$5,000 each to retrain for a new career? Big deal!

Insert Charlie Brown Peanuts-like laughter here….


2.6 mil breaks down to about 5 grand per person.

This is NO different than the money that the state gives every laid off worker to “retrain” for a job.

And what’s hideous: what kind of retraining do you suggest for s somebody who is upper management or a highly trained scientific worker with a masters’ degree or better? When you have a masters degree or more, retrain for a career in doing what?

This is a bandaid that our illustrious state started to hand out nearly 5 years ago when the economy started to go bad.

And this is really no big deal: the only thing the grant supports is tuition. Books, fees and other expenses are up to you — and that’s a stretch for somebody who is not working.

The money can only be used in a state-operated school or a community college. So forget using the money to be a paralegal, reflexologist, massage therapist. You also cannot take courses in any ole thing; it has to be for a “career in demand” — and that list in itself is a great big fallacy, like Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy.

Teaching/education is still on that list. Many many teachers are out of work, and that includes the kid accross the street from me who graduated last June. He can find job as an aide only and it’s a contract job.

I should have known better

…but I didn’t.

I got laid off 4 years ago; have been looking for a full time job for 5 (things were not going well at my company; I saw the entire supply line dry up in June of 2007, long before the recession officially hit).

I recall an interview I had back in April of 2009.  It was in a small city about 5 miles from here.  The person who did the interviewing kept me a grand total of 7 minutes. 3 of those minutes she spend answering the company phone, since she was the only one in the office.

The job was as an admin assistant to the owner. The owner was not present. I thought that was kind of strange that his assistant — who was leaving shortly and would no longer be employed there — was conducting the interview.

She asked me nothing much. She spent the 3 minutes recanting and reviewing the job ad/job requirements.  She ended the interview by saying she had 2 more weeks of interviews and she would call me if I got the job.

The job paid $15 an hour but according to the young lady who was doing the talking, it was possible to be paid more after employment; the boss would have to decide how much more the salary would be.

I keep thinking about this dumb place and dumb interview. The point is this: I am now pretty sure that’s where this entire job hunting mess came to entropy. And IF I was smart, I’d have scratched the entire job hunt right there and decided to do something else with my life and employment….

Yes, but what???

And that’s where everything comes to a dead end.

If you’re like me — nobody to support you and no parents to send you a check each month — you’re beyond being up shit’s creek with no paddle.

The thing here is this: that was a long time ago and I’d have had more time on my hands where I could have done something else with my life other than go to useless interviews and talk to equally as useless people.

This is the boat all of us are in.  Where to go? What to do for employment? State jobs are out; the last state job exam I took was 3 years ago; I got an 85…but so did 150 other people. That was the end of that. EVERYBODY is trying to jump on the bandwagon for a state job and for a teaching job.

I should have known better and I sure wish I decided way back then, after that interview, to do something else with my life.

Throwing the Race

I have a theory: half of the eight completed Presidential races since I became old enough to vote (1980 through 2008) weren’t really races at all.  For those elections, the incumbent party was so strong that the other party merely went through the motions of nominating a candidate, knowing all along it was an exercise in futility, and the other guy would win:

  • In 1984, the economy was starting to take off under Reagan, even as it was being hollowed out from within, and people were feeling good.  The Democrats nominated Walter Mondale, Carter’s Vice-President, and pushed for higher taxes as a practical necessity, and the Republicans never let them hear the end of it.  I voted for Reagan that year, and lied to my mother about it.
  • In 1988: we were still feeling good about Reagan, and the elder Bush, whom I had admired in 1980, changed his tune and said that he would continue the Reagan policies.  From my perspective, they seemed to be working, and I couldn’t see the Democratic approach as an improvement.  I had just moved to Pittsburgh, and didn’t get to register in time, so I sat that election out.
  • In 1996: President Clinton had learned to get along with the Republican Congress.  He had ‘triangulated’ to the right, and the results were encouraging.  The Republicans nominated Bob Dole, who was a lackluster candidate, and too old.  I voted for Clinton.
  • In 2004: President Bush was running as a ‘war President’ who shouldn’t be replaced in the ‘heat of battle.’  In a nutshell, his platform was, ‘I will keep you safe.’  John Kerry’s platform, in a nutshell, was ‘I am not George Bush.’  I remember Kerry’s speech at the Democratic convention, accepting the nomination:  it was singularly uninspiring, as if he were relying on the fact that he was not George Bush.  Many people didn’t like Bush, including me.  But that wasn’t enough for most of the electorate.

One might argue that the 2008 election was similar, with the roles reversed: this time the incumbent party was weak, so they ran an old man, and nominated a woman as their Vice-Presidential candidate.  (Someday, perhaps within my lifetime, there will be a serious female candidate for Vice-President or President.  Hillary Clinton would be a plausible choice.  But Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were not serious candidates: they were there to try to get the women’s vote and generate attention.)

The 2012 Presidential race seems to be shaping up the same way, even though this time the incumbent President and his party are not strong.  I’m bitterly disappointed, not only by President Obama’s policy directions, but by his complete lack of actual leadership.  From what I can tell, I’m not alone.  Yet, in Mitt Romney, the Republicans have run a weak candidate, the croniest of crony capitalists.  People don’t like him, and Obama, for all his uselessness, is trending ahead in the polls.

You would have thought that, for all the opposition to health care reform, government by executive fiat, and other Obama excesses, the Republicans would have chosen a candidate who could stand up to Obama and let him have it (metaphorically of course) with both barrels.  But that didn’t happen.

Perhaps the conspiracy theorists are right: there is an invisible committee of Powers that Be somewhere that actually decides who our next President will be, and the whole business of political parties and candidates and polls and elections is merely theater to amuse and distract the public.

OK, then: how do we get a real President, who will actually lead, and bring us to face our problems, even though facing them will probably be painful in the short term?

They’re Both Losers

A few days ago, a video came to light in which Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, made the following remarks earlier this year:

There are 47 percent who will vote for the President, no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on the government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it…. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And so my job is not to worry about those people — I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

And to some extent, he’s right:

  • About 47% of Americans pay no Federal income tax.
  • About 47% of Americans (actually somewhat more) live in a household receiving financial aid from the government in one form or another.
  • About 47% of the electorate will vote for Obama no matter what.
  • Some percentage of Americans, though probably not 47%, see themselves as victims deserving compensation.
  • Some percentage of Americans have absolved themselves of personal responsibility for their actions.  (This is one of the reasons we have the highest prison population of any nation on Earth.)

Nevertheless, it was an unwise thing to say: the way it came out, it suggested that the only worthwhile Americans were the 53% who paid income tax.  But we already knew that Romney has a tin ear for how his remarks will resonate with the public.

What’s worse is that these remarks confirmed what we suspected about Romney: that he lives in a bubble surrounded by like-minded advisors who don’t recognize that, for example, many of the 47% who don’t pay income tax are simply people trying to make a living, or retirees receiving Social Security.  (But then, Obama lives in a similar bubble.)

Romney also said, this past week,

A tape came out a couple of days ago, with the President saying, yes, he believes in redistribution.  Well, I don’t!  I believe the way to lift people, and to help people have higher incomes, is not to take from some and give to others, but to create wealth for all of us.

It’s an admirable sentiment, to be sure, but how does he plan to accomplish it?  (And don’t say ‘tax cuts.’)

I’m disgusted with Romney.  Unfortunately, the alternative is even worse.

President Obama has been an abject failure as a leader.  The first signs of this appeared in 2009, even before he was inaugurated.  He had said that there should be a stimulus, and then threw the matter over the fence for Congress to hash out.  Congress, in turn, ran around like kids in a candy store, spending money on this and that, and in the end doing very little to get the economy producing again.  It was the Obama administration’s efforts in Libya (with ‘kinetic military action’) that introduced ‘leading from behind’ into our political lexicon.

And this week, our President remarked,

Obviously, the fact that we haven’t been able to change the tone in Washington, is disappointing….  So I think that I’ve learned some lessons over the last four years, and the most important lesson that I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside.  You can only change it from the outside.

If that isn’t an admission of defeat, I don’t know what is.  (Change from the outside?  You mean, like, invasion by a foreign army?)

They won’t even let our state keep 240 jobs!


Funny how the 240 research jobs that Roche has in mind are NOT even staying in New Jersey.

Going to the city in a building just being built? And quite a few pharmco biggies are going to be IN that building, too?

How much you wanna bet that there are incentives involved??? Figures.

One of the pharmcos is Pfizer. Pfizer is closing a big plant about an hour or so from me — a guy I know works there. He has no idea where he’s going to go at his age, which is mid 50s.

Yet another insane job requirement

I got this interview tomorrow and I am going to cancel it. Why you may ask? it sounds like something bizarre. First off the job pays $9 hour, which sounds ok until I mention our minimum wage is $8 hour. Someone might say that at least they pay more but here’s the issue, it is a call center job that requires one to work weekends and evenings and holidays, including Christmas. It’s also a half hour away. I don’t think there are benefits either.

But it gets better. At the interview I have to take a computer test and a typing test and have to type 40wpm. I have no idea my wpm as I’ve never held a job that required that (just had jobs that required me to type on Word or Word Perfect). They also do a keying test. In addition they also require a list of references and a credit check (I think). Another thing too that is weird is that the person I would have to call is in another state. This company doesn’t even have HR people in their company.

Unreal that these are the types of jobs that are out there. Once upon a time call center jobs pay more than this and basically you got the job if you came to the interview. They didn’t even care about references.

Concern about the tax base? You bet there should be…


The saga of the Roche closing in Nutley continues.

This is a 20 acre campus — ordinary residents that are middle class (again the phrase that pays, so to speak) are wondering what will happen to their property taxes now that Roche is departing the town.

This will murder their tax base. 

And again, this is a very good example of how the middle class drives everything. These were, at best, middle class jobs in that campus — and the middle class owns all of the houses in that town. There is a tony section of that town but it is mostly resoundingly middle class.

I expect nothing to be built there.

The ole Ford plant in Linden shut down years ago; all that is there is a Sam’s Club and one other retail store.

And I expect the same for nearly every large campus, vacated by a large company.  This is not the time to build; we do not have full consumerism and we will not have it for months and months to come. We’re approaching Year 5 of a recession (never over in my opinion) and we still have 10%/20% unemployment.  Nobody is buying homes and nobody is buying anything in stores.

Bad Medicine

Last Thursday, the Federal Reserve announced that it would embark on a program to buy $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities every month until the economy improves, and hold interest rates near zero through mid-2015.

And how will that help the economy in general, and stagnating unemployment?  As near as I can tell, it won’t.

The point of buying ‘$40 billion of mortgaged-backed securities,’ of course, is that nobody knows how much they’re really worth, other than that it’s far less than $40 billion.  The intent is to make the banks whole from their bad investments of a few years back.

In a normal time, the banks might turn around and lend the money to consumers and businesses, encouraging demand, employment, and economic growth.  But they haven’t done that: they’ve found it preferable to simply sit on the money, and perhaps lend it to the government.

The other entities that might hold mortgage-backed securities probably have even less interest in lending to ordinary people and businesses.  In other words, the rich get richer, and all the rest of us get screwed.

If the money from the Fed’s quantitative easing efforts made it out into the general economy, the result would be massive inflation: the classic result of more money chasing the same goods.  But the reason we haven’t had runaway inflation so far is that the money has been kept out of the ordinary people’s economy.

So a fat lot of good it does us.

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Soda Pop and Apartment Leases

Today, the NYC Board of Health voted to outlaw ‘sugary drinks’ larger than 16 ounces from being sold by restaurants and other businesses regulated by the Board of Health.  Six months hence, my preferred warm weather wakeup of a large iced coffee with milk and sugar will be illegal, unless it has no more than 25 calories (a packet and a half of sugar) per eight ounces.

Large diet sodas will still be legal, but I can’t imagine a fast-food chain trusting its employees to obey the law and use the big cups only for diet drinks, so we’ll all be stuck with smaller portions even if we don’t drink the sugary stuff.  However, 7-Elevens, and the self-service soda fountain in the Walgreens in Times Square, will not be subject to the law as they are not considered restaurants and not regulated by the Board of Health.

For the last six months, I’ve been meaning to send in the renewal of my apartment lease.  It’s not that I have anything against my landlord: it’s that the renewal lease is a pile of papers to be signed in duplicate, requiring eleven signatures and three initials in each copy covering:

  • Indication of the new rent, with an acknowledgement that I’m renewing the lease and choosing to renew it for one or two years;
  • An addendum to the lease, which is in fact unchanged since we moved in back in 2003;
  • A second form indicating the new rent for the renewal lease;
  • A second form in which I select whether I’m renewing for one or two years;
  • An advisory about window guards, in which I indicate whether or not children under ten years old live in the apartment;
  • An advisory about lead paint;
  • A form to indicate whether I have children under six years old, so that the landlord can inspect for lead paint (seems pointless: the building was converted from other uses about 2000, long after lead paint was outlawed);
  • And advisory that the landlord is not responsible for air conditioners, Venetian blinds, or the dishwasher (our apartment has one, but we never use it);
  • An advisory that we are not to keep a dog or other animal without the landlord’s written permission;
  • An advisory that the apartment rent is regulated because the building owner took advantage of a tax abatement, and that when the abatement runs out (in 2015) the rent will no longer be regulated (which, again, I knew back in 2003);
  • Finally, an advisory that there have been no bedbugs in the building.

Reading and signing the papers takes a half-hour; I’ve been putting it off over and over again.  Last week, I got a nasty note from the landlord giving me 10 days to send in the lease renewal or else, so tonight my wife and I sat down and confronted the pile.

Many of the pages of the renewal waste paper have their origins in city law.  The city is looking out for me, making sure I’m informed.  But the result is a giant pain in the neck.  If the landlord had sent me a one page form, requiring one signature and eleven boxes to tick, the renewal would have been back on his desk the next day.  OK, maybe the next week.

I don’t need the city telling me how much I can drink, and I don’t need fifteen pages of waste paper to renew a simple apartment lease.

Mayor Bloomberg: can you please, please just BACK OFF??

‘You Didn’t Build That’

A few weeks ago, President Obama made a speech in which he remarked:

     If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Well, I’ve got a business, and I most definitely did build that.  I’ll freely admit that I stand on the shoulders of giants: I did not build the Internet, or the power grid, or the roads or bridges myself.  But many other people grew up with those same things.  Most of them haven’t built a business.  So yes: my business, my little piece of the world, yes, I did build that.  (Also, many of the things that Obama cites did not come from the government.  That great teacher you knew as a child may have been in the public school, but it was his characteristics as an individual–and not as a member of the school system–that made him great.  And the Internet was originally developed by the government as a communication system for the military, and not as an engine of private profit.  It was private enterprise that built it out into the Internet we all know and love.)

All of this would be water under the bridge, except that yesterday, I went with my wife to participate in the Labor Day Parade.  She’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild, which merged earlier this year with the union representing television and radio performers to become SAG-AFTRA.  We had to report on 44th Street, in an area with other theatrical unions: Actors’ Equity, the Musicians, the Stagehands.  The Steamfitters’ motorcycle club roared up the street to take their positions in the parade.

Many of the unions in this country were founded about a century ago, in the 1890s and 1900s.  And it’s useful to remember how they came to be.  It was time of vast productive energy: many of the things that we take for granted were built during that time.  And many of the company owners and bosses were, well, rotten.

And so the workers banded together to say, in effect, ‘you didn’t build that.’  And, unlike the bluster from our President, it was actually true: while finance and management are necessary ingredients for a successful enterprise, at the time, things didn’t get built unless you had the manpower to build them.

It was a rainy morning, and shortly after we stepped onto Fifth Avenue, the clouds let loose with a drenching downpour.  My wife and I had brought umbrellas, and a sixtyish woman latched onto my arm to get a little dry space.

“This seems like some kind of a punishment,” she remarked.

“No,” I answered.  “We’re standing with the union.  There was a time in our history when standing with the union was a little bit dangerous.  We need to remember that.”

We need to remember that, because it may happen again.

Main Street Gone Bad

I live in a suburb of NYC. The population of our town is about 17K.

We have a downtown area….that is mostly vacant.

2 landlords are the key holders of these empty storefronts. It is now impossible for the middle class to shell out to rent one of these storefronts and open a business.

The only people who are doing so: the ones that already own a business.

 And even then….

Exhibits A and B: Builder’s permits are emblazoned on the front windows of 2 of these storefronts.  Those permits have been in the windows for over 3 months. There is no activity taking place on the inside.

One of these no show businessesstill touts a bedraggled and now faded sign in the window; the sign proclaims “Coming Soon…Deli!”

Exhibit B was probably going to be a florist. Like I said no activity there.

Exhibit C: a new restaurant opened….that was in April.  A sign now sits in that window: “Renovations In Progress”.  The business is closed, whilst these “renovations” take place.

Renovations??? Cheez, the business just opened! There were renovations before the eatery opened in April.

I am willing to bet that the business has changed hands and somebody new wants a new kind of eatery…. or the current business operator has simply left the scene.

Exhbit D: A sign recently appeared in another store front window: it’s a dry cleaner.  That dry cleaner has not gone live yet.

Exhibit E: “Fred’s Bar and Grill”: That too, is changing hands.  The prior owner operated the restaurant for about a year and a half.

Exhibit F: It’s a kid’s craft center and craft sales. They seem to be holding their own.  Been open about a year and a half.

We have a video game store that went under, a dollar store that didn’t make the cut, and a liquor store that was thriving up until about 2 years ago. That storefront sits vacant, too — and about 50 feet from there was a pretty good bar and resturant that was doing good business… it closed about a year and a half ago. Nobody is willing to step up and rent the building and open a new restaurant.

You can’t blame the no show florist and the no show deli on the 2 slumlords that own the buildings.  These people changed their minds; who knows why?

This is all another case of “As Goes Main Street.”

Then again, you wonder. About 5 miles from here is another Main Street: they know their clientele: Central and South Americans and Cubans and other Hispanic island clientele. There are dozens of music stores that cater to that demographic (they’re not big on downloads, that bunch), eateries that specialize in Central and South American cuisine, dozens of money wire stores, job training centers, junky clothing stores, discount hardware stores and the like. Business is booming; very few storefronts are vacant.

There are also a few chain shoestores and other chain stores thrown in: Radio Shack. Chain drug stores, Dunkin Donuts and well known fast food eateries.  Business is booming there, too.

Maybe it is all a case of “sell what you know.” Maybe it’s a case of too high rent making the cost of operating a business prohibitive to people like you and me. Who knows?

Three Republican Untruths

I’m really unhappy with both Presidential candidates.  I think Romney is slightly less horrid, but I’m not inspired.  But both the Republicans and the Democrats have their tidy assertions for dealing with the world, some of which turn out to be untrue.  Herewith three things that Republicans say that, well, don’t add up.

Tax Cuts Create Jobs:  It’s true that nobody likes to pay taxes, and everyone likes tax cuts.  But the one point that everyone overlooks is that, when running a business, wages and benefits paid to employees represent a tax deduction.  One could argue that the government subsidizes employment through the tax deduction, in the same way that home ownership is subsidized through the deduction on mortgage interest.  If tax rates for businesses are lowered the value of this deduction is diminished, and the incentive is provided to cut employee costs by reducing staff and lowering wages.  Moreover, all the plans to ‘cut taxes’ are incremental.  If you cut taxes by half, it might make a difference, but a change of 10-15% won’t do much.  Certainly, there is no vast pool of jobs waiting to be brought on the market when tax rates are cut by, say, 10%.

Cutting regulation creates jobs:  To some extent this is true: regulation promotes entrenched big business at the expense of new upstarts.  But compliance and enforcement of regulation is an industry in itself, entailing millions of jobs and billions of dollars, in both the public and private sectors.  Cutting regulation would allow some new companies to take the field, at the cost of broader unemployment elsewhere.

If we can just drill more, all our energy problems will be over:  We like to believe that the energy companies are in the business of supplying us with energy.  They are, like all other businesses these days, interested in making profits now at the expense of everything else.  They’re more than happy with the current supply, and the market system that creates occasional hiccups that drive up the price without changing their operating costs.  If restrictions on drilling and energy exploration were relaxed, there would be little difference after ten years: we’d still have a cantankerous supply, dependent on countries that don’t like us, with occasional events that drive up the price just for kicks.

Corruption and laziness in the hicks

I live in an are that is really a mixture of rural and suburban areas. It’s technically a suburb of Chicago but for the most part people don’t consider themselves Chicagoans. They tend to be conservative Republicans and very opposed to the Democratic machine (and a Chicago Democrat means very liberal socially and fiscally).

However they have one thing in common with Chicago and that is the corruption. Situation #1: My dad is a hard worker in charge of the maintenance building and is in the park district book as maintenance supervisor. Everyone likes him for the most part and is always willing to help out with something. Recently a guy on the board decided he wants his one friend to take (let’s be honest, STEAL)my dad’s job and give it to a friend of his. He also wants his wife to take the job of my dad’s boss. My dad and his boss are very close and we call her his work wife. Her son works with my dad and they are very close, he comes over often and my dad is always talking to him. My dad has never liked a job like this one. Anyway the board member is now making up stories about my dad that are lies, like my dad is lazy and wastes money. He’s trying to trump up things so my dad will be fired. Same thing with my dad’s boss. My dad wonders how long he will even have a job. Meanwhile the liar board member has figured out a way for his friend to take over days from my dad and all he does is sit around and drink. A few people who worked under my dad have quit because they see what is going on.

Case #2: my parents best friend is the village clerk. Her job is elected from the voters, but  assistant jobs are not. The assistant jobs were given to people with connections, including a village trustee’s daughter. All she does all day is sit on the internet and the phone. Meanwhile the village clerk has to do more and more and do the duties of this lazy assistant. Now she found out that a few people are pushing to have lazy assistant run against her in the next election. Likely the village clerk will win again (her family is well known here) but the idea they want this lazy one to be in charge astounds me.

Case #3: About a year ago the library was hiring an assistant. The library is one of my hangouts and I know the librarians. I asked the one about the job and she told me the job was given to the daughter of a library board member but they had to make it look legit. This clerk does nothing either and the one librarian (the one who told me about her)has reported her for doing nothing.

Many things spring to mind, first off these are the people getting jobs over us. Here we sit with ambition and so much to offer and they go for the lazy. Second, it doesn’t matter how we work we won’t get the job without knowing someone.

“As goes the middle class…”

The trickle down effect at work:


Yep, foreclosures of million dollar homes.

If it happens to the middle class, then it can happen to anybody.  Even the rich.

In this case, people stop planning fancy parties — I imagine a lot of the accounts were corporate ones. And that’s one of the first things a business cuts when times get rocky financially.  They’re not all tax write offs.

Stupid Pills

Is everyone taking stupid pills these days?

Others on this site have reported on the abject stupidity that seems to go along with running a small business.  I like to think I can do better than that, but even then, I know I’m not immune.  But even among people who should know better, things still seem to go off the rails.

  • On one of my projects at work, a manufacturer–who has been in the business for over 100 years–was supposed to wire some equipment cabinets in a tearing hurry.  Last weekend, I found out that they had to rip out the wiring and start over again: they had used the wrong sort of wire.
  • I was surprised and disappointed by Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican convention.  Yes, he’s an American cultural icon, and he might not be around in 2016, and what he had to say would play well with the Republican base.  But his rambling delivery was just sad.
  • Mitt Romney didn’t do much better.  His speech was not only uninspiring; he left me with the impression that he didn’t believe a word he was saying.  I’m disgusted with President Obama, and so are many others.  But as we learned in 2004, it’s not sufficient to say, “I’m not the incumbent.”
  • A high-school student on a bus trip was killed when he stuck his head out the roof hatch of the 13-foot tall bus and got clonged by a 14-foot-high overpass.

What the heck is going on?