Sunday, April 08, 2007

Working Class Stiff

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and write an article. Actually, I’ve been pretty busy. The company I’ve worked for over the last 18 years was recently bought out by a French-Belgian business insurance concern, so you can imagine the changes we’re experiencing as we adopt a whole new outlook on business. Of course, the workload has dramatically increased as their claims are transferred to us, where we’ve had to familiarize ourselves with the business insurance industry while updating, correcting, following up with clients and attorneys, and generally jumping in with both feet as we take over the handling of their claims.

We’ve actually increased our day-to-day handling of claims by a third to half (I’ve gone from working approximately 400 claims to well over 600). Naturally there are all the normal concerns arising from a takeover over like salaries, benefits (especially health insurance), holidays, and so forth. I guess only time will tell what we can expect since management has been very closed mouth about how this will effect us, as they’ve been from the beginning. Management, which owned the company and have remained on staff since the buyout, made out like the proverbial “bandits”, or at least that’s our general perception judging by the expensive new cars and SUVs showing up in the parking lot and the number of vacations to expensive hot spots they’re taking.

I suppose some would argue that’s just the “Capitalist Way”, and I guess they would be right. Management rakes in big bucks while salaries for everyday working stiffs have been cut or remained stagnant. Benefits are cut or eliminated. Plants are closed. Jobs are outsourced overseas. The result for the average American employee is less and less earned “real” income, which has created a dramatic gap in income levels between the rich and everyone else. Have you been reading what the salaries of CEO’s are making? According to a Forbes article in 2005, salaries for CEOs increased 54% from 2004. Mine didn’t. Did yours? I was cut 1/3. The average compensation package for a Fortune 500 company in 2005 was $14.78 million dollars. Even lousy CEOs who’ve been canned are walking away with packages worth tens of millions of dollars. Here’s an interesting statistic I came across in an old USA Today article from March 3, 2003 (which just goes to show you how bad a problem this really is). According to the article, in 2002 the median CEO income was $1,017 an hour. Obscene. I am reminded of a quote by Napoleon, who once said that the reason for religion is to keep the poor from hanging the rich. Amen brother.

Back to what I’ve been doing of late, as some of you know, I’m an “education fanatic”. It seems like I’m constantly taking a class, attending a seminar or lecture, participating in a survey or even more likely reading a book (I generally keep about three going at all times). I think education is the key to just about everything from personal wellbeing to creating economic growth. Well, about eight months ago I was invited to attend an interview with the prospects of teaching college part time. As you may well imagine, I couldn’t resist. As most everyone said at the time, “you’re a natural”. I found out that some 100 or so folks were also invited. It was quite a diverse group. It was the most incredibly interesting and talented pool of people since I attended my MENSA meetings in San Francisco back in the ‘70’s.

We each had to give the prerequisite brief bio of ourselves in the front of everyone, and then we broke up into two groups. We were asked to put on a short instruction before the group (we were warned to prepare for this during our initial interview). Mine was a SWOT analysis of my decision to run for State Representative in 2004 (SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). There were former and current professors (many with doctorates), engineers, business owners, HR folks, and the list went on and on. I was fascinated with each one and could have spent hours picking their brains. Roughly 30 folks were selected to come back for the faculty training program, including yours truly! I don’t think I could have been more ecstatic.

We went through a pretty intensive five week training program covering just about everything from grading papers to group and individual presentations (given my years of public speaking experience, I really relished that part). Finally graduation came. We lost a few individuals, but the class remained pretty much intact. Around a month later, I was invited back to begin teaching part time at night, and I’ve loved every minute of it since (I later learned that only about 5 of those who graduated were asked back to teach). I can think of few jobs which so aptly combine my love of learning, reading, debating with speaking (and to think, they actually pay me to do this!)

Kentucky Politics

Have you all been keeping on the governor races? I haven’t been following it to close lately. Frankly, they’re a little boring this time around. No one really seems to be standing out. On the Democratic side, it looks the race is coming down between Steve Henry and Bruce Lunsford. Neither is exactly burning up the campaign trail. Steve seems to have the “common” touch with most people (especially among the veterans) while Lunsford has the bucks. Both men have more baggage than a mule train. Steve’s running mate is virtually unknown former Property Valuation Clerk from Fayette County named Renee True. She seems likable enough, but Steve really needed someone with a bit more pizzazz. Attorney General Greg Stumbo is Lunsford’s running mate. His reputation has taken some serious hits too, especially over the handling of his investigation of current governor, Ernie Fletcher. Even the unions appear to have abandoned the Lunsford/Stumbo ticket despite Stumbo having Larry Clark’s half brother, Danny Ross on his staff as Labor Liaison (I’m still not sure why an Attorney General needs a labor liaison). As some of you may know, Larry Clark (D-46) is Speaker Pro Tem. As for the rest of the pack, they’re fading fast, mainly because of a lack of name recognition, money, key issues, or a combination of all three.

On the Republican side, Governor Fletcher is pulling ahead of his nearest competitor, former Congresswoman Anne Northup. At last count, he was up 9%. While this is good from his perspective, I would expect to see an incumbent governor a lot further ahead. Of course, one could argue that he’s facing a “name” opponent in Northup. As for Anne, she appears to be struggling in getting her message out. I’ve read on several conservative blogs, in addition the Courier Journal, about Anne’s fundraisers all but falling flat. I find it hard to believe that someone as experienced as Anne would be having so much trouble getting attention from the loyal GOP money crowd. But then, Anne isn’t a Congresswoman any more while Ernie is Governor. Even the once vaulted “Anne’s Army” of volunteers isn’t what it used to be.

Perhaps I’m being a little over cynical, but Anne has shown she is vulnerable in her loss to John Yarmuth (D) and while Fletcher has taken a beating from Democrat Greg Stumbo and the press, most feel it was politically motivated (though no doubt, some of it was justified). I guess it just boils down to backing an incumbent verses a challenger, no matter who that challenger is. I also think her current campaign manager Michael Clingaman has a lot to do with it to. It’s his job (as it is with any campaign manager) to make sure their candidate gets their message out; that it’s on target; and it’s accurate. I’m just not seeing that happening from Anne’s camp, and the interest in her campaign seems to bear that out. To use a historical analogy, Anne needs a General Grant not a McClellan. After inaction following on inaction, Lincoln told McClellan he would like to “borrow his army” if McClellan wasn’t going to use it. Lincoln went through a lot of generals before finding Grant. Like Lincoln, Anne needs to “borrow” her campaign back and if she can’t find her “Grant”, she needs to become her own general and go for broke if she’s serious about winning this.

As for Harper, he’s preparing a new set of commercials which are loosely based on the tongue-in-cheek ads that Mitch McConnell aired in his successful bid to unseat Dee Huddleston. His race has just never gained much traction. Maybe the humor will get folks talking about his campaign. Harper hasn’t had much success in the fundraising department and has had to fund his campaign mainly out of pocket. As an aside, I read where his campaign manager resigned, citing personal issues, so for now it looks like he’s on his own.

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