Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day 2012

I am a Veteran. I served in the United States Air Force from 10 December 1976 to 9 September 1982. After basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio TX (yes, I spent Christmas and New Years in basic,) I did technical school for my future career field at Shepherd AFB in Wichita Falls, TX. My Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) was 67251. In English that means I was an Accounting Specialist. I spent 15 months at Wurtsmith AFB, MI paying bills for the commissary. This means I was doing bookkeeping for the on base grocery store. Wurtsmith was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base with a squadron of B52s and a squadron of KC-135s. My barracks was about 100 yards from the flight line and it got pretty noisy when a squadron of fully loaded B52s and a squadron of fully loaded KC-135s were queued up for take-off.

I went from Wurtsmith to Hickam AFB, HI after two short, cold, rainy summers and one long, cold, snowy winter. When I got to Hickam on 20 September 1978, I was assigned to the commissary accounting section once again. In Michigan, we had been a roughly $500K in revenues commissary while in Hawai'i, we had $2.5M a month in revenues. Yet, even though revenues were 5 times in Hawai'i what they had been in Michigan, the paperwork volume was probably less than a third increased since it was most all of the same vendors or types of groceries, just larger quantities. However, in Hawai'i there were four of us doing the work where in Michigan there had been two of us. When I got to Hawai'i and was told my work assignment, I was also told it was because the section was "behind." When I saw what the definition of "behind" was, I laughed as in Michigan that level of "behind" would have been considered caught up to current day. It also pointed out the difference between the staffing at a "Major Command" base (Hickam was the home of the Headquarters Pacific Air Forces) and a northern tier SAC base. In SAC, the funds went to support the flying mission. As an example, my first calculator in Michigan was an older, hand cranked machine that I literally burned up within a month. And yes, I do mean burned up. I was running a column of figures and the machine did catch on fire. After this, I was given a new calculator. If I remember correctly, it was a Monroe Litton model 2410 and was the newest machine in the office. When I got to Hawai'i, everyone had Monroe Litton model 2420 which all had digital displays.

After 18 months in Hawai'i, I was moved over to the "Accounts Control" office where I was responsible for the accounting database, liaison with the data processing center, and worked with folks in every part of the accounting system from Base Supply to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office. I worked with the Headquarters command Accounting Office and Responsibility Cost Center Managers across the base. In order to be promoted within the USAF beyond the rank of E4 up to the rank of E7, we had to take tests on our knowledge in our career field. The first time I tested for E5, the test had two questions (out of 100) that were directly related to my work with another 10 being peripherally connected. The next time I tested a year later, 75 of the 100 questions were directly related to my work. When I got my results, I was number 3 USAF wide on the promotion list (though I did not get promoted until the end of the cycle since I had less time in grade as an E4 than others)

I had gotten out of basic training early due to having had ROTC in high school and college. I left basic on a Friday and on Monday I was admitted to Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland and had oral surgery on Tuesday morning to remove four impacted wisdom teeth. In Hawai'i, I had gallbladder surgery on 30 July 1982, spent the next month on convalescent leave for the surgery and an infection that developed, got off convalescent leave on 30 August, out-processed the base on 31 August and left Hawai'i on 1 September 1982 for a final nine days of terminal leave and discharge. I pretty much began and ended my AF career with surgeries.

While I was on active duty, I was able to use the Vietnam era GI Bill to complete a degree in Computer Science. I knew many people in various career fields who completed college degrees while in the service. Many co-workers completed both a bachelors and a masters degree and a few even got their doctorates while serving. I met people from all over the country while I was in Michigan and in Hawai'i both.

So what is my point with all of this? It is to remind folks that the veteran is the man or woman you grew up with, attended high school or college with. We're the person who grew up down the street from you or that you saw everyday at the drug store or fast food joint. Most of us had a variety of reasons to sign our names and take the oath of enlistment. We weren't and aren't making a big production of our service. We mostly served and came home, no matter the time. My older brother was in the USAF for four years, got out, got married then re-enlisted for I think another eight years. He got out the second time, finished his degree, got commissioned in the Air Guard, transferred to the Army Reserve and retired a few years ago from the Reserves at the rank of Lt. Col. My first cousin Mary, served in the US Navy where she met her future husband who was also in the Navy. Her nephew served in the US Army as a photographer. My oldest first cousin served 20 years in the Navy. One of his sons served in the Marines, including a stint as an embassy guard. Yet another first cousin served in the Navy for four years in Georgia where he met his future wife and settled down. My father was in the Army Air Corps during World War II and one of his best friends from the Weather Squadron they served in was my godfather. Dad's oldest brother served in the Marines I believe during WWI and died while Dad was overseas in WWII, most likely due to residual effects from mustard gas.

All of us served just as hundreds more from my hometown have served and millions more from all the small towns and cities across the country. I was fortunate enough to not have to deal with any wars during my time although when we were going through alert exercises in Michigan, we would joke (dark humor abounds) about just how much would be left above ground if what we were dealing with was real.

For most of us, we served, we came home, and we got on with our lives.

And because I can:

Friday, November 2, 2012

And Now from the Department of Y'all Should Really Just STFU

During this year's silly season aka the stretch drive to the November elections, I have been watching the self immolation of various Republican campaigns around the country with a bit of fascination. The topic of rape and incest as exceptions allowing a woman to have an abortion has caused great consternation amongst the chattering classes. From Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" to Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's "pregnancy from rape something God intended" (a variant on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's rape is just another "method of conception") to Oregon Washington US House candidate John Koster's "the rape thing" to Wisconsin State Rep. Roger Rivard's "some girls rape easy," the topic of rape and abortion has been making headlines across the nation. But as Mr. Pierce notes, these sentiments are not the exception but:

...close to the mainstream of Republican thinking on the subject of abortion, which it is. (It is precisely the position maintained in the Republican platform, which did away with the exception for rape and incest with much fanfare down in Tampa.)
And of course, we also have Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon chiming in to continue the "short ride" tradition first offered us by Senator Joe Lieberman as supporters of amendments allowing hospitals to refuse to provide emergency contraception for rape victims.

Rape, to me, is one of the three most heinous crimes going, along with Domestic Violence and Child Sexual Abuse. These crimes often go unreported, in many instances because the victim is not believed and is made to feel victimized repeatedly after reporting the crime. I loved my father deeply but I remember him telling me that he had served on a rape trial jury one time probably 30 plus years ago and they found the defendant not guilty because "she was asking for it" and that response always has bothered me.

I am a late middle-aged white male and the odds are pretty good that I will not be raped in this lifetime. But as the NY Times reported back in December:
Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report.
With that information, I can confidently say that I would wager that more than a few of my female relatives, friends, and acquaintances have been raped or assaulted. I don't know who or how many nor do I want to know as that pretty much fits the definition of a "Nunya." And this is why I decided I needed to speak out about these idiot statements about rape. As heinous as rape is, the main point to remember about all of these statements is the desire to limit a woman's freedom of choice, freedom to terminate a pregnancy or not. At this point, rape is a symptom, not the underlying problem. The underlying problem is the on-going, seemingly never ending desire for a bunch of old men to control what women do with their bodies. By even discussing "exceptions" that would "allow" an abortion, we lose sight of the primary issue and that is:
no one should be allowed to tell a woman what she can and can not do with her own body.
As I noted above, I am a late middle-aged white male. I'm even less likely to become pregnant in this lifetime than I am to be raped. I have no authority or need to tell a woman what she should do. If a woman is raped, becomes pregnant, and decides to carry the baby to term, BRAVA! That is what choice is all about. It is her choice and her choice only. Just as terminating any pregnancy or having a child is the woman's choice and the woman's choice alone.

Such a simple concept yet so very difficult for so many to understand.

Update: Fixed state for John Koster. H/t Teddy Partridge

And because I can:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This is the "new normal"

The ADP Report on private sector jobs came out today and showed an increase of 158K jobs. David Dayen at the FDL News Desk discusses this report and the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that will be issued tomorrow morning (Friday, November 2):

Plug this all in and what have you got? The consensus forecast calls for an increase in 125,000 jobs. That would be an increase from last month’s increase of 114,000, but below the increases in July and August (August and September will get revised in the report). This generally matches what we’re seeing in the ancillary reports, and shouldn’t be a number that would arouse joy or sadness in either Presidential campaign. However, with the volatility of last month’s topline unemployment rate, derived from the household survey, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw it increase from the current level of 7.8%.

Either way, it’s a preliminary report, and we probably shouldn’t put as much weight on it as we will, especially with the political implications headed into the election.
While the Weekly report of initial unemployment claims was lower than expected (economists surprised!), even this moderately good news is not all that great.

The reality for many millions of us among the long term un and underemployed is the good jobs just are not there. At the end of August, Catherine Rampell of the NY Times had an article headlined "Majority of New Jobs Pay Low Wages, Study Finds." As I noted in this post, it was very similar to an earlier post from April '11 I had written that was based on a Washington Post article. Both the Times article and the Post article were based on reports from the National Employment Law Project.

Sunday in the NY Times, Steven Greenhouse had this article on how employers in retail and hospitality industries use (and abuse) part time workers:
But in two leading industries — retailing and hospitality — the number of part-timers who would prefer to work full-time has jumped to 3.1 million, or two-and-a-half times the 2006 level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In retailing alone, nearly 30 percent of part-timers want full-time jobs, up from 10.6 percent in 2006. The agency found that in the retail and wholesale sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of small stores that rely heavily on full-time workers, about 3 in 10 employees work part-time.


A 2011 survey of 436 employees at retailers in New York City, as diverse as luxury establishments on Fifth Avenue and dollar stores in the Bronx, found that half of the city’s retail workers were part-time and only one in 10 part-time workers had a set schedule week to week. One-fifth said they always or often had to be available for call-in shifts, according to the survey, which was overseen by researchers at City University of New York.


Mr. Flickinger, the retail consultant, said companies benefited from using many part-timers. “It’s almost like sharecropping — if you have a lot of farmers with small plots of land, they work very hard to produce in that limited amount of land,” he said. “Many part-time workers feel a real competition to work hard during their limited hours because they want to impress managers to give them more hours."
What? Could someone have actually spoken a truth here? The modern day wage slave, complete with sharecropping as the ideal.

While CNN has an article this morning attempting to paint the rosy glasses scenario on how the jobs are not all part time minimum wage, even they have to acknowledge the reality of the lower wage since 24% of the "new" jobs are in hospitality and retail:
It's true that the economy has added a lot of low-paying jobs over the last two years. Restaurants and bars, which pay a median wage of just $9 an hour, have accounted for 15% of all the jobs created in the recovery. Retailers, which pay a median $11 an hour, make up another 9%.
The Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday reported on the long term un and underemployed for Ohio:
According to the government, 780,000 Ohioans are underemployed or unemployed, a number that does not include persons working more than 35 hours. The report does not compile local underemployment numbers.


More people are working multiple part-time jobs, a practice Pautke cites as the only means of increasing the person’s take-home pay.
And this point goes back to the job scheduling practices noted in the NY Times article above - it is rather difficult for a part time wage slave to work those two or more part time jobs if/when the employers want the "flexibility" to schedule the work shifts the day before.

This is the "new normal" for far too many workers. So somebody please explain to me where all those jobs are from the "job creators?" Businesses in multiple industries are posting record profits (here, here, here, here, here, here) yet there are still millions of people in long term un and underemployment, people wanting to work, people with skills asking only for an opportunity to earn a decent wage with fair benefits.

And because I can: