Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We have met the enemy...

One of the most memorable phrases gleaned from the satirical comic strip “Pogo” was, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.”  Unfortunately, today it seems too many Americans have taken the saying too seriously.  From clips on TV and statements of leadership, particularly from the Tea Party group, it seems some Americans view our national government as a foreign power which somehow has invaded us.  Those who incessantly attack our national government do major damage to our system.

Only a short history lesson can demonstrate why our government contains greater benefits than pitfalls and greater opportunities than drawbacks to those of us with American citizenship.  Our federal government has been the major catalyst in the greatest surges of prosperity in America.

As we emerged from the first Great Depression of 1929, the government put together the Jobs Program which included the Civil Conservation Corps.  Many of us still wonder at the magnitude and beauty of the national parks throughout the United States. Many of  those parks were built using CCC labor while providing jobs which enabled many families in America to survive the rigors of the Great Depression.

In all probability, one of the greatest advancements for the middle class and America as a whole was the GI Bill.  Fashioned as we emerged from the Great War, Americans invested at a time when our national debt was at an all-time high.  We invested in educating those who had served us and given of their time in the Great War.  While it benefited veterans, it benefited America far more.  It is a prime example of how government investment in a time of need can move us forward as it did in this instance.  It moved us forward in education, innovation, investment, entrepreneurism and prosperity.  America has enjoyed no greater surge forward than we did at the time we invested in making higher education affordable for a huge segment of our society–not just the rich and privileged.

The next gigantic investment in America which holds us in great stead today, without which we would be one of the poorest nations on earth, is the interstate highway system.  Proposed and pushed by General Dwight Eisenhower during his presidency, we invested billions in creating a transportation system which assured the future of much of our commerce, but also it is an example of how government can in fact be the stimulus to create jobs.  What advocate of making America’s national government insignificant would look back and wish for insignificance in our government’s role in creating the interstate highway system which serves us so well today?

Here’s another example:  Back in the ‘60s the anti-science, know-nothing, do-nothing conservatives in America considered our 35th president’s aim of putting a man on the moon to simply be a pipe dream.  However, the vision of John Kennedy and the Space Program, underwritten by our government, has resulted in numerous inventions that serve us in the form of business opportunities, human comfort and entertainment.

The plethora of patents and scientific advancements directly attributable to the quest to put a man on the moon is unmatched in any nation’s history.  Advances in medicine, communication, business technology and on and on would not have been possible without our government’s investment.  Had some of the naysayers in politics today been in control at that time they would have opted for a greater balanced budget and lower taxes instead of our quest to explore space.

Governor Perry, who belittles the effort of government to create jobs, conveniently overlooks the fact that a significant portion of the job growth in Texas, upon which he bases his quest to lead our nation, was fueled by government jobs.

Never in the history of our country is there a greater need for America to do what is necessary to make an investment–yes, even with borrowed money–in our crumbling infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, highways and public school buildings.  We also desperately need to invest in giving the next generation access to a reasonably priced cost of higher education, training them for the kinds of jobs which will make America competitive and return manufacturing back to the United States instead of India and China.  

At a time when we have gone from number one in the training of needed skills to number sixteen in the world, it is absolutely the wrong time to heed the “no tax at any price” voices.  It is the time to invest in order to lift ourselves by our bootstraps out of the doldrums of an economy devastated by two wars on credit and an insane desire to have wealth prevail over the needs of ordinary citizens.  

Whatever Happened to Humans?

I am absolutely convinced two of the main contributors to the unemployment currently plaguing our nation are Republicans and machines.  Whatever happened to pleasant receptionists who used to answer the phone and were able to explain to you whether or not their company, or anyone around, could be of assistance to you?  I particularly dislike the machine which has replaced the receptionist wherein they ask you to spell the name of the person to whom you want to talk.  First of all, you have to know a person.  Second of all, you have to know how to spell his or her name.  

If I’d had all of that information, I would have probably had their number to begin with and wouldn’t have to deal with such a creature who required all this information.  

It seems to me that if machines have a purpose it should be to keep people from having to go to a lot of trouble in the business world when they seek to purchase goods or services from someone.  'Seems to me that more and more machines, particularly answering devices, are doing just the opposite.  Trying to find the proper place for a simple repair is a good example.

Recently, I had need to inquire about a repair to one of my shop tools--a floor model Craftsman drill press.  After finding no local number for repairs or service, I in desperation dialed the 1-800 number. After several rings I received a recording.  “You have reached the Sears store in Port Arthur, Texas. However, if you are calling about automotive, appliances...”  and about ten other choices, push so and so. None of the ten choices exactly fitted my needs, so I pushed zero.  I was greeted by another machine which obviously did not understand plain English.  I repeated my request and was promptly transferred to yet another machine containing a list, none of which fit my problem.  I had yet ten more choices and the final choice on this one was for a service person.  I gleefully pushed that button and was treated to about five minutes of elevator music.  Eventually, some exotic sounding person-- who had neither an American-variety accent nor fluency in English-- answered.  He asked if he could be of service or help, which I understood on the second try, so I informed him I was seeking repairs for a floor model drill press.  He replied, “A grill?”  No, I said, a drill.  He obviously didn’t understand what a drill was.  

I explained to him patiently I was looking for repairs to a machine which sat on the floor and was used to bore holes.  He requested that I wait just a moment, whereupon I was treated to about seven minutes of elevator music.  When he finally came back on the line, he had mastered the task of saying drill press.  I told him yes, that’s what I wanted.  Repairs to my drill press.  He treated me to more music while I held once again.  Finally, the fellow whom I decided was Sinbad the exotic Indian phone voice returned with, “What is your area code?”  I gave it and after about another five minutes of waiting and more music he returned once again with a phone number and address for the Sears service center in Orange, Texas.

Gleefully, I called the new number and was rewarded with an answer from a voice with a decidedly Texas accent.  The Texas accent knew what a drill was right away.  I asked him if they could fix it.  “Nope,” he says, “We’ll have to ship it off.”  “How long will that take?” I asked.
“Two weeks,” he said.  

I send my healthy young runner to pick up my floor model drill press and take it to the service center in Orange only to learn they do not ship off floor model drill presses, only table model drill presses. Nonetheless, I am told we can take it to a service center in Beaumont.

The following day I send my in-need-of-repair floor model drill press to the Sears center in Beaumont only to learn they do not accept items for repair.  They will send a service man out to the location where the drill press is and will repair it there.  “Fine, come on out,” I say.  “Well, you can have an appointment 22 days from now,” he said.  I asked, “Will you let me know somehow?”  He says, “Well, you should call the service center.”  

At first I considered seriously just throwing my hands up and start shopping for a new floor model drill press, but then I think, what sort of adventure awaits me when I start trying to make a phone call concerning a scheduled appointment of a service person to my home?  I can hardly wait to find out!  Perhaps it will provide enough material for another article. Stand by.