Explotation of Tradgedy

January 28, 2006

Exploitation of Tragedy

A news article in the Shanghai Daily, January 25, 2006, informed readers that it was now possible to buy cobble stones from the famous or should I say infamous Tiananmen Square, in Beijing. You remember Tiananmen Square, 1989, it was the sight of student protests, wherein hundreds, perhaps thousands (no one really knows the actual number) of young protestors were slaughtered by the Chinese army, simply for voicing their opinion. Countless others were imprisoned for partaking in the demonstrations. Of course everyone knows that voicing your opinion is not allowed in China, as no one has rights, especially of speech. Censorship is the name of the game, and that is how China is able to keep polished its image, by never publishing negative news, although this is becoming harder with the Internet. It must be driving the Chinese government nuts, trying to control Internet access in China. To learn more about Internet censorship in China, see the Google story published January 28, 2006, wherein they explain the problems.

To commemorate this event for just $247 USD you can own one of the cobble stones, and who knows it very well could have been one of the stones soaked in the blood of some student that was butchered by their own government…isn’t communism great! First you slaughter people for speaking out and then you turn to capitalism to sell the very stones upon which the innocent fell. China must be very proud!

For you collectors, contact Shanghai Julongxing Arts and Crafts City, located on Maoming Road, Shanghai, China. Each stone is packaged in a red wooden case with a certificate of authenticity. I wonder if its blood red? And who knows, maybe the wooden case is shaped like a little coffin?



The Year of the Dog

January 28, 2006

2006 – The Year of the Dog
2006 the Chinese celebrate the year of the dog, one of the twelve (12) animals, if you include the dragon, which is after all mythical, in the Chinese lunar cycle.  

As we in the West (America) follow horoscopes, the Chinese are really dialed into their lunar calendar and take it the entire matter rather seriously.

As for me, living in China, the interesting thing is that I get to celebrate two (2) New Year celebrations each year, January 1 and the Chinese Lunar New Year.  

For Chinese the week preceding their New Year is one of celebration, and a time when many travel home, to visit family.  As such this is a nationally recognized holiday, although many businesses remain open, some actually close their doors.

The good and bad news…for several days before and after the New Year, their will be the continuous bang of fireworks. This seems to go on non stop into the early morning hours, and while fireworks displays can be very enjoyable to watch, the continuous bank of fire crackers is a little unnerving, but after all, this is what living in China is all about. In case you don’t want to buy firecrackers, one of the Shanghai news magazines actually published detailed instructions on how to make your own! Imagine, you can sit down with the whole family and create your own fireworks display…really crazy when you think about it, but for the Chinese, this is considered okay.

As for safety and fireworks, I can’t say much for the Chinese understanding that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, as it is possible to buy, or make, any type of fireworks, including bottle rockets, and there seem to be no restrictions as to where or when they can be setoff.

The year of the dog is not one of the more popular years for Chinese, certainly not as popular as the year of the dragon, but from my point of view, it’s my favorite, as what animal is more deserving of recognition than mans best friend, the dog?

Unfortunately, a dog’s life can be rather grim in China; often dogs are neglected, and or end up on the dinner table. On the other hand, there are those Chinese that cherish their dogs, and treat the very well, like a family member, but these are in the minority.

So if your Chinese or not, remember to give your dog an extra threat, and show them respect due, in their special year, the Year of the Dog!

Chinese exchange money with family during New Year holiday, not gifts. Typically the money is placed in a red envelope often translated as a “red pocket” and amounts very. Which brings up an interesting question…how do you know if you’re a schmuck in China? Answer: Every year you give more money than you receive in return. From my experience, in my extended Chinese family, most people come out even after all the money has exchanged hands, except for me, the foreign schmuck.

FYI, years and animals:

RAT 1948, 1960,1972,1984,1996

OX 1949, 1961,1973,1985,1997

TIGER 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998

RABBIT 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999

DRAGON 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988

SNAKE 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001

HORSE 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990

SHEEP 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991

MONKEY 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992

ROOSTER 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993

DOG 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994

PIG 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995

If you are born in the year of the dog, you share this year with, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, Andy Roddick, Jennifer Lopez, Confucius  etc.

Is It Real or Fake

January 28, 2006

Is It Real or Fake?
 When friends and or clients visit from America, they will invariably ask about shopping in China. Some looking for great deals on electronics, others looking for name brand garments, while still others are look for treasured antiques.

I should tell you that number one; I hate shopping, especially in China, but often have to go through the process to appease friends. Basically, yes, you can buy name brand products at very low prices, but understand, these are “knock-off” products, not the real thing. Concerning electronics, forget it, they are by far less expensive in the States and anything you find in China will be out dated and perhaps a “knock-off”. As for “antiques”, again, forget it. There are strict regulations as to what you can legally remove from the country, that is if you could actually find a real antique, but most likely you will find only copied goods, which are sometimes difficult for even experts to identify, the real from the copy.

Looking for that Rolex watch that is just too expensive in the US, well good news, you will find a wide assortment from which to select, and each for around $20 US dollars, often less, of course these too are copies, but sometimes the quality of these “knock-off” items are really good. They will ask, “what about pearls?” Sure you can buy them but you stand the risk of buying paste, rather than the real thing, so you really need to know what you are doing, and keep in mind, the Chinese are excellent at making copied goods, and often fool even the most experienced buyer.

Okay, so what can you buy, will be the next question…you can buy silk, either in bulk or finished garments, and the quality can be good, again, you need to know what you are looking at. It is also possible to buy very nice custom tailored clothes, but you need to select the tailor carefully, as well as the material. When the garment is finished, you need to inspect the seams and stitching, or it may not survive one wearing. By this time, many people become frustrated, shopping has turned into work, not pleasure, to which I reply, “this is China, what did you expect?”.

For those of us who live in China we know where it is possible to buy the most recently released DVD’s movies and audio within days of their release in America, for about $1  US dollar, and even though the quality may not be as good as a legitimate version, the price is right. The same is true for computer software, regardless of the product and you don’t need to worry about registration numbers, as they will be supplied when you buy the software. Again, the prices are typically less than one dollar for any software application, thus there is very little incentive for any Chinese company to use legitimate registered software, and they don’t!

Of course don’t get caught taking DVD’s out of China or try to sneak it in to the States on your return home, as the laws are VERY strictly enforced!

So you want to know what you can get in China and safely return to the States with? Photos, take lots of pictures, everything else you can buy at your local shopping center for much less than buying in China. Besides, you will never really know if you’re buying a genuine product or a copy.

Sure there’re exceptions, but few. The reason is the fundamental need for Chinese not to lose face, so even at the expense of a lie, it is far better than risking the loss of face, and so lying is not just tolerated, it’s the norm.

Even when buying medicine, you can never be sure that you’re getting the real medication or a fake. There are often reports, of people getting arrested for making, packaging and selling fake pharmaceuticals.

You also need to be careful when buying packaged consumables, i.e. food and beverages, even bottled water, as these are also often copied. From time to time, arrests are reported of people making fake baby formula. The symptoms are sometimes evident in the swelling of the infants head, often resulting death. Most often babies simply starve because there is no nutritional value in the fake formula and the parents are reluctant to take the baby to the hospital, until it is too late. Just imagine what kind of a low-life cretin would make and sell baby formula, knowing full well that it could kill a infant, and yet it happens, because the drive for money is far greater than caring for humanity, even when babies are the victims.

Cigarettes are often copied and sold as the “real thing”, and there is always the chance that if you buy a ticket for an event, it could also be a forgery.

A common practice in all transactions is for the person who receives payment to very carefully inspect each bill (currency), first visually and then using and electronic scanner to ensure it isn’t counterfeit. And when you consider the largest paper denomination is 100RMB (about $12 US dollars) paying by cash, can be a painstaking experience. Sure, money is counterfeited in all countries, but never have a seen such little confidence in the integrity of money than in China. The fact is, the Chinese simply don’t have any faith in their country to control currency.

An interesting side note is that typically, if an employee that accepts a counterfeit bill, needs to replace the money from their own pocket.

How bad is the counterfeit problem? Well, I was once chased by a taxi driver, through the lobby of a hotel, while he screamed that I was a thief, and that I had given him a counterfeit 10RMB bill, which incidentally is the minimum fare for a taxi ride in Shanghai. It was embarrassing to say the least, and drew lots of attention, in fact a crowd gathered around, I suppose because they were curious how a foreigner was going to handle the problem. After some translation, I explained I had no idea if the money was good or not and I immediately exchanged the bill for another, which was very carefully inspected.

A few days later, I went into a bank, and asked them to look at the 10RMB bill and check to see if it was actually counterfeit. After several people inspected the bill, I was told that it was NOT counterfeit. All this hoopla for 10RMB (about $1.20 US), but it illustrates how untrusting the Chinese tend to be. I mean when you think about it, what kind of moron is going to print counterfeit bills that are only worth $1.20 US?  But, the sad thing is that they also produce counterfeit coins, the ones I have been shown are valued at 1RMB, or 12cents US.

American Living and Working in China

January 25, 2006

What is Life Like, for an American in China?
 I am often asked what its like for an American (non-Chinese), to work and live in China, and although I have lived in Shanghai for several years, my answer has evolved over time.

In the beginning it was new and exciting. I was very enthused in learning about the mysterious Far East, delving into its 5,000 year history, understand the culture and customs. Suffice to say, I had all the expectations you would expect…it was far away from my American home, a foreign land, a new language and of course, it is a third world communist country, so there was a certain amount of trepidation.

The first year to year and a half, like many before me, I was challenged with cultural and social customs that were completely different than I expected. When living in America, I enjoyed eating Chinese food…who doesn’t? But the food, in China is far different than the American Chinese food which has been tailored to appeal to American taste.

Over time I became used to eating this new and often unusual food, much of which was totally unrecognizable, but never have I gotten used to seeing dog on the menu, nor has rat meat on a stick been a favorite, but then again, I came from the wealthiest country on the planet, and not everyone had it as good as I did. I found that eating in Chinese restaurants was very difficult, as the Chinese had a very different idea about table manners than I was accustomed too. They would often spit out bits and pieces of what they were eating, i.e. chicken bones, shrimp shells and or whatever else wasn’t suited for swallowing. They made no effort to cover the orally projected unwanted items, and much of the time they ended-up wherever gravity dictated, sometimes on your plate or clothing and often on the floor. Eating with their mouths open, food falling out is typical. Seeing a patron who had eaten and drank (beer/liquor) too much and throwing-up as they stumbled from the dining table in an effort to get to the restroom on time, became all too familiar.

Often business conducted with Chinese is done over a meal, followed by going to a Karaoke club. The “clubs” run the gamut from rather nice to sleazy, most being the latter. In all cases, along with renting the private room, for singing, you are provided with a selection of female companions from which to choose. The services these young ladies provide range from fun entertainment to outright prostitution and its most often just a matter of how much you are willing to pay as to you receiving a nice companion, or an over night house guest.

The first of these business dinners I attended was in a rather nice club. We were escorted to a large comfortable private room, rather like a “living room” in an American home. The furniture consisted of leather lounge chairs and sofas, as well as a large screen TV and audio system and of course a menu from which to select your favorite music to sing along with and a couple of microphones.

Soon after finding a place to sit, a long line of young women were paraded into the room, and positioned in front of the customers, and each person was asked to make a selection. Not a very comfortable moment for me, but what choice was there, and after all, all I was going to do was talk. After the selections were made, in came the beer (beer is cheap and is usually the only drink available), and fruit platters along with an assortment of nuts, and the singing soon began. As I was looking about the room, I noticed a very large plastic pail in one corner of the room. It was the size of a small child’s backyard wading pool, and I thought what the heck was this used for? A couple of hours later I found it’s purpose as the first of my Chinese hosts stumbled toward the tub, where he threw-up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and stumbled back to the couch and resumed drinking. That was pretty much it for me; it was time to go home. From this experience forward, I accepted very few dinner and Karaoke invitations and made sure the meetings were as brief as possible, always trying to find an excuse to avoid the Karaoke experience, but sometimes it just couldn’t be avoided.

I suppose this type of behavior is some sort of Chinese male bonding, but to me it was revolting and offensive. I felt empathy for the girls that are forced to work in these places, and by forced, I mean there is likely no other way for them to earn money, just not enough jobs to go around, especially for women, and often their families pressure them into this kind of work so they can help support the family. As for what the poor girl has to do to earn money, i.e. sell her body, is of no importance to the family, as they just elect not to think about it…there is just no other way to survive.

You also discover one of the only ways to survive in business, is through bribes and corruption (QuanXi). Every Chinese person expects to get something out of a deal, from the person that collects trash to business executives, and most certainly all government employees. If you’re having problems getting something done, no problem, just find the right person and bribe them. Bribery is so prolific, it isn’t even considered wrong, it’s expected, and if you are unwilling to accept bribes, you are considered stupid. Absolutely everything revolves around money; there is nothing else of importance. If you want a business contract, no problem just find the person doing the purchasing, exchange some cash and the contract is yours and no one will complain. Don’t want to wait for that business permit to be approved, not an issue, just pay-off the person in the government office handling your application. No matter what the problem may be, a little grease (money) will solve it. Even at the hospital, should you not want to wait, there is a VIP entrance, sure it costs more, but there is NO waiting. Imagine, walking into an emergency room at your local hospital (in America) and telling them you don’t want to wait, and offer a little cash as an incentive!

Once while walking around, I noticed there were very few churches in China, not that I expected to find many, as during the Cultural Revolution, the communist party did all they could to eliminate organized religion, but that was 50 years ago and things had changed. Where are all the churches I thought to myself? And then I began to smile as I looked around and saw a bank on almost every block…these are the churches of China…money is their god and banks are their place of worship. Was I being facetious? Of course, but still there is some truth to the idea.

During the first year your body will be assaulted by germs and pollution, regardless of having all the recommended vaccinations. You will find yourself easily catching colds and many experience breathing problems, mostly due to air pollution. You soon find out where to receive medical treatment, but are horrified when you go to the hospital for the first time…it is dirty and equipment is old and worn. When the doctor examines you, you take note that he never even washed his hands, nor does he wear rubber gloves. You struggle to make clear to the doctor your symptoms, but find that his English is not that good, and as of yet you haven’t learned enough Chinese to explain physical problems, so there is a lot of pointing, nodding and head shaking. Typically if you are suffering from lower intestinal problems, you will be given an IV to replenish fluids, but again, the nurse doesn’t wash her hands, or wear gloves, and you didn’t see the package being opened that contained the needle, so you become nervous…what about HIV?

The only positive thing is when you get the bill, typically under 40 US dollars for the entire visit and treatment, but you wonder if the treatment placed you at greater risk than your original malady.

As an American you are used to space, but in China, people are constantly pushing and shoving. They are coughing and sneezing literally in your face, and as you walk down the sidewalk you hope to avoid being splattered by people who seem to have a constant need to spit. The first time you see someone urinating in public you are taken back, but in time you will get used to seeing them defecate as well. You dread going to a public toilet, because it’s consists of a porcelain bowl in the floor, no place to sit, you need to squat, hence the term “squat toilet”. When you reach for the toilet paper, you realize there isn’t any, nor is there any running water, soap or paper towels to wash. From this experience forward, you will remember to bring toilet paper and waterless hand sanitizer wherever you go.

Because you don’t know your way around, you do a lot of walking, good for your health, but also very dangerous. Crossing the street can be life threatening, as cars will never stop for pedestrians regardless of the light being red or green…it’s every man for themselves, as you are nudged by cars, their horns blowing and people yelling.

It won’t be very long before you see a pedestrian or bicyclist run over and killed, it happens often, although I never have been able to accept the lack of feeling and concern of those who look on at the mangled bodies, never lending a hand to help. No ambulance sirens will be heard to rescue the injured person, the truth be known, in over 5 years I have only heard ambulance sirens a few times, and I am sure it was because the person in need of care was some government official.

As an American, the Chinese are rather accepting of you being from America, but you will be confronted by many Europeans, especially Germans, English (UK) Australians, Canadians, etc., who will go out of their way to defame America, and or insult you in anyway possible. Being an American becomes a slight liability, so in mixed groups, you are inclined to avoid the topic of “where are you from”. Much of this ill will is because of President Bush and the Iraq war, but many are just jealous of the position America holds, in the global scheme of things. As for me, I will not apologize for being American, nor will I tolerate abuse, dished-out by these smarmy cretins! You soon learn the Chinese have already figured out what you are likely to do upon moving to China, based on the actions of your predecessors, which is, find a job, find a bar, and find a Chinese girl friend. To a large degree, the Chinese are right, as there is no shortage of foreign alcoholics in China, and I know of zero marriages that have survived in China, between to foreigners, so the Chinese girl friend idea must also have validity. For most men, the temptation is over powering, and Chinese women are often beautiful young and more than willing to stake a claim to a foreigner, after all, their life style will likely improve because of the income difference between a foreigner and their Chinese counterpart.Note: Sometimes Chinese girls will refer to the Chinese girlfriend of a foreigner as a “long hair dictionary”, not particularly faltering, but true enough, as a Chinese girl who can speak English can be of great assistance to a non Chinese speaking foreigner.The first question I ask, when a fellow American asks me about moving to China is “are you married?” and if they say yes, I tell them to consider seriously, that if they make the move, the odds of their marriage surviving is very, very low. The temptation for men to stray is difficult to overcome and the tolerant moral codes in China don’t discourage this type of behavior. In fact, it is very common for the man in a Chinese coupled marriage to have a girl friend on the side, and this is most often tolerated by the wife, although I’m sure she isn’t too happy with the idea. It’s simply part of the Chinese culture, where the man is in charge and women are there for his use and pleasure and never considered an equal.

After being in China for awhile you will begin noticing things aren’t really what they first appeared to be, i.e. construction although new, is poorly done and the standards are terrible. The apartment that seemed so nice when you first moved in, you can’t keep warm in the winter, because the heating system is undersized, and not having double glaze windows and no insulation adds to the problem. When you complain to the landlord, your complaints fall on deaf ears, and you learn to live with the cold of winter and the heat of summer. Still you think I got a great deal on the rent, a brand new high-rise building in the States would be unaffordable, but not in China, and then you discover that the occupancy of the building is rather low, and as people begin to buy the units, they need to be built-out, and the pounding noise of construction goes on non stop 24/7 and it becomes impossible to get a good nights sleep. You complain to building management, but they will do nothing, because they have been bribed to look the other way, or worse, they just don’t care and ignore you, usually the later. You have now learned your first valuable lesson; be very careful when selecting a place to live!

One of the things I first noticed was that my hands were always dirty. I thought it was from handling money, as most business is transacted in cash, but discovered it was because everything I came in contact with was filthy. I was constantly washing my hands, my clothes became dirty very quickly and it was necessary to do heavy cleaning in my apartment everyday because of air-born dirt. Even the filter in the heating and air conditioning unit needed to be cleaned every week, and the tap water left stains in tub shower and toilet, and of course, you never drink tap water, you bought bottled water for drinking and cooking. But you are suspicious that the bottled water may not be the “real thing”, as you see on the news of case after case of bottled water being sold without being filtered, and even labeled with International brand names, copied of course.

If a foreigner can last the first year plus, they have a good chance of surviving longer, but many don’t make it the first year, life is simply too different from what they are used to. After you have been in China for a number of years, it is very easy to spot a foreigner that has newly arrived, just by talking a few sentences, it’s always the same, very positive at first, like a newlywed couple on their honeymoon, but soon reality sets in as does culture shock, and just like you were, they are fish out of water.

Some foreigners elect to live in gated communities surrounded by other foreigners, and others venture out into the community and try to fit-in as best as possible, which is what I did. I found the gated communities hideous and wanted nothing to do with them. I felt what was the point to living in a foreign country, and then stay in a secluded community. These “gated people” tend to be the least knowledgeable about China although they will certainly have opinions of the Chinese, which are typically negative and often condescending. For those of us who have ventured-out, life is far more challenging, but also interesting.

For me, the most egregious hurdle to clear was regarding the lack of morals and ethics…there are simply non-existent. Doing business with a Chinese company is a lesson in corruption. Even when contracts are signed, they are typically not honored, and almost always, the Chinese will continue to negotiate, after the contract has been agreed to. When your obligations near end, be prepared, because a total and complete payment will not be made, there will always be negotiations, in which you will have to give the Chinese business some additional discount, even if you did more than you were obligated under the terms of the contract. If you’re not pleased with the outcome, too bad, as the Chinese legal system will never settle claims in the interest of a foreigner. If you are in a business that requires bidding, be aware that a Chinese competitor will take a job at a loss, and try to find a way to compensate for the shortfall, so there is no such thing as a fair and competitive bid process. In addition, the bid solicitor will only consider two things, 1) the lowest price, so don’t consider that you are offering value added services, or better quality goods, this will be of any leverage, 2) if you are successful in bribing the right person, you will be awarded the contract.

China doctors still perform third trimester abortions, and abortions by gender selection, although the government has tried to curtail this behavior, by not divulging the gender of an unborn child to the expectant parents, a simple bribe is all it takes to find the answer. As boys are still preferred to girls, and as Chinese couples are still guided by the one child per family rule, many parents will opt for an abortion based on gender alone.

It is sometimes reported that children are bought and sold in China, and for most foreigners this is a hard concept to believe, and we often elect to consider these reports as negative propaganda, that is, until you approached and asked if you want to purchase a new born child, a which point your reaction is one of horror and disbelief, but the fact remains, it happens all too often.

The tragedy is that Chinese really love their children, but often they often can’t care for them, they are just too poor. The tragedy is compounded by the lack of education regarding birth control, just as there is very little education regarding AIDS/HIV, although China has made some progress in this area, it is still a daunting challenge to reach the masses of poor people living in rural areas, and they are the ones that really need the help.

Those living in rural areas, the bulk of China’s population there is an absence of education, many being functionally illiterate and their lives are guided by old traditions, to and including arranged marriages, which is the norm. Life is hard for most people in China…hard and there is little hope for them. I can assure you, that their parents never told their children, “when you grow-up, you can be anything you want to be, a doctor etc”, for them their futures were trapped in the soil of the farms they live on, never to be free, and to only know a life of struggle. Think about that the next time you go to the big discount store to buy those unneeded things that collect in your closets and garages, they were probably made by hands that will never have the pleasure of owning even the most basic things, you take for granted. It is very likely; they will live in a two room home, with three generations and no running water. Don’t be fooled by the pictures you see of happy, smiling Chinese children enjoying all the trappings of the Western world, because for most of them, there is little to smile about, and they know all to well, things will not likely get any better. To put things into perspective, for most, they are living a life at least 100 years behind that of the US…imagine yourself turning back the calendar 100 years, could you survive?

To be continued…buying “real” and not copied products, driving and a single guy meets, falls in love and wants to marry a Chinese citizen!


Where Have All Our Jobs Gone?

January 23, 2006

The “As I See It” Blog is intended for those interested in hearing one person’s opinion, hence the name, “As I See It”. It is not my intention to find fault, assign blame or in anyway defame people or places which I write about, so should you feel assaulted or find the need to defend a position as the result of what you read, don’t do it for my benefit as I have survived for nearly 60 years, and have earned the right to say it, as I see it, just as you have the right to not read it!

To a large extent, my opinions have evolved as the result of living for several years in a third world country, and although America is the country of my origin, and I will always be proud and grateful to be an American, I now see things from a more global perspective.

So enjoy the stories, get mad, laugh or cry, but above all just consider all the information and don’t rely on any one source to guide you through life…think for yourselves, question everything and be amenable to change.

The first Blog is titled, “Where Have All Our Jobs Gone”, self explanatory, especially if you are one of the unemployed!

Note: I have never been one of those to lose their job because of outsourcing or downsizing, but know many people who have, and have seen the pain they endured.
 I recall growing-up, my mother saying to me, when we saw someone less fortunate than ourselves, “there but for the grace of god go you or I”, and although I never saw how god had much to do with it, I certainly knew that “having” was much better than “not having”!

The tragedy in the US (United States) today, is that so many hardworking people are struggling just to survive. Recent reports state that 1/3 of Americans don’t have health/medical insurance, not to mention the high number of those unemployed, with COBRA benefits soon to expire. Some will blame unemployment on the unwillingness of some Americans to work, or that jobs are being taken by illegal aliens crossing the border from Mexico, while others say that the quality of foreign products, such as foreign car manufactures, simply produce a better product, but these are the people who are looking to find ways to rationalize the problems, and are unwilling to accept any of the responsibility themselves. The issue remains, America is heading toward the “slippery-slope” regarding its lower and middle classes, and we need to standup and take responsibility for implementing corrective measures, and stop looking for excuses.

January 23, 2006
Where Have All Our Jobs Gone, or, I am now one of those people I used to feel sorry for

So you once had a job you were content with, living in the city/town where you were born and raised, surrounded by family and friends and had most of the things that made your life comfortable and even a few luxuries afforded by working hard and being on the job for many years. Of course it helped that your spouse also worked, actually there would be no way to have the “extras” if there wasn’t a dual income, but together you created a life you could be proud of.

Good schools for the kids, a retirement plan, health insurance and a family vacation once a year made you feel secure, and you were living the “American Dream”. Fortunately your family never has had to use the medical coverage very often, but just knowing it was there allowed you to rest easy at night. And then one day, rumors of a plant shut-down started to circulate and soon thereafter rumors turned into reality, and you were forced to leave the comfort of your job…the unthinkable had happened, you were unemployed. Gone was the medical coverage, the retirement plan was in jeopardy, because your employer had mismanaged the retirement funds, and your modest savings wasn’t going to last long, even when you cut back to the very basics.

With 10 years remaining on your home mortgage, and two cars that were close to being paid off, you made a vow to find work as soon as possible, so the things you had worked for wouldn’t be lost, but as hard as you tried, there just weren’t any jobs available, and it looked like you and your family would need to sell your home and move, but not until you had explored all options.

And while you were trying to recover from having the wind knocked out of you, things got worse, as rumors of your spouse’s employer shutting down began to circulate. 

A couple of months later the rumors again became reality, and your spouse is also out of work, and you still hadn’t been able to find a job, the savings are almost gone, and your hair was turning gray before your very eyes, and sleep never came at night, as you lay awake trying to find solutions. It has now become hard to face the kids, after all, this isn’t their fault, but still you’re supposed to be the provider, but the pressure keeps building.

What happened, you were a loyal employee, had given your employer15 years, never missed work and felt secure that there was a future in staying with the company that had been in business for the past 50 years. But like so many others you were now faced with something the “talking heads” called, global economics, and the impact of higher oil prices, could somehow have an affect on your staying employed, was beyond your ability to comprehend.

Financial analysts keeping defending the downsizing/closing of companies and outsourcing of jobs by telling anyone who will listen, that the reason this had to be done, was because American workers no longer wanted to perform certain types of work, or that the unions had broken the backs of industries, i.e. like the US auto makers or airlines, or that the timber industry was closed because of environmentalists, etc., but knowing this was of no comfort and doesn’t help you put food on the table, and a roof over your families head.

You know that this isn’t the time for blame, this is the time to find solutions, but who is looking for solutions, when it is just as easy to outsource work/jobs to a third world country. Again, politicians and economists (talking heads) are telling you that sending work to i.e. China or India is good for America, the bottom-line, business profits are up, and it is now possible to buy/sell products at lower cost, because they are imported, and the US needs to maintain an International trade balance, but your asking, buy less costly imported products with what, you lost your job, and if their business profits are up, how does this help you…your not a share holder, you don’t receive stock dividends, your just one of the struggling middle class, so who are the politicians and economists (talking heads) talking to…who are those that are benefiting?

The facts are that US companies are selling-off, at wholesale prices, the jobs of many Americans. Those Americans who were part of 3, 4, 5 or more generations of middleclass workers, many of whom struggled for workers rights and sacrificed, started at entry level jobs and worked their way-up, through hard work and loyalty to their employer, are now being rewarded by being cast aside and your very future…the American dream, was rapidly slipping away, now left without a job, medical coverage and little hope their lives will ever be normal again.

Question: Why is this happening?

Answer: So companies can take advantage of low cost foreign labor, i.e. China, India etc. and increase their profits.

These companies will tell you that their global expansion is good for emerging countries, and the US, but is this true? The answer is NO. It is not good for third world countries and it is not good for the US, but it is good for US companies bottom-line.

What they don’t tell you is that it’s less expensive to outsource to third world countries because they don’t have to worry about the environment, and if the foreign country doesn’t take care of this responsibility it isn’t their problem, nor is it there problem that the foreign workers are abused, and subjected to terrible human rights violations, but again, they don’t care, why should they, profits are up, so all must be well. They have other people deal with all the graft and corruption within the foreign country, so they never get their hands dirty, nor do they want to know how corrupt things really are…its far better to stick their heads in the sand, and pretend all is okay, and never think that there are children working in their foreign plants, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.

They don’t tell you that they really don’t care about the American workers who lost their jobs, for them it’s all about money, and these people are simply collateral causalities. If there is enough money involved, these smarmy cretins would sell their own children and never think twice about it. Just look at the blatant corruption in major US companies, i.e. ENRON, WorldCom and others, and ask yourself, who did they care about, and you will find they only took care of a very few at the top, who became extremely wealthy as they robbed the futures of their employees and the American economy. How many innocent people had their lives decimated by a greedy few? And the same “talking heads” were telling you that when companies like ENRON were thriving, what a sound investment they made and they were good for the future growth of America.

You might also consider HP recently investing billions of dollars in India, rather than investing in America. And why, because labor is cheap, they can abuse the environment and others deal with the local government corruption, they can avoid paying for those overhead costs, i.e. workers benefits, insurance and taxes they would be subjected to paying if they stayed in the States.

Nothing against India, but American businesses should first consider development in the States, but a concept called ethics is fast losing ground in America, as is loyalty.
 In my opinion, some of these US companies are even worse than the dictators that rule many third world countries. Why? Because they know better, they simply elect to look the other way…. They are as bad as the flesh merchants that peddle children on the streets of Bangkok…literally, exploitation is just that, taking advantage of those less fortunate for the benefit of their own financial gain, and they ARE exploiting people in America and in foreign countries.

Why don’t people listen or react to this egregious behavior? Well in foreign countries, you complain enough and you end up in jail or shot, and in the US, no one wants to hear it, as deep down inside they are trying to protect themselves from a similar fate.

It’s been six months since you and your spouse became unemployed, your savings is gone, and you’re worried how you will pay the house mortgage, home insurance and school expenses for the children. You have already sold one of the cars, the children are no longer taking music lessons, they are skipping lunch at school and although you try to provide, you know the kids are going to bed hungry. They’re good kids, you did a great job and they want to help, but how much can you endure, seeing your family concerned about not eating. The winter has been unusually cold, but there is no way you can afford to turn the heat on, and you have taken to wearing several layers of clothes, and bundling close together at night. Your youngest child seems to be coughing a lot, and you took him to a free clinic, but they told you, you didn’t qualify; it seems you were not poor enough to receive benefits. The unemployment office has declined you and your spouse benefits, and family and friends have problems of their own to deal with, so you are on your own.

You realize there is no choice, you have to go to public services (welfare) and apply for assistance, there is simply no other way, and when you finally made that difficult request, you were told it would take 30 days or more for your case to be reviewed.

Occasionally you see the owner of the business where you worked, still driving his BMW, and living in a multi-million dollar home, life seems good for him, but you avoid eye contact, because you have pride and don’t want to appear wounded and vulnerable.

A friend, someone you grew up with, who went on to become the manager of the local bank, that holds your home mortgage, has told you there is no way you can qualify for a second mortgage, and tells you how sorry he is. He has also reminded you that your mortgage payment is late, and there are now late penalties are due. You know it won’t be long before he starts avoiding you, no longer taking your phone calls and although you try to understand his position you consider the real value of friendship and how fleeting it can be when money is involved.

As you and your spouse lay in bed, you can almost see the sharks beginning circle, getting ready to go in for the kill, and in a way, you can only hope you will get an eleventh hour reprieve…a call telling you, you got the job, would be all that it would take, just a chance, but you know in your heart the call will not come in time, and your eyes fill with tears and you face another sleepless night.

A former co-worker, another one of the people you grew up with, your supervisor at the company where you worked, called and asked if you wanted to take a vacation along with their family, as you had done many times in the past. You looked into the phone in total disbelief, was this some kind of cruel joke? And then you remember he received a large payout, when the company closed, as the result of his employment contract, and actually he never had to worry about working again, if he managed his umbrella payment wisely. You decline the invitation telling him you can’t get away right now, and wish him a good holiday.

That night as you lay in bed, you begin to wonder if it was true, that the underprivileged and struggling people in India and China, who replaced your job, have really benefited by foreign development. If they were, then somehow it could make some sense……………………….

To be continued…

January 22, 2006