Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Career Opportunities

Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.

The Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald recently featured an in-depth cover story on the top-25 fastest-growing jobs in the state of Maine (June 2013). Not surprisingly, the most anticipated jobs are either in health care (due to Maine's aging population) or retail. With the exception of nursing, none of the jobs featured requires any college education. In fact, most of those featured state the educational requirements as "Less than high school."

Securing a job--any job--in the 21st century is possibly the most frustrating, frequently demeaning exercise in modern life. I had an easier time writing my 30-page master's thesis in graduate school. No joke.

Here is what I have learned about the job-searching process. Emailing resumes and applying for jobs online--the default mode now for most job-seekers--is basically a massive waste of time.

The majority of companies, when they need positions filled, simply hire from within. They regularly post job ads online and in the local newspapers to fulfill their claims to being an "equal opportunity" employer. Even when those ads are "legit," the employer typically already has a candidate in mind for the position--someone they already know or who currently works for them. In other words, they are not so much hiring as promoting.

If you are a stranger to employers in your community, if you do not have the "connections" of a Harvard graduate or a Justin Alfond, your chances of getting a job are virtually hopeless. As far as employers are concerned, you do not exist.

Growing up in southern Maine, I never had trouble finding summer work, especially at restaurants in Kennebunkport. The pay was usually pretty decent, too. Often times, you could walk right into a restaurant before it opened for the season and they would hire you right on the spot. Now, even teenagers cannot find work.

I have been working with a "job developer" through the Portland Career Center in order to secure some additional work. (Freelance writing is great when there is work available, but it's no way to make a living.) He constantly stresses the importance of "networking," a popular buzz-word in Business. His latest task for me is to create a list of literally every person that I know. Then, through that list, I am to "network" through to employers I am interested in working for. One must, he insists, be prepared to deliver his "elevator speech," (your glorified marketing pitch, basically) at all times.

Problem with this approach is nearly everybody I know is also either unemployed, underemployed or working at a minimum-wage job that does not utilize their college education at all. In fact, a number of my friends my age have given up looking for traditional jobs altogether and are attempting to make it as self-employed contractors. Either way, nobody I know is in any position to hire me for anything.

Such list-making chores are what my students would have called "busy work." Remember in high school when your homework assignment was to read the chapter in the textbook and then answer the summary questions at the chapter's end in order to demonstrate that you actually read it? That's busy work.

Employers and the power elite understand the importance of distracting unemployed and recently laid-off Americans with mindless, largely fruitless tasks such as list-making. Other such tasks include resume updating, enrolling in skills-oriented community college classes, and visiting your local career center for job-seeking advice from overworked job coaches who typically have less education than you do. "Finding a job is itself a full-time job," they tell you. "Get up early every day and dress up as if you were still going to work."

The goal is to keep unemployed workers so thoroughly busy and distracted with their (again, largely fruitless) job searches and resume-writing classes, they do not stop and dwell on their justifiable anger at their former employers and corporate America in general. In fact, one of the Portland Career Center's principal pieces of advice for clients is to "never become bitter," at their situation. "Look at it, instead," they urge, patronizingly, "as a new opportunity. This is your chance to finally pursue the job you have always wanted!"

While it is certainly understandable why a positive, "glass-is-half-full" attitude seems more desirable than wallowing in despair and depression, this sort of disingenuous, forced positivity that intentionally ignores objective reality can be just as destructive. Self-help authors and pseudo-psychologists have created an entire cottage industry in recent years around the "science" of positive thinking. Bestselling authors like Richard Bolles (What Color is Your Parachute?) and Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), peddle a childish, highly discredited junk-psychology that makes readers believe in a metaphysical sort of positive thinking that can literally influence the course of one's life.

As Barbara Ehrenreich explains in her book, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (Picador, 2009), this sort of "magical thinking" has permeated our entire culture. She writes:

People who had been laid off from their jobs and were spiraling down toward poverty were told to see their condition as an "opportunity" to be embraced, just as breast cancer is often depicted as a "gift."...In fact, there is no kind of problem or obstacle for which positive thinking or a positive attitude has not been proposed as a cure.
....Need money? Wealth is one of the principal goals of positive thinking... There are hundreds of self-help books expounding on how positive thinking can "attract" money--a method supposedly so reliable that you are encouraged to begin spending it now. Why has wealth eluded you so far? Practical problems like low wages, unemployment, and medical bills are mentioned only as potential "excuses." The real obstacle lies in your mind... (p.45-46)
This new-age method of blaming the victim essentially redirects unemployed Americans' rage inward rather than toward those who truly deserve it--Wall Street, Congress and Corporate America. It also prevents the unemployed or underemployed from pooling their collective anger together in a mass uprising a la Occupy Wall Street or the early labor protests of the 1930s. Indeed, the lure and false hopes provided by the positive thinking industry may go a long way toward explaining why, as so many political theorists have pondered, Americans have not yet undergone their own "Arab Spring," beyond the short-lived and structurally dysfunctional Occupy.

Network's Howard Beale was right: "First, you've got to get mad!" But the propagandistic cult of positive thinking all but assures laid off workers do not get mad.

Even when my job coach offers up some potential jobs where he has "ins" they are all service sector, minimum wage positions (Target, Wal-Mart, Staples, Wendy's), none of which require any college education. All of his professed "insider knowledge" and "networks" apparently does not extend to the sort of professional, white-collar jobs I always envisioned myself doing.

This is the future of work: Retail-oriented, labor-intensive, erratic hours, minimum wage (at most), part-time, no benefits, no worker protections and no job security. In fact, given Maine's status as an "At Will" work state, these jobs also offer no guarantee of permanent employment. Employees can be fired at any time, for basically any reason.

Here's your slice of American Dream. Would you like fries with that?

Readers can help alleviate my financial stress by making a donation to this blog. Contrary to popular belief, writing is a "real" job and those who practice it deserve to be compensated. Any amount is greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Fighting City Hall

The rumors are true: I'm running for office!

On Friday, I officially launched my campaign for Portland City Council. I am running for the four-year, At-Large seat currently occupied by Jill Duson.

The factors and events that led me seek local office are numerous. In general, I believe the majority of the City Council's members are not working for the interests of Portland residents. They are, instead, working for Big Business, corporate and moneyed interests. When presented with an opportunity to actually take a meaningful stand on crucial issues that affect our city, most of the councilors punt in fear.

Portlanders routinely express frustration with the overall City Council. On issues from the arbitrary selling of Congress Square Park, to the impending importation of tar sands oil through Sebago Lake, to school funding, citizens feel the Council is not representing their interests.

To that end, here are my three principal campaign platforms:

First, I believe public space should remain public. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, Congress Square Park. I believe the plight of Portland's Occupy Maine encampment in Lincoln Park--and the group's ultimate eviction from the park--came down to the question of who owns supposedly public land in the city. The brouhaha over street artists also comes back to the question of "who owns the land"?

Portland has enough events centers, hotels, concert venues, parking garages and Starbucks. Portland city officials seem hell-bent to privatize and commercialize--in a disturbingly corporatist fashion--every last square inch of the city. Can we please keep a little bit of our beautiful city for ourselves?

Second, I want to cut Portlanders' taxes by investing more into schools, teachers and other public institutions, and less on tax cuts for the wealthy and taxpayer subsidies (often in the form of "Tax increment financing," or TIFs) for Big Business. As I pointed out in one of Guerrilla Press' most popular posts to date, corporations like Bank of America, General Electric and Proctor and Gamble are society's real welfare queens--not single mothers and immigrants.

This past spring, I voted against the Portland school budget because it called for the elimination of 36 teacher positions, including part-time Ed Techs, office positions and school administrators. The budget ultimately passed, but voters should not be put in the position of voting for a school budget that includes teacher layoffs.

Contrary to popular belief, these layoffs are not due to a lack of funding. Maine is a poor state overall, it is true. But the focus should be on where our money is spent. In 2012, for instance, the U.S. government spent $205 billion on corporate welfare. Compare that amount with the paltry $59 billion it spends annually on traditional welfare programs (food stamps, WIC, unemployment).

Finally, I believe Portland workers deserve a living wage.

While my ability as a city councilor to actually implement this policy may, in truth, prove difficult, it is still possible to mandate the city only contract with companies that pay a living wage. (None of the "jobs" promised by RockBridge Capital, for example, will pay a living wage. How do I know this? Mayor Michael Brennan admitted as much in a recent "Meet the Mayor" forum.)

At the very least, the City Council could hold an open discussion on what a living wage in Portland might look like (about $22.50 an hour according to MIT's Living Wage Calculator). Besides, if a living wage law is good enough for Washington, D.C., why not Portland, Maine?

The fact is it is becoming extremely expensive just to live in Portland. The city has a severe shortage of affordable housing--and much of what it considers "affordable" is nothing of the sort.

Consider my previous apartment in Portland, in the Avesta complex at 644 Congress Street. The single, one-bedroom (400 sq. feet) apartment cost me $795 when I first moved in. (This was with parking, which added an additional $75.) The unit above me--also a one-bedroom, with slightly more space at 410 sq. ft.--started at $900 a month.

Slowly but surely, Avesta began raising the rent by $25 every year. By the time the rent was close to $900 a month, I could no longer afford to live there. Avesta, incidentally, brags in its Mission Statement on its website of its efforts to, "promote and provide housing opportunities for...people in need." With studio apartments that start at close to $900 a month, one wonders exactly how Avesta's personnel economically define "people in need."

My point here is a living wage would go a long way toward making rents more affordable for residents.

In addition to these three platforms, I am opposed to transporting tar sands oil anywhere near the state of Maine; I would like to see more expenditures on public transportation and walkable sidewalks; and I think pot should be legal.

I have, in this blog, often attacked what I consider the betrayal of the liberal class to the middle-class, the working-poor, the destitute and the disenfranchised. I think the recent track-record of the Portland City Council (which is primarily made up of Democrats) shows the cravenness of the Democratic Party is not limited to Congress and the White House.

So, how can you help my campaign, you ask? The biggest thing readers can do right now is donate to my campaign. Since there is no clean elections system for municipal races in Maine, I need to raise a ton of money for campaign literature, signs and other materials. The fact is, I am up against some highly funded opponents. I do not have the lawyer's salary that one of the candidates for the three-year, at-large seat possesses, or the business connections of one of my opponents.

You can click the "Donate" button on the right side of the screen. Or, for those who prefer to keep the postal service in business, you can send a check made out to "Adam Marletta for Council" to:

98 Grant Street, #8
Portland, ME 04101

Any amount is greatly appreciated and helps me mount a formidable campaign. And donations are not limited to Portland or even Maine residents. A friend from Massachusetts has already mailed a donation. The maximum amount any individual can contribute is $750.

They say you can't fight city hall. But dammit, I'm going to try, anyway. If not me, right now, then who? And when?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The War on the Poor (UPDATE)

A local panhandler, courtesy of the Portland Press Herald.
Last month, I wrote about the Portland City Council's proposal to ban panhandlers from standing in median strips. On Monday, the Council passed that ordinance 6-0 (Councilors Leeman, Duson and Anton were absent during the vote). The new law is not merely limited to panhandling, though. The ordinance, which takes effect Aug. 14, prohibits anyone from standing in the median strips of busy intersections for any reason. One is not even allowed to hold a political sign.

A couple of observations regarding this vote:

First, as I stated in my previous post on this topic, this ordinance will do nothing to eliminate panhandling from Portland. Panhandlers will simply congregate on sidewalks, in congested areas, by Monument Square or Congress Square Park, or in front of businesses.

Second, even after the public forum for the ordinance Monday night, advocates failed to supply any evidence that traffic accidents have increased as a direct result of panhandler activity in median strips. All of their fears were based on speculation of what sorts of accidents or pedestrian harm might occur.

This is not to suggest I am in favor of throwing caution to the wind and simply ignoring imminent dangers to motorists or pedestrians.

But passing a law based purely on speculative fears (laws like, The Patriot Act, for instance) is sort of like prohibiting citizens from getting out of bed in the morning, for fear some of them might accidentally trip, break their neck and die. Show me a graph illustrating a direct correlation between the increase in panhandlers and a corresponding increase in vehicular accidents, and I will gladly reconsider my position on this issue. As a recent WMTW Channel 8 broadcast on this story (06/13/2013) stated, "While numbers of calls for service to police because of people in the median have gone up, it's not clear whether anybody's actually been hurt because of people standing in the median of roads."

Finally, one must admire, on a purely propagandistic level, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck's expertise at employing scare-tactics. The issue, as I understand it, is about panhandlers holding signs, standing on or near the median strips begging for money. Their signs typically say, "Homeless. Please Help," or something to that effect.

That type of mostly benign activity, however, is not at all what Sauschuck referenced during his city council testimony in favor of the ordinance. Sauschuck read police records of panhandlers engaging in violent, drunken behavior or verbal abuse. He noted numerous incidents of panhandlers becoming angry and violent when refused money by motorists. These are clearly extreme examples of aggressive behavior that obviously warrant police intervention. They have nothing to do with the issue at hand--panhandling. Furthermore, the type of aggressive panhandling Sauschuck referenced is already illegal in Portland. But hey--it was an elaborate bait-and-switch on his part, and it apparently worked.

(Incidentally, it is curious Sauschuck and other city officials, when addressing the council, are not held to the rigid, strictly enforced three-minute speaking time, the rest of us are held to. They can, and routinely do, speak as long as they want.)

This was really a win for the various Neighborhood Association Committees, which rallied hard in favor of the ordinance. Of the few Parkside Neighborhood Association Meetings (or, as I refer to them, "Poor-bashing parties") I have attended, the issue of panhandling takes up an inordinate amount of discussion time.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram editors are correct in their observation in today's paper ("Our View: Median panhandling ban won't address core issues," 07/17/13): "The ban appears to be designed less to ensure panhandlers' safety than to address motorists' feelings of discomfort..."

They also note, correctly: "There already are rules regarding public intoxication and assault; the new amendment doesn't do anything to strengthen them."

Portland is rapidly turning into Sinclair Lewis' fictional town of Zenith in his book, Babbitt. The upper-middle class residents of Zenith, so desperate to maintain their comfortable social status, believe there are no poor people in their community. The truth, of course, is they do exist, but the privileged residents choose not to see them.

If you like this article, please consider making a donation. It's sort of like my own way of panhandling--except, in return, you get muckraking reporting and media analysis you won't get on NPR. Anything helps as Google pays me nothing to maintain this blog, even though I help drive ads for them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We Have Met the Enemy...

...And it is us.

The media's vicious smear campaign against Edward Snowden is so predictable, Snowden himself anticipated it exactly. In recently released footage from the NSA whistleblower's initial interview with reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Snowden, when asked what he believes the U.S. government's "response to your conduct will be," replies:

"I think the government's going to...say I have committed 'grave crimes,' that I've, you know, violated the Espionage Act. They're going to say I've...aided our enemies in making them aware of these systems..."

And so they have.

What Snowden seems to have failed to predict was just how much of those claims would come not from the political right, but the left. As Greenwald has pointed out in his Guardian blog, the most vitriolic attacks against Snowden have been made by many of the same liberals who denounced the warrantless surveillance program under George W. Bush.

California Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Snowden's leak " an act of treason." Speaking to Bob Schieffer on CBS's Face the Nation (06/23/2013 broadcast), Feinstein made numerous fatuous claims, including that Snowden was working with China and the "WikiLeaks group," and called for his extradition from Hong Kong. "I want to get him [Snowden] caught and brought back for trial," Feinstein said, adding, melodramatically, "The chase is on!" This is, after all, television news.

Maine "Independent," Sen. Angus King, echoed Feinstein's views. Though King said he was initially unsure what to think of Snowden, he told The Takeaway last month (06/28/13), "I'm moving more and more towards the treason end of the scale." This from the man The Portland Phoenix, in its endorsement of him last fall called "a serious thinker with a strong bent for...well-considered understanding" ("The King Impression," 10/31/2012).

King, like so many politicians and pundits, particularly takes issue with the manner in which Snowden went about releasing the information about the so-called PRISM program. Yet, as Greenwald keenly points out, even if Snowden had utilized the traditional whistleblower channels, he "would have ended up having to go to the very same members of Congress who think that not only are these programs good, but that they ought to remain secret" (Democracy Now!, 06/24/13). To wit, King claims Snowden could have "contacted elected officials with his concerns."

Furthermore, this tactic of quibbling over policy or procedure ("I support the idea, but not the process,") is a classic liberal cop-out that essentially allows politicians to avoid taking an actual stand on an issue. (See: The Portland City Council.) It is sort of like the liberal lawmakers who claimed they "understood" and "shared" the concerns of Occupy Wall Street protesters, but did not support their actual occupation of Wall Street. The point, as Greenwald acknowledges, is this myopic focus on tactics is a distraction from the actual content of Snowden's revelation.

The other criticism that has emerged among Snowden's liberal detractors is the fact that he fled the country, rather than stay and "own up to his actions." Citing examples like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Henry David Thoreau, media commentators have tried to argue Snowden's actions do not truly constitute an act of civil disobedience since he did not willingly go to prison for his "crime."

MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry has garnered particular attention for her numerous attacks on Snowden--who she condescendingly refers to as "Ed Snowden." "I can see the merit in our knowledge of the NSA programs," Harris-Perry editorialized on her self-titled show (06/29/13), "but Edward Snowden is risking a lot to save his own skin."

As someone who has, admittedly, never watched Harris-Perry's show, I am struck by her snide, flippant attitude and decidedly non-professional one-liners in this clip. "We can't even get [Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir] Putin to give back a Super Bowl ring," she jokes in reference to the U.S. government's apparent inability to locate Snowden. (Yeah...I don't get the reference, either...) The remark is met with audible off-screen laughing, leading one to wonder whether this is supposed to be a news show or a sitcom.

Miami Herald columnist, Leonard Pitts, also jumps on the "this-ain't-civil-disobedience" bandwagon. In a recent column reprinted in The Portland Press Herald ("By seeking asylum, Snowden sheds doubt on his motives," 07/10/13), Pitts, like Harris-Perry, also takes issue with Snowden's "choice" (did he really have any other...?) to flee the country.

"Wherever Snowden goes," he writes, "he has no intention of coming home to answer for what he did." And what about those in power who established this mass, illegal wiretapping program? Should they not be expected to "answer for what they did"?

Indeed, Pitts says next to nothing about the actual spying program Snowden uncovered, as if it is irrelevant. And for liberals like him and Harris-Perry, it is. (Near the end of his piece, Pitts writes, without irony, "there's also something unseemly about some guy sitting behind his desk smugly advising some other guy to put the rest of his life at risk for the sake of principle." You're damn right there is, Leonard.)

The problem with the whole civil disobedience angle is Snowden is not the one who broke the law--the U.S. government is. Snowden merely called attention to the crimes. And now, predictably, he seems doomed to take the fall for his moral act of defiance.

Thus is the disjointed, unjust logic of a corporate state that allows corporations to savage and plunder the natural environment without penalty. It allows companies to spew endless amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, free of charge, as if it were their own personal trash repository. Such a "profit-over-people" mentality allows "too big to fail" banks to openly engage in fraud and high-risk betting that trashed the global economy. And it is a corporate state that, ultimately, allows a racist, renegade civilian to murder an innocent, unarmed black boy and get away with it.

Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, dared to defy the unconstitutional abuses of power of the corporate state, and now he faces life in prison for doing so.

Here's my takeaway: None of these debates over Snowden's tactics, motives, past statements or personal characteristics detract from his actions.

Media pundits can play the "shoot-the-messenger" game all they like. Snowden uncovered a vast, unprecedented and highly disturbing spying program that threatens the privacy, civil liberties and safety (yes, safety) of all Americans. The government is collecting and storing nearly every record of electronic communication on all of us. Those who believe they have "nothing to hide," or who cynically claim they are not surprised by our government's actions are, sadly, missing the point.

If anything, the Snowden affair has further demonstrated the depressing state of mainstream journalism as well as the hollow cravenness of the liberal class.