mercredi 11 février 2009

All things great and good

I'm going out to work in the garden and do some thinking. I got lucky this time. I already didn't have a job, and my husband has one he can't lose.

I remember, though.

Unemployment benefits


I remember losing my job at KPF in June 1990 and finding out that I was pregnant for Sam the following February, while I was still temping for some company on the Upper West Side in a brownstone with a woman named Nancy and an administrative assistant who snapped her gum, wore leopard prints anywhere cloth can be applied to a human body and the brightest pink lipstick, and did a decent job. Above all, she was a really sweet person.

Nancy and I thought that we were doing her a big favor by taking her aside and explaining that to get ahead in the workplace, it is preferable not to dress or make herself us like she did, and to drop the gum. Being an especially generous and courageous person, I took this upon myself. She looked happily expectant as I sat down with her, and the change in the look on her face when I got just a little bit into my ill-prepared and worse-placed explanation of how to dress to succeed, as she realized what I was trying to say, shamed me. I realized how incredibly stupid and unintentionally mean I was. I'll never forget.

So, did I stop and just apologize? No, of course not. I couldn't think a way fast enough out of the predicament. I tried to look even more well-intentioned and plowed along. The building alarm didn't suddenly start ringing, I didn't suffer a sudden sneezing fit, the phone didn't ring, announcing an emergency requiring my immediate attention. I don't even remember what I did in that company or what the company did, only that the owners were a Barnard grad from a class well before mine and her British husband by the name of Robyn, so there couldn't possibly have been anything important enough to spare either of us my exceedingly embarrassing explanation of how white people dress and how she should, too, to do herself justice in the workplace. It was indecent. I just gagged through long enough to justify my having started it in the first place.

Nancy observed my failure from a distance.

"So, how'd it go? How'd she take it? Do you think it will help?" she asked when I returned to my work at her side.

"Oh, sure. Certainly. She took it really well."

I needed to be hit by a taxi and receive whatever that wonderful thing is that they give you to relax you before surgery.

I signed up for a temporary agency and answered phones with aplomb. How many stupid things can you say when you can't possibly feel responsible for anything weighter than making your employers' proud of the way you handled their clients on the phone? I froze under a series of air conditioning ducts from midtown to Jersey City, until I ended up rescuing a graphic design firm from 180-day arrears under Sam's supervision as he grew from a bump under my dress to a good size baby in the portacrib next to my desk, until the day I thought I was fired by my fashionable and well-regarded employer, a single mother in Manhattan herself, who resented deeply my unwillingness to move back to the city from Fairfield County, and swore at the moving guys like the worst among them, who, in turn, looked to us to see if we were as shocked by our boss' behavior as they were. Oh yeah, we were.

Only, see, she claimed I wasn't fired. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part, anything to get away from this wonderful woman who could turn into Cruella DeVille in a 180° pirouette on the polished floorboards of our Flatiron district building, but, next thing I knew, I was confessing to my alcoholic hairdresser landlord, who wished I would invite him to remove his bathrobe when he invited himself into my studio apartment over his home and bedroom and sat down on the end of my bed, while I tried to look like this was perfectly normal (I learned to compartmentalize as well as Bill Clinton), that I had lost my job, was ineligible for unemployment because my employer fought me all the way to the unemployment court and won, and wouldn't be able to continue to pay my rent.

"Listen, apply for AFDC," he said with real kindness and sympathy. "There's no shame in taking help when you need it." I wasn't evicted. I could go on walking through his front door, up the stairs past his bedroom to my studio under the eaves, until he eventually built an outside staircase to a door he installed on the landing of the attic steps, safely behind the door to his second floor hall that I tried to never use again and keep locked at all times.

I had to go through the alphabet before I could come up with what AFDC meant, but I understood: welfare. I nodded my assent there by that columned porch with painted wicker furniture behind the Old Greenwich white picket fence, where my landlord demonstrated that my former employer wasn't the only contradiction in terms, and people are just that complex.

The ladies at the AFDC office in Stamford -- or was it Norwalk? -- were every bit as nice as the ones I met when the employer who had originally had to lay me off at the very beginning of the downturn told me that my COBRA didn't cover prenatal care (it turned out they were wrong, and I eventually gave birth at NYU Medical Center), and I ended up at the public clinic at St. Vincent's Hospital, being told by a kind black woman that there was no shame in applying for the WIC benefits to which my situation entitled me all those months of answering one company's phones after another with two Ivy League diplomas. Having my groceries examined at the check-out at the Washington Square Village neighborhood grocery stores for compliance with the terms of the WIC benefits prepared me for pulling out my Food Stamps at Poricelli's Food Market, next to the women whose husbands' year-end bonuses and investment portfolios entitled them to membership at the local country, yacht and beach clubs, while I learned to smile in the face of their pity.

This was most definitely not how my upbringing and Barnard had taught me that the world was supposed to work.

When I needed a break from needing every ounce of my own pride, I went to the A&P on the Post Road and to join anyone else who might be needing to pay for their kids' dinner with those brown and beige slips.

My break came in the form of a backroom job with a hedgefund company on the Stamford Marina. Really kind neighbors who wished better for Sam and me helped me get the interview. I was hired, I later realized, so that the owner could make sport of me, his favorite prey: a "lesbian, liberal, animal-loving Democrat."

He got two out of three right, he also came that close to going to jail the day he nearly burst a vessel in his pulsing crimson brow, having the worst temper tantrum I had witnessed to that fateful moment, when he deemed it necessary to throw me out of the office because my "superior" was on vacation, there was a snag in the programming to which I was not given access to the code, and the margin was all calculated at double the real numbers owed. I had figured that out before he did, and I was already busy recalculating it all by hand to call the right numbers into the backroom at his buddies' bank, Bear Stearns, when he came surging into my tiny room, screaming. Silence in the trading room behind us. I knew they were with me, like they knew we were with them when it was one of their turns. Cowards.

The police informed him, when he refused to provide the written proof that he had fired me at their instruction -- see? I learned quickly -- after he called them to have me removed without it, while I waited patiently in the reception area, as I informed him that I would until I had it in hand, that they would only be too happy to take him "in". I just had to peek at his shame then. It was so gratifying to see him with his back to the wall.

"Did you fire this woman as she states?" He was nearly inarticulate now at the height of the passion of his rage.


"Have you given her written notice of her firing?"

"I will do no such thing," he screamed.

"Sir, the law states that you owe her written notice. We are not leaving here until she has it."

"I don't have any paper to write it on," he smirked, sure he had them, or that he had at least proved that he was the biggest asshole in the room.

The officer looked around the office, and let his eyes stop pointedly on the receptionist's desk before returning to rest on Jon's purple brow, pulsing regularly and determinedly, proof of his greater danger. Smirking helped him bring his blood pressure back down. I thought about his blond wife and kids, and wondered how embarrassed she felt to be married to him for membership to whatever Darien Club had admitted them for his money, since he wasn't the right religion. Then I watched him realize he wasn't going to be able to wisecrack or bully his way out of it.

"Sir, we'd be only too happy to take you in." None of the guys had come to watch. They sat glued to their places, listening to every word, witnessing the one humiliation they couldn't cover for him with their own denial from the safety of their desks and the work they pretended to be doing still, especially the managing director, who was an acquaintance of the friends who had approached him about getting me the interview. What, I wondered, was going through his mind?

Jon, always the master of disdain and a loaded gesture, swore and grabbed a scrap of paper from the recycling bin he mocked me for maintaining, sitting just inside the supply room and kitchen, scribbled a note on it while the officer watched, making sure he wrote what was required.

"You may go to your car now," his partner informed me, turning to nod a little solidarity with me and let me get out of there. "Wait there for us."

When they walked through the doors a few minutes later, and saw me standing there, shivering next to my little white Honda Civic, wondering what I was going to do next and how it was that such a man could have everything I needed and parade that in front of me for months, behave that way and not be smote instantly, while I tried to make it look like it was just fine for a mother to raise her baby in an attic studio apartment and wear the cast-offs of a woman over on the other side of town years younger than I was, who was herself made to feel that she didn't belong because she was terribly young, the South American bride of a wealthy South American man, taken for the children's well-dressed, polite and quiet nanny, while he mocked me for paying the taxes on my income insufficient to live on, much less shelter in the Bahamas.

That is why nothing happening today surprises me in the least.

And it only gets better.

today's papers
Geithner Bombs Coming-Out Party
By Daniel Politi
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009, at 6:51 AM ET
The much-anticipated announcement turned out to be a big letdown. The New York Times highlights that the administration's plan to rescue the nation's financial system that was unveiled by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner "is far bigger than anyone predicted and envisions a far greater government role in markets and banks than at any time since the 1930s." The administration said it's committed to spending as much as $2.5 trillion in the effort. But Wall Street quickly gave the plan "a resounding thumbs down," as USA Today puts it, because it was short on some very key details that made clear the plan is very much a work in progress. The Wall Street Journal points out that the markets experienced the worst sell-off since President Obama moved into the White House as stocks plunged nearly 5 percent sending the market "to its lowest level since Nov. 20."
Investors weren't alone in their unhappiness with the plan. Lawmakers were also quick to criticize Geithner for failing to provide more details on how the administration plans to deal with the ongoing mess. "What they did is over-promise and under-deliver," the head of a private investment firm tells the Washington Post. "They said there was going to be a plan, so everybody expected a plan. And there was nothing." The Los Angeles Times says that the lack of details in the announcement "reflects a double bind for the Obama administration." It's become clear that the problems in the financial system are bigger than expected and could require more money to fix, but at the same time Congress has grown even angrier at Wall Street, which makes it highly unlikely that lawmakers would approve more funding for the effort.
To continue reading, click here.

Why Republicans Won't Support the Stimulus

by: Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) (Center), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), Sen. Roger Wicker (R- Mississippi), and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) hold a press conference on the stimulus package. (Photo: Getty Images)
Why are Senate Republicans (all, that is, except the lonely moderates Collins, Snowe, and Specter) nixing the stimulus package, as House Republicans did? Not because Obama failed to compromise - he gave them the tax breaks they wanted, included a whopper for business. Not because Senate Democrats failed to bend - they agreed to trim more than $100 billion out of a previous version of the bill. Not because Senate Republicans are doctrinally opposed to deficit spending - many of them happily voted for Bush spending and tax cuts that doubled the federal debt.
The reason has to do with the timing of the economic recovery. If everything goes as well as possible and the stimulus and next round of bank bailouts work perfectly, a turnaround could begin as early as mid-2010. But even under this rosy scenario, employers wouldn't start rehiring until late 2010 because they'll want to be sure the upturn is for real (employment typically lags in a recovery). This means that under the best of circumstances - assuming the stimulus is big enough to jump-start the economy and the next bank bailout big enough to get credit moving - most Americans won't feel much better than they do now by November, 2010. Unemployment could easily be hovering close to 8 percent; underemployment, close to 14 percent; and many other indicators, still in the doldrums.
That's if all goes extremely well. But what if the stimulus isn't big enough? (I fear it won't be, given the large and growing gap between what the economy can produce at near full-employment and the meager demand coming from consumers and businesses.) And what if the bailout doesn't quite work? (It may not, given that the banking system is collapsing and many banks are actually insolvent.) The economy in November of 2010 may be worse than it is now, with no turnaround in sight.
Which brings us to the midterm elections of 2010.
Yesterday, while sitting across from Newt Gingrich on George Stephanopoulos's Sunday morning television show, 1994 came roaring back into my head. Gingrich, you remember, turned that midterm election into a national referendum about Bill Clinton's leadership. (No one today remembers what was in Gingrich's "Contract with America," but almost no one did then, either.) Because Clinton's presidency had had a rough start and because House and Senate Republicans had kept remarkable unity in opposing him at almost every turn, Gingrich in the election of 1994 could claim that and the Republican Party offered a clear alternative, and had earned the chance to control Congress.
Fast forward to today and listen to Senate Republicans referring to the stimulus: "This is neither bipartisan nor is it a compromise," said Sen. John McCain this morning. "It is ... generational theft" that will increase the role of government and provide no mechanism for paying back the money. Sen. Mike Enzi said the package "spends everything we've got on nothing we're sure about. I'm supposed to be giddy that we're only spending $827 billion. Frankly, I've had enough of this bailout baloney." Sen. Tom Coburn's office released a list of projects that he calls earmarks and pork, totalling more than $55 billion. And so it went today.
Last week, House Republicans were equally vitriolic.
And wait until they hear about the next stage of the bank bailout. I'd be surprised if more than a handful of House or Senate Republicans support it.
Republicans don't want their fingerprints on the stimulus bill or the next bank bailout because they plan to make the midterm election of 2010 a national referendum on Barack Obama's handling of the economy. They know that by then the economy will still appear sufficiently weak that they can dub the entire Obama effort a failure - even if the economy would have been far worse without it, even if the economy is beginning to turn around. They'll say "he wanted more government spending, and we said no, but we didn't have the votes. Elect us and we'll turn the economy around by cutting taxes and getting government out of the private sector."
Obama believes Republicans will eventually embrace bipartisanship. I hope he's right but I fear he's wrong. They want to take back Congress the way Newt Gingrich retook the House (and helped Republicans retake the Senate) in 1994 - with hellfire and brimstone. Once in control of Congress, they'll be able to block Obama's big initiatives on health care and the environment, stop any Supreme Court nominees, and set up their own candidate for the White House in 2012.
Which is why someone else -- *now who was it? -- was also saying today that this moment looks an awful lot like the beginning of the Clinton years and the rise of Gingrich and his loudmouthpiece and "honorary member" of the house of representatives, Rush Limbaugh, and their Republican Revolution Contract for America, or whatever it was called.
You've got to love these guys for sticking to their principles.
To hell with it. I am going to (finally) prune my lavender plants in the February afternoon sun before it disappears in the creeping, enveloping miasma of Republican pettiness and smallness of mind emanating from the United States along with economic ruin, and hope Serena wins her match without me.
* Found it...

During a closed-door speech at the House Republican retreat last month, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that "with George W. Bush, Karl Rove and Tom DeLay out of the picture," voters would embrace Republicans again. One lawmaker in the room later called Gingrich's singling out of other Republicans "gratuitous." Gingrich's office refused to "confirm or deny the comments attributed to the ex-Speaker."

From a Center for Progressive Policy email yesterday.
Speaking of Serena...

Serena Williams just bought an

apartment in Paris in the 6th!

I love Serena Williams. Venus, too.

She just had the stupidest interview I have ever seen given. Speculation that she has grandes ambitions près de la Porte d'Auteuil ce mois de juin.

Allez le numéro 1!
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