaire union bosses are WORSE than multi-millionaire CEOs. They are, in effect, riding the backs of the working man for their personal gain. Additionally, I firmly believe that NO union dues should EVER be used for supporting political candidates or lobbying specific issues. Government unions have a blatant conflict of interest in this regard. How can you fix schools when the behemoth teachers’ unions keep a stronghold on legislators who purposely avoid teacher accountability tied to merit and in effect, are creating an inferior school system because of it? I don’t know about you, but in my job, if I do a great job, I get more pay than if I do an ok job. Good teachers aren’t afraid of accountability — BECAUSE they are good!
When I first started out in the working world, I was 17. I got a much coveted job at a local bank — starting at the bottom. Because I wasn’t going to college (my stupid choice), I was extremely fortunate to land a job that had great benefits and relatively good job security. People I knew had worked there for 10, 20, 30 years. So, at 17, I figured I had hit the jackpot. I would put in my 30 years of service, get my pension and retire to a bayou somewhere. At that time, the bank fully subsidized all health insurance premiums and the coverage covered just about everything. Deductibles were somewhere south of $200. Each year at Christmas, employees received up to three MONTHS’ pay depending on length of employment as a Christmas bonus. There were lavish Christmas parties where thousands of dollars and prizes were given away to employees. Each morning, pastries were provided in every break-room on every floor (there were 12), where refrigerators held free soft drinks, milk and juice for employees to enjoy on their guaranteed break time (2 at 10 minutes each) or mandated lunch hour.
At 17, I had excellent pay, paid health insurance, a pension plan, AND those mighty Christmas bonuses. By 18, the bank had started a new fangled thing called a 401k plan, where they matched 100% of what I put in. Not up to a certain percent, but a full 100%. I was set.
Then, the recession took hold. To survive, the bank had to address expenses. So, soon, the pastries disappeared, a coke machine replaced the refrigerator full of free beverages, the Christmas bonuses were folded into a one-time “raise” for employees and done away with, and we started to have to PAY part of our health insurance. No more big Christmas parties — our department received a nominal amount for each employee for us to have a small get-together. And the pension plan was discontinued. Those of us who had been hired with the benefit, kept it, but it was frozen at that point (I think that mine was worth $318) and distributed to the employee’s 401k. While everyone was very disappointed, no-one complained much because everyone needed their job. Plus, every other company was in the same boat and doing the same thing. Bottom line is that the boom days were gone and austerity followed.
I bore you with my worklife infancy to illustrate that yes, providing such great benefits was very motivating and created a very secure workforce. But, in the end, it couldn’t be sustained without bankrupting the company. We all had to make sacrifices just to survive.
And, here we are again. The private sector continues to cut benefits to a minimal amount, yet public employees are receiving benefits considered obscene by most of us in the private sector. Guaranteed monthly salaries for life, total paid health care (not available to the general public), along with other paid benefits simply can’t be sustained by municipalities and taxpayers, given the large number of public workers getting ready to retire.
Unfortunately, that bank has been bought three times and is now part of Chase, one of the largest banks in the world. Bank consolidation has been driven by gaining efficiencies through lower costs, i.e., shrinking the overall employee workforce and their associated expenses. Along with that, benefits are a fraction of what they used to be, but what’s the alternative? All that has produced a very indifferent work force whose average tenure is less than 3 years. The turnover provides huge costs in recruiting and training, as well as lost opportunity cost in not having qualified, trained employees ready to produce and in effect, lowers the standard of service to customers who are increasingly disappointed with their bank. (Don’t believe the Ally commercials.)
Bottom line is that the problem needs to be solved. Government needs to govern, not run to the next state. Not everything will go your way when the people are largely opposed to benefits through bullying for a section of the population that creates a disparity of inequality. Remember, the American psyche hinges on “FAIR”, so things have to get more in line. I’m sorry that the gravy train ends for public employees, just as I was when my own gravy train ended nearly 30 years ago. I truly appreciate teachers, policemen, firemen and mail carriers, but, if we are all to survive and create a general “better world”, then everyone’s got to give some to get some. It’s simply your turn.
So ends Part 1 of my Rantasaurus. I mean not to offend, but simply to rant. And, I can do that…because it’s MY blog.
…Part 2 to come and it’s a doozy.
That’s right! The Louisiana Lethario, the Riverboat Gambler, the Silver Fox, the Cajun Capon, is out of prison after serving over eight years of his ten year sentence for rigging riverboat gaming licenses (a little thing called bribery and extortion). The 83-year-old Edwards was released into a halfway house in Baton Rouge, but is likely to serve out his release conditions in Baton Rouge with his daughter, Anna Edwards.
Now, all you non-Louisianians are likely saying, “So what? Another politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar…glad he went to prison and he deserves the public shunning he’ll get for the rest of his life.” Ah, but this is Louisiana, people. And to understand the enormity of this news, you have to understand Louisiana politics and the maelstrom that is Edwin W. Edwards.
There are some monumental political figures in Louisiana’s history….Governor and Senator Huey P. Long, his nephew and renowned U. S. Senator Russell Long, Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Senator John Breaux, etc., but none are as renowned, celebrated and talked about as “Fast Eddie” Edwards.
You see, EWE hit the Louisiana scene when the state was going from a sleepy, backwater farm and seafood economy to the back room for the oil industry. In the late ’60s and through the ’70s, oil money was FLOWING, particularly in South Louisiana — home to one little cajun girl who shall remain nameless.
I have vivid memories of Edwin Edwards. He was the first Governor and yes, celebrity that I can recollect. Like many Louisiana towns, the small town that I grew up in had a fall festival every year that was part fund-raiser for worthwhile community causes and, in the Cajun way of life, a concentrated effort in celebration and party….you know, the joie de vivre. In Youngsville, that was the Festival of Beauties. We had a full carnival, complete with boardwalk, carney booths and amusement rides. My absolute favorite was the Tilt-A-Whirl, where centrifical force held you against the wall while the floor dropped out. I can still remember the thrill of the first time I mustered up the courage to ride “The Bullet”.
There was the Friday night Fais Do Do held outside at the old Elementary School that I attended and where my uncle was the principal — my Daddy’s best friend growing up was my 7th grade homeroom teacher. French music permeated the festive air where parents showed off their dance moves to mesmerized children waiting to ask for another two dollars worth of quarters for the rides. Then, on Saturday, the whole town (and then some) attended the beauty pageant to crown our queen. My Nanny (Godmother) usually played the accompniment on piano and many times I sat next to her, again mesmerized at her uncanny ability to playing everything by ear, simply hearing the song once.
Finally, on Sunday, the festival was capped off by a big parade, complete with various high school marching bands, floats and politicians pressing the flesh for votes in the next election. That’s where I was first exposed to the phenomenon that was Edwin Edwards. This particular year was an election year, so many politicians showed up to shore up their electorate. Edwards was running for Governor and need every Cajun voter to go out there and pull the lever for him. Of course, in my pre-adolscent mind, politics was a non-starter. This particular year, I was more concerned about my role as a junior maid for the festival and making sure that I got my “princess waive” down pat. (On the left…)
However, the irrepressible Edwin Edwards was not to be upstaged by a bunch of girls…young or old. He walked the length of the parade route (about 5 miles), basking in the adulation of his adoring Cajun public who dreamed of touching the cloak of their king. You see, in South Louisiana, there is no more adored thing than one of their own. Edwards was a product of Marksville — considered Yankee territory to most Cajuns –but his mother was a fluent, french-speaking Cajun Catholic. These two traits basically cannonized him in the hearts of the whole of South Louisiana. His savvy scrappiness and dedication endeared him to North Louisiana. So, one the whole, he was THE MAN for Louisiana.
To properly understand his magnetism among the Cajuns and Louisianians as a whole, you have to understand the vehement loyalty that this society has for one of their own. Many a foible is overlooked if you are deemed to be “one of us”. There have been few too many Cajun heros, but those attaining that status can do no wrong no matter what wrong they do. A few Cajun legends with this status: Ron “Louisiana Lightning” Guidry – Cy Young Award-winning New York Yankee; WWII Hero Claire Chennault; Kentucky Derby jockey, Calvin Borel; 1996 Miss America, Ali Landry; and, Cleveland Browns’ QB Jake Delhomme, not name a few. Those attaining this status are pure Cajun gold — never paying for a meal or a new car…heh.
Cajuns are, by nature, a pragmatic and forgiving people, so a little malfeasant is tolerated, if not expected. Edwin Edwards had a perfect understanding of this and simply took full advantage of his legend status with the people of Louisiana.
Even after the first round of twelve years as Governor and law-bending, Edwards came back to the populus to return him back to the glory spot. I was among those who reluctantly held my nose and pulled the lever for EWE in 1991 when he ran against one David Duke. The choice was between a known philanderer/crook vs. a known racist. A popular bumper sticker of the time? ” “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”
To his credit, Edwards fully understood the public quandry and fully played it up. When asked about his chances of beating David Duke, he responded that the only way he could lose was “if he was caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy”. Now THAT, is cahonas.
I still remember the day that we saw the cop cars screaming down Highland Road toward the Country Club of Louisiana. It was 1996 and it was the day we were moving to Memphis. Come to find out, they were headed to Edwards’ house to arrest him. At that time, I was elated that the crook was finally caught. He had brought shame to the Cajun Nation and failed to live up to his promise as the Cajun Redeemer.
However, now — after 15 years of bad politics and representation across the nation — I have to wonder…was he really all that bad? After all, he did more for Louisiana and its’ government than any Governor before or since. Good, bad or indifferent, Edwin W. Edwards was a leader, albeit a greedy one…and, he will always be — a CAJUN. Therefore, I say, live and let live. Let the old man play out his days in peace and freedom…unless I start seeing Edwards 2011 bumper stickers.
That was the question.
Over the last year, I must have started a dozen posts that just seemed to wither on the vine. My mind alternated between totally empty to crippling over-crowding, so I never could seem to get “in the mood” to actually finish one. Besides, I knew that I was at a crossroads. I would either have to compose a farewell post or commit myself to regular postings.
Make no mistake, blogging is tough work. It takes thought, creativity, time, and effort to try to be entertaining while providing the appropriate creative outlet for the writer. While I love music and continue to broaden my musical horizons, the fact is that material based solely on music just doesn’t compel me like it once did.
When I first start this blog in 2007, there was much caution regarding “true identities” in the blogosphere. Everyone hid behind code names, so as not to reveal too much of themselves. This certainly added to the complexity of writing freely. With the progressive adoption of Facebook and the seemingly disregard for anonymity, there seems to be a freedom (of sorts) to come from behind the curtain and let people in.
I also walked away for a while because I felt that my blog was just one of thousands, if not millions, screaming for attention from readers over-saturated by content. Was I really looking to express myself or was I looking for acceptance? Regardless, blogging was no longer something original to me since everyone was doing it. And, did anyone really care but me?
To me, life is a never-ending journey of self-discovery and in continuing my quest of self, I have found that this expression of myself pleases me. Therefore, I have decided to re-establish this blog and to continue to delve into my own psyche. If that provides you some enjoyment and a few laughs along the way, so much the better. In the end, I really just need to say what I need to say…
So, it’s finally a new year and I have resolved to start blogging again.
I could go into why I took a sabbatical, but wouldn’t want to bore folks with my trials and tribulations. Suffice it to say that 2010 had its ups & downs for me, just like everyone else. I did experience some major life changes in that I changed jobs (again) and we went through Dave’s Senior year of high school and his subsequent leaving for college. In between all of that, we have been trying to sell our house so that we can build our dream house “on the river”, but the economy and the Gulf Oil Spill created a frozen market with not a one offer in a year.
We’re hoping that the Spring of 2011 will bring a motivated buyer so that we can get on with our lives. Which brings me back to this blog. While I’ve decided to keep the name, the format will change somewhat. I’ll still delve into Music, but plan to include some other “features” that may or may not revolve around photography, sports, politics, home building, decorating, fishing, wine, and anything else that I have a burning desire to share here.
I hope that you will come by, read, and comment and I hope that 2011 brings the best on all fronts for everyone.
New Year, Death Cab for Cutie