Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Unprecedented (And How We Got Here)


Just in case you haven't seen this bit of video from President Obama...



To the best of my knowledge (and James Fallows') this is unprecedented. It is certainly not normal. There is nothing like it, that I remember, in my lifetime. I do not celebrate it. I believe President Obama speaks the truth. But it is a terrible truth and a horrible precedent. President Obama is a very intelligent man and an exceedingly careful speaker. That he feels compelled to speak such a terrible truth -- and set such a horrible precedent -- is truly frightening. I hope it goes without saying (or at least elaborating on it) that it is time to pay attention and get involved.

So, how did we get here? There isn't any clear-cut line that we crossed....but humans seem to require them. "On this day, the world changed." History rarely happens like that. Change is much more gradual. It is much more subtle. You do have your December 7th, 1941 or September 11, 2001. But Japan did not wake up one day and decide to go to war with the United States. Al-Qaeda didn't train it's suicide pilots overnight.

Yet, people being humans, need something to hold on to, to mark a transition. A date. An event.

Today is such a day: August 3rd in 1981. This is the day that the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization went on strike. And just a short time later, a new President -- Ronald Reagan -- fired them. 35 years provides a lot of clarity. Hindsight always does.

I was a young man, 22 years old and freshly out of college. It was the worst recession since the Great Depression and I couldn't find a "real job". I was still working at my "school job" -- pumping gas into general aviation airplanes at a small airport in South Carolina.

Let's contrast my circumstances with today's. I was living in a small town, having gone to a small college, working a small job. I lived in a crappy (rented) house, drove a crappy car and made little more than minimum wage with no benefits. Sounds pretty much like today doesn't it?

But it wasn't. I didn't have any student loan debts worth mentioning. My father had managed to put four kids through college and pay for most of it. He'd done that with less than 2 years of college and sticking with a great American corporation for 30+ years. No layoffs. No benefit cuts. Just an occasional (okay, more than occasional) move (all expenses paid). He was NOT in a union.

I didn't earn much over minimum wage but I could work all the hours I wanted. In the summers, when I was off from college, I'd often work 60-80 hours a week. And remember, this was "bad" times. I'd gone away to college one year, come back and gone to a local college for 3, graduated, moved away to the big city looking for a "real job", returned to town defeated and yet, I wasn't in any real debt. Certainly nothing along the lines of what college graduates carry these days. I don't think banks were allowed to lend people without a decent job that kind of money back in those days. People that had lived through the Great Depression knew something that we kids didn't: Debt is a weapon.

And then PATCO went on strike and the FAA started hiring. That illustrates how the world has changed too. The Government (through the FAA) paid me to go to school. With benefits. Think about that. The FAA knew the washout rate for the job of air traffic controller was over 50%. Yet it paid people -- straight off the street -- to go to their school. They paid about $18,000 per year. With benefits. Why? Because that was the price of doing "business".

Sure it was expensive. And yet, the United States of America could afford it. We thrived paying people to train for good jobs. There was only one reason we did that. The only effective difference between then and now: Unions. Businesses didn't pay good wages and benefits out of the goodness of their cold, greedy hearts. They paid them because unions made them pay. Period.

On this day, 35 years ago, a union made a fatal mistake by going on strike. Ronald Reagan fired them. And the People cheered.

Make no mistake about that last part. The People of the United States cheered Ronald Reagan for firing PATCO. Not all of them. But enough of them. Unions went downhill and the jobs that carried Americans into the Middle Class went with them. That's how we got here. That's how we got to Trump.

Your country is in danger. Real danger. It's hard to believe this Presidential campaign is real. It certainly feels unreal. But here we are. It's unprecedented and it's real. Wake the hell up.

Don Brown
August 3, 2016