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Swimming Lessons

December 16, 2013

In liquid clouds intertwined with Earth the weary did try to fly. Without wings, without strings, without wax, they did fall beneath the surface, flailing in the night. We’re now moving irreconcilably towards 1932 with all that means politically, spiritually and personally. Ms. Iceberg meets Mr. Ocean Liner, in mid-ocean with no land in sight, without a friendly port. The captain walks the bridge proudly, because the accident wasn’t his fault. The Captain’s just trying to fix things, by offering the multitudes in the freezing water, swimming lessons and a cheery video.

“Slower growth in productivity might have become the norm,” ~ Ben Bernanke, from the October 29, Fed Meeting. Either Bernanke had an epiphany, some angel appearing before him offering divine guidance or Ben’s been lying to us all along. For the full length of his term, as president of the Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke has echoed the promises of Herbert Hoover: “prosperity is just around the corner.” But now, with the clock running down on his term, his blissful retirement awaits, Bernanke comes clean, but offers the cure as the same cheap, easy money and lots of it.

If this were a movie, this is the where a montage of angry Weimar Germans running across the Potsdamer Platz are spliced to a backdrop of stock photos of American bread lines from the last Great Depression. It gives the impression Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett are flying the plane, too scared to try anything. Nobel Prize winner in economics, Edmund Phelps offers, “We’re in a slow-growth period of unknown duration,”. Translated, he tells us what we already know and then adds his professional annotation, “I don’t know”.

The Fed gives a host of reasons for this plague of slow growth, but the answer, in simple Alabama English is, “you can’t do business with folks who ain’t got no money.” Look no further than Wal-mart, the nation’s largest employer, paying its workers less than $9 an hour, while Wall Street stock values rise 25% a year. Feel the friction of tectonic plates, high-flying paper profits, scrubbing a continent raw against a permanent population in grinding poverty. “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”~ Erasmus

I recently watched the Ohio Jobs tutorial and certainly, I understand that such devices must be as generic and all-inclusive as possible. I’m not picking on Ohio specifically; each of the states have similar websites, with infomercial actors and actresses, portraying ordinary folks, just like you and me, only in new clothes and fresh haircuts. And sure, everyone needs a tune-up on their résumé. Their paid expert suggested I change the font and add an inspiring word to the heading like “Contribute!” to grab an HR director’s attention. Sure, why not? I’m leaning towards either “Past Due!” or “Meth Rocks!” for my Résumé. And don’t forget those out-of-state resources, they advised, maybe you could find a job out-of-state and become some other states problem.

I’ve been there and I’ve done that, with jobs so different, yet all the same. Part-time, low-paying, doing whatever is available to do. Working for those who for all their brass and bravado are swimmers, just like you and me. Individuals and companies, who aren’t trying to thrive, but merely to survive, because there is no growth — no growth. Because workers’ wages have stagnated, business is stagnated. Because hundreds apply for every opening, the starting wage is now zero. Craigslist ads offering work in exchange for room & board, phony internships, promising more permanent work down the road…maybe, if you’re good enough, if you’re better than the free help they can muster with phony internships. The swimmers tire and fade away, sinking down, taking the cure down with them.

The Ohio jobs tutorial told me I should make eye contact and have a firm handshake and dress appropriately, preferably a business suit. I should send a thank you note to my interviewer, thanking them for their time.

Dear Mr. Birdwhistle:

Thank you for taking the time to interview me among the four hundred others applying for your opening in the custodial arts. Maybe you don’t remember me, “Meth Rocks?” I found your question, “what are my career goals?” insightful. There was a time when I had career goals; now I’m just trying to stay alive, warm and out of the weather. What better motivation could a perspective employee have in a job offering only a continuation of my poverty? In these inverted times, it is the unemployed who know more about the economy than the employed. For instance, I know that you yourself, Mr. Birdwhistle, live in abject terror of being replaced by someone younger or less expensive. There is no confidence in the economy, there are no more good jobs and calling out “stroke, stroke, stroke from the bridge, isn’t much of an answer.

Some say I’ve become alienated, well… damn right I’m alienated! In fact, I’m so alienated, I question the intelligence of anyone who is not alienated. To stand as colossus, one foot placed firmly in the status quo the other situated on a far-reaching meridian, defending the harbor of I’ve got mine. Espousing the mistaken belief that as long as the master still pays you, the system cannot be fundamentally flawed. Here is a dividing line. Maybe you’re well-educated and well healed and well employed; can you defend your prosperity against what is known to be wrong? Can a paycheck buy your silence?

The Ohio jobs website gives its own plasticine vision of what’s going on, giving the mistaken impression that this crisis is our fault? That with a firmer handshake, shiny shoes and an Arial font I could get hired, when it is clear, there are no jobs available. Why not an online tutorial for alligator hunting in Ohio? This is the reality of the unreality, pretending that telling applicants to wear a clean shirt to a job interview is job assistance.

What’s the answer? Ben Bernanke doesn’t know and apparently other Nobel Prize winners don’t know either. They’ve tried subsidizing the financial industry for five years, adding billions upon billions in debt to the average American and netting only Wall Street profits and private fortunes. Now that it hasn’t worked, they’re out of ideas, bupkis.

“If current trends continue, the typical U.S. worker will be considerably more productive several decades from now. Thus, one might argue that letting future generations bear the burden of population aging is appropriate, as they will likely be richer than we are even taking that burden into account.” ~ Ben Bernanke October 4, 2006

“Capitalism is dying and its extremities are already decomposing. The blotches upon the surface show that the blood no longer circulates. The time is near when the cadaver will have to be removed and the atmosphere purified.” ~ Eugene Debs


About the author: David Glenn Cox is a senior staff writer for TLR and an award winning author and musician; he is the author of the novel, “The Servants of Pilate.”


4 Responses to Swimming Lessons

  1. Kellia on March 10, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    So why do we keep doing this when it doesn’t work and we all hate it? To keep doing the same thing yet expecting a different result is insanity! There will no growth by mid century because of resource shortages, then what? How long can we expect to keep growing on a finite planet anyway. Why must we pay to live on the we’re born on?

    • David Cox on March 10, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      “And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.” ~ John Steinbeck

  2. daredevil on January 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Times are tough. It’s hard for everybody in this job market, even for recent grads. With so much competition for so few jobs, it’s disheartening and downright depressing to look for a job right now. As an unemployed recession grad myself, I can relate to the notion of treading water; more like swimming upstream. But in this artificially manipulated culture war, conservative media continues its relentless assault on middle class, brainwashing them into fighting against their own interests. But who needs a living wage and affordable healthcare, so as long as the masses have absolute unrestricted gun rights and the unchecked bravado to wish everyone “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” With such counter-intuitive priorities, I can’t say I’m hopeful much can get done, and certainty not in the broad and expedient manner which is called for.

  3. Bill Weaton on January 2, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    I sympathize. If you’re over fifty and unemployed, you will likely encounter serious trouble finding someone to hire you in this new economy. How many ads have I seen that demand a “high energy”, “highly motivated”, “dynamic individual”, “self starter”, blah blah blah. In other words, someone who doesn’t intend to go home until nine or ten every evening, who doesn’t have or doesn’t care about attending to a spouse and family. Someone without the expectations of a person over fifty who remembers what it was like to have some rights in the workplace — the right to a life. Someone who will not question the current paradigm.

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