4.4 THE TWENTIETH CENTURY; As seen by the working man, (or woman).

         

                                                

 

 

I have experienced about 3/4 of that century and it seems to be going in a circle. As the century began, there were three classes of people; the poor, the rich and the very rich.  The very rich included the industrial giants, also known as the “robber barons”. They were the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Morgans and others who exploited the workers and the consumers. They virtually controlled prices, wages and, sometimes, Government policies. They controlled the railroads, the steel mills, the oil refineries, and other major industries. The workers faced long hours, short pay, no “fringe benefits”, such as pensions, health care or union representation. Any attempt to unionize was met with brute force.

 

The rich, in those days, included professional men such as doctors, lawyers, and athletes and management employees. They probably earned 10 to 20 times the income of the average worker. Babe Ruth, the first sports superstar, was chided for making more money than the President of the United States. In the year 2002, the average “ordinary’ baseball player made $2.5 million per year. That’s 12.5 times what President Clinton made and 6.25 times the salary of President Bush. The lowest paid rookie in baseball today makes more than the President.

 

President Theodore Roosevelt fostered “anti-trust’ legislation to curb the merger mania and virtual monopolies formed by the “cartels”, but there were always loopholes. The World War, later known as WW I, opened the eyes of millions of farm boys to a world beyond the county they were born and raised in and would have died in. In those days, most families grew up on a farm, and many never traveled more than 50 miles from home. There was no radio or TV to connect them to the “outside world”. When they saw how the rest of the world lived, they wanted some for themselves. The song “how ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree”, tells it all. They emerged from the war full of hope and ambition. Their hoped were dashed by the “great depression. The war probably opened the door to the union movement. The “great depression” further aggravated the plight of the working man.

 

During the administration of Franklin D Roosevelt, and especially during World War II, the workers obtained more benefits such as overtime premium pay, holiday pay and pension and savings plans. It was after WW II that the 40 hour work week became the norm. (surprised?)

 

After World War II, in the face of an expanding economy, “enlightened” management became more cooperative toward workers, creating a feeling of loyalty and opportunity. Fringe benefits such as pensions, health care insurance and profit sharing, created the feeling that management and labor shared the same goals. (At least, that’s the way I perceived it at the time.) This was about the peak of organized labor’s influence. Labor was pushing management for increased wages without increased productivity. Management often acquiesced, passing the cost on to the consumer. Later, global competition pointed out the fallacy of this ploy.

 

When I entered the work force in the 1950’s, there was a feeling that anyone with training and ordinary ability could, if he chose, work for a chosen company for 30 years or more, advance to his level of competence, and retire in relative comfort.

 

Compensation for managers and skilled professionals, (Doctors, lawyers, scientists, entertainers and athletes), was modest. James McDonnell, founder of McDonnell Aircraft, boasted that his salary was about six times that of the lowest paid worker on his payroll. (Of course, as major stockholder in his company, he didn’t need any salary to “get by”.) The president of Emerson Electric, when I started working there made about 20 times what I made as a “rookie” engineer. The average major league baseball player made about $13000 a year. (In today’s dollars that would be about $93000, enough to hire two “rookie” engineers.

 

Gradually, in the 70’s and 80’s unbridled greed started to move in. It was aided by the politicians who were increasingly bought and paid for by ‘special interests” and were beholden to them. So the laws increasingly favored the special interests, to the detriment of the consumer. In the 90’s and the new century, it exploded.

 

Integrity and cooperation were replaced by naked greed:

 

Compensation for VIP’s skyrocketed. AS previously mentioned, individual baseball players are signing contracts in excess of $250 million. A few years ago, that amount would have bought a baseball team, The salaries of CEO’s of large corporations, (This does not excludes bonuses and stock options and retirement packages), in the 1980’s averaged about 42 times that of the average worker. By 1990 this ratio increased to 8o to 1. By year 2000, it was 476 to 1. By comparison, the same ratio in Japan is 11 to 1. After I retired, I volunteered for a while at the Wesley rehab hospital. I assisted patients, revised their training kitchen, and built minor prosthetic devices, saving then a few dollars. When I learned that the CEO of the conglomerate that owned the hospital made$126 million in salary, I lost some of my enthusiasm.

 

In the year 2000, actor Bruce Willis made 54.4 million. Basketball player Shaquille O’Neal made 31 million. Golfer Tiger Woods got 60 million from Nike and didn’t have to touch his clubs. The executives of ENRON Corp. voted themselves 55 million in bonuses, (meanwhile their employees lost their savings which had been invested in company stock), and then declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, people with really important jobs, such as schoolteachers and nurses have to get along on $30,000 to $40,000.

 

Regulation was replaced by chaos;

 

Beginning in the Reagan administration, the concept of de-regulation was born. When corporations have a monopoly or an oligopoly in an industry, (such as electrical energy), the government normally allows a price that guarantees a profit. In return, the corporation is required to make sure the product is available. In other words the infrastructure is in place and they “take care of business “. When the airlines were cut loose there was a rash of bargains for some destinations while others suffered a loss of service and/or outrageous price gouging. In Wichita, for example, predatory pricing drove the small feeder lines out of business. (The big airlines matched the prices of the smaller ones and gave more convenient service, until the little guys went broke or left town. Then the big guys tripled their prices.)

 

In the year 2001 the price of natural gas suddenly tripled. The gas companies claimed there was a “shortage”. There are billions of cubic feet of gas right under our feet. (If you don’t believe it look up what happened in Hutchinson about the same time.) The gas company failed to build the pumps, pipes and valves to deliver it. For this dereliction of duty, they were rewarded with high prices.

 

Later the state of California “ran out” of electricity. They blamed the EPA, the Governor and everyone but themselves. They sold electricity to other states, but had none for themselves. They had the responsibility to build the capacity, but didn’t. For this they were rewarded with high prices. Similarly, the price of gasoline is allegedly driven by mid-east politics, refinery fires and a hundred other things. The fact is a handful of oil companies, in collusion, control the product from the well to the gas tank, and they control the price because “they can”.

 

 Manufacturing productivity was replaced by global importation;

 

There was a time when America was exporting automobiles, steel, electronic devices and technology to the rest of the world. These days it is almost impossible to buy tools, clothing, cameras, appliances, electronics or an American flag that weren’t made in China, Mexico, India or some other far- flung country, in a factory that is probably owned by an American conglomerate.

 

When I retired from Boeing in 1993 they were exporting airplanes and associated equipment worldwide and operated in an ethical and responsible manner, or as seen from my workplace. In the year 2003, they have been accused of unethical activities regarding competitive bidding, and they requested $500 million in municipal bond money from the city of Wichita so they can compete to build part of their proposed new super airliner, the 7E7. Fully half of that airplane will be built in Japan, Italy or some other foreign country.

 

The newest strategy in importation concerns technical manpower.

 

It began with semi- skilled, easily portable jobs such as telemarketing. When you call to check the status of a purchase from a local store, you may be talking to somebody in El Salvador. This has expanded to a situation wherein engineers and technicians have been asked to train their replacements who can go back to India where they can afford to work for a fraction of the American’s wage. After which the Americans become unemployed.

 

We have at least 8 million illegal aliens working in our country in spite of the fact that it is illegal to hire them. Now our President wants to reward these lawbreakers by making them “legal”. This is not popular with the legal aliens who must work and study for 10 to 12 years to qualify for citizenship.

 

Finance has replaced integrity in politics;

 

Since the emergence of TV as the primary means of electioneering, the guy with the most dollars almost always wins. The candidates expend most of their time and energy raising cash before the election and repaying their supporters afterward. The biggest suppliers of money are the special interest groups who want favors. In the presidential primaries of the year 2000, George W Bush drove off all competition by virtue of his $200 million treasury. No opponent could out-advertise him. Sen. John McCain, whose main issue was campaign finance reform, could not compete. The politicians who benefit from the system are not about to change the system. In my opinion this is the single most important problem of the 21st century.

 

                                                       

 

The above depiction of the 20th century is not purported to be an objective history, but as my perception of what has occurred in my lifetime. It may be more hysterical than historical, but it portrays life as I saw it.

 

 

 

 

4.5; EPILOGUE;

 

This story would not be complete without crediting the person who affected my life the most, namely Joan Lorraine (King) Otto.

 

4.5.1; WHAT SHE IS;

 

Lover; She is, of course, my lover, best friend, confidant, my inspiration and my caretaker. She is also so many other things.

 

Mother; She raised six sons, kept them fed and clothed, meticulously, in spite of her anxiety neurosis. Doctor mom could look into one of the boy’s eyes and predict; “You’re going to be sick tomorrow”. Doctor Londe, our pediatrician, would predict one ailment, and Joan would predict something else. More often than not, Joan would be right. She was always coming up with new traditions. One Friday night, I came home from work and was informed that Steven and I were going on a campout that weekend. And a new tradition was born.

 

Grandmother/Matriarch; She is a great grandmother as well as a great great-grandmother. She worked at Sears, part time, for decades for two reasons. First, she loves people and she loves to meet people. She is very popular with the customers and with her co-workers and some of her bosses. Some of her bosses think she talks too much to the customers and treats them to too many advantages on prices, and returns. Also, she doesn’t take criticism meekly. The other reason she works is to shop for bargains for her friends and family. It’s always something like, “O, wouldn’t Eyalu look adorable in that”. She takes the grandkids and great-grandkids on shopping sprees and adventures. They confide in her things they wouldn’t talk to their own parents about. (Often they tell her things she would rather not know.) I have a theory about the strong bond that often occurs between grandparent and grandchild. They share a common obstacle, namely the stupid parents/children in the generation between them.

 

Matriarch; Joan is the cement that holds together the branches of our diverse extended family together. She works hard to see that no person or group is neglected. She sends appropriate birthday cards to more than 25 people, including her sponsored child in Guatemala.

 

Lover of people; Our sons say “She talks to strangers”. In fact, she never met a stranger. As noted, she works at Sears, “ helping customers”. She also enjoys finding “clearanced” items for others. She also picks up bargains for me. Among her co-workers I’m known as “clearance rack Jack, the man with100 shirts”. Many of my shirts don’t “go with” anything else I own, so I never get to wear them. She can tell people what size to wear, She also sizes people up at first sight and sees good things in people that others overlook. Who else would talk to a grossly overweight man with little education and less social skills and declare that he has a handsome face and beautiful eyes. She never saw a baby she didn’t want to squeeze. She loves children. She loves old folks. She loves young folks. She is young at heart and is popular with all generations. I love to watch her young co-workers faces light up when she appears.

 

Dispenser of advice and wisdom; Joan speaks out. Whatever is on her mind is out in the open. Whether she is telling a bunch of teenage bullies to “knock it off” picking on a kid, or explaining to a doctor that Paul couldn’t exhibit the same symptoms as a person who wasn’t paralyzed. In addition, she possesses that uncommon commodity called “common sense.  Father asked her to join the St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton parish council mainly because she always had something to say when a new condition came along. The grandchildren always ask for her advice, knowing that they will get it anyway. All our nurses have had the benefit of her insight, and often come back to say, in effect, “you were right about ……”. The same is true of (of all thing), our sons. When strangers tell me “you have a wonderful wife”, (and this really happens), I tell them I know, she reminds me daily.

 

                                        

                                          

Artist, actress, entertainer; One day in the early 1980’s, Joan confided in me, “You know I’ve always wanted to act on stage.” I wouldn’t have been more surprised if she had said she always wanted to be a skydiver. But she did study at Wichita State under Mary Jane Teale, a well known actress, teacher and producer, Who now has a theater named after her at Century II. She did this when we had Paul to care for, so it was not easy to do. Her first performance was a solo effort telling about Paul and his music. Her favorite was that of a Jewish mother. The locals thought she sounded a little Jewish because of her St Louis accent. She took pride in working the audience. She had several supporting roles and was terrified and intoxicated by each one. She doesn’t mind being “on stage” in real life. On our overseas trips we always seemed to be the entertainment. She would tell stories and I would fumble with our baggage, money and drinks.

   Our sons all have artistic talent, and they surely didn’t get it from me. When we were newlyweds, Joan took a course in oil painting. She was very good at portraits, including one of me, which is hanging on the wall, and a scene of us and our (then) five children at a picnic at Spanish Lake in St Louis County. That one is also hanging on our wall. Why she stopped painting I don’t recall. Maybe having three children in three years had something to do with it. In the following years she took up writing. Some short stories and poems, but mostly witty, true short stories about episodes in our busy lives. People always tell her, “you’re so funny”, and she doesn’t seem to know why, but she is witty, articulate and self-deprecating, as are all true comedians. She claims to be a “Joan of all trades and master of none”, but I don’t accept the last part of that assessment.

 

4.5.2; HOW SHE IS;

 

Sensitive; Not that she’s “touchy’. (Well maybe sometimes she is). When she sees a dog limping in the gutter, she shares his pain and wants to do something about it. She talks to people. (I may have said that before). The world is full of people who talk, but she is one of the precious few who listens and remembers how many children the person has and what is special about them. She has such empathy for people, especially those who are, in some way helpless. She often sympathizes and rarely judges. In spite of our experiences with Paul, she cannot work with the disabled, because, I believe, she shares their disability. This sensitivity may be due to her early years visiting Buddy at a time when the helpless were ignored and mistreated.

 

  She is also sensitive in another way, especially so since she has been taking so much medication. Her skin is so delicate, (She loves to use that word), that it reacts to common things such as deodorant, adhesive tape, wool and a few other things. For one who comes on as tough and, for some people, intimidating, she has this tender and very feminine side. Many years ago there was an advertisement for a product, whose name I have forgotten. Their motto was, “tough, but oh so gentile”. I think that’s her.

 

Generous, to a fault; When she was small, she was always doing one of two things; Preaching, telling the other kids whet was right and what was wrong, or: Sharing, taking little Rosie, the mistreated girl down the street to a, (nickel),  ice cream cone. She never got rich working for Sears, partly because she was always finding some great bargain that would look so cute on Elizabeth, or somebody, or would make me look so sharp. When we were traveling, it was always something like “Don’t you wish Jeffrey could see this castle?” She never said, “If I won the lottery, I would buy this for us and we could go and do…..”. It was more like, We could take all our family on a tour of Europe, so they could see what the rest of the world is like”. If she did win the lottery we would be broke in a year, but our kids would all have new homes.

 

   She always checks to make sure that I give the waiter a proper tip. She spoils her brother Buddy with presents and goodies, then buys shirts and things for the “have-nots” who don’t have family, and brings candy and things for the staff. She tries to spoil her sponsored boy Edin, in Guatemala, but the postal limitations limit how much she can send. That doesn’t stop her from wishing him happy birthday, merry Christmas and congratulations on being promoted in school. If she wasn’t paying the bills at our house, we would be deep in debt. With her paying the bills, we are solvent, but, thanks to her generosity we aren’t rich in terms of money, but we are rich in the things that count. She is just as generous with her “time and talents” (as they like to say in church), volunteering her services, and sometimes mine at church or wherever needed. Did I already say she is generous in offering solace to anyone in need?

 

Vain; to a point. Joan is a stickler for propriety. She likes to dress well, appropriately for the occasion. In addition to bargains she buys for others, she also buys for herself. I accuse her of having more pairs of shoes than Imelda Marcos. (You may have to look her up in the history books, under Philippines.) She would rather leave late for work than go wearing something “inappropriate”. I have seen her change her outfit two or three times just to go to church on Saturday night. She may buy something, take it home, and then decide it doesn’t look right and return it. Her co-workers love to tease her about her frequent returns. Or, she may leave it hang in her closet for a year, and then donate it to a friend or relative. Her vanity flows over to my attire. I seldom buy anything to wear except shoes. She keeps me in clothes and in style. (I have been known to change my outfit once or twice before going to church also.) So, if she is vain, we all benefit from her Vanity.

 

Proper; This category is hard to define. Words like perfectionist, obsessive, determined and tenacious all fall short of defining her. First and foremost is her orderliness. Secondly, there is propriety. She is a lady and will be treated as such. She does not allow co-workers to use foul language in her presence. The workers respect this. She has other measures of propriety. She doesn’t allow pink Kleenex in the kitchen, nor white Kleenex in the bathroom.

  People ridicule her for being a “neat freak” and she resents it. (So do I.) She doesn’t ridicule other people for being disorganized slobs. Her life has had many disruptions and was (and is) disorderly in many ways beyond her control. She requires order in things she can control. With six children, each with a multiplicity of toys it was logical that each keep his own toys under control. So we had rows of shoe boxes filled with toys. She paid a price for her neatness by way of extra work. Phil used to make his bed in the morning. But he complained that she made it over “properly”. So she wound up making eight beds each day.  There may be a little backlash in evidence. Some of these same children who kept their toys in proper shoe boxes, dressed up for church, and hung up their clothes when they came home, have become litterbugs whose cars are single seaters because the other five seats are filled with trash.

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Genealogy

 

mm=Male side, (me)Male ancestors

 

mf=Male side, Female ancestors

 

mm3=third generation, (Joan’s and mine)

 

 

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