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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bring Back Unemployment Lines

I was thinking the other day that it is too bad that Unemployment Compensation became automated and that people don’t actually have to come out and be counted publicly anymore.

It used to be a telling tale of how the economy was doing to see people lined up outside the local Unemployment Office in each city and town. In good times it would be just a few people standing or sitting around smoking and drinking coffee and shooting the breeze waiting for the doors to open and in tougher times like as the result of the economic missteps of the Carter Administration, the lines stretched down the block and around the corner. You would drive by and be amazed at the number of people in line. It was the consummate measure of how the president was doing that was hard to miss by the general public whether you were political or not.

By the end of the Carter Administration, unemployment lines were ‘Ponderous” and lead to Jimmy Carters electoral defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan. People couldn't miss the increase of the lines for unemployment benefits.

After 1981 the administration of Ronald Reagan returned those lines to a normal length first by denying as many claims as it could get away with and then reducing taxes and regulations for businesses so that people were no longer prohibitively expensive to hire. Spurred on by these changes, companies were hiring and people had the incentive to work since the saying was back then: “When did you find work? …When my unemployment ran out!”

Up until the Unemployment System was automated in the mid-1990s, an unemployed person filing for benefits had to apply in person. They also had to come back every week on their appointed day and sign a book and answer questions on whether they looked for work or not. In the state of Massachusetts there was also a form to fill out with the employers you contacted to apply for work. For this it was a requirement that people who wished to sign up for or continue with their benefits had to line up outside the office.

Today approximately 85% of all UI claims are filed remotely.

The Government claim is that every dollar paid in unemployment benefits generates approximately $1.60 in economic activity but that cannot be true. This claim does not take into consideration the “Overhead” involved in doling out the money. A million dollars may enter the Government Machine but what comes out isn’t close to that number ever!

The government employees that run the Unemployment Department also draw a paycheck. Where does this money come from? Taxes, that’s where. The companies pay for unemployment compensation in the form of a tax on their profits. In truth, Unemployment compensation in all but a few states is funded almost entirely by employer payroll taxes. Only three states; Arkansas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania collect taxes from employees under certain conditions.

Of course taxes on companies aren't paid by the companies. These taxes are passed along to the consumer as part of the price they pay for goods.

This is the old “Taxing ourselves into Prosperity” ruse that government likes to trot out there every so often. The last person I recall using it was Nancy Pelosi when she was the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives.

So today we live in a different world. Since our unemployed no longer stand in line, instead applying either over the phone or via the Internet and receiving their benefits directly deposited into their bank accounts, we only know what the percentage of the population is unemployed by what the government tells us. The government now controls those numbers and the government cannot be believed.

So I wish we could bring back those old, heady days of the unemployment line where people stood together, mixed together, exchanged information and telegraphed to the whole country just how good or bad the economy and our president was doing. It was the only truthful reference we could rely on. But it’s been a long time now since then and we the people have little to go on anymore. It’s just all too easy to get the money and the actually numbers are now a mystery.

But I'll bet that if today’s unemployed or rather, the people now drawing unemployment benefits had to stand in line for the money, people would be shocked beyond their imagination at the size of the lines that would form. What do you think they would say then?

But of course, that isn't going to happen.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

I Want Out of Social Security

Here, listen, this is what I propose: The Government can keep everything they've taken  out of my paycheck since I started working at 13 years old. Everything. Keep it all. Just let me out of the program so I can put MY MONEY towards MY RETIREMENT. Is that fair. No, it actually isn't since the Federal Government has taken SO MUCH from me over my working lifetime that I will never ever get that back but perhaps there is an opportunity for me to provide for my retirement with the time I have left if the LET ME OUT of the program.

For too long this has all been a Dog & Pony show for the rubes (ie: taxpayers). For the longest time we have known that there is no TRUST FUND set aside for every working American paying into the plan even though the Federal Government insists repeatedly that there is. The money is actually coming directly out of the paychecks of people working today. There is nothing set “aside”. Today's’ Social Security payments are a direct money transfer from money earned by taxpayers TODAY.
If the program is running a deficit that means that taxes will go up for the people working today to pay the people who are no longer working and are living off of Social Security. How well would this sit with Grandma and Grandpa if they know their kids and grand kids are on the hook for their payments?  But that’s what’s happening .

But it’s not only retirement benefits and it wouldn't be so bad if the payments were only limited to retirees. It’s the SSI, the Supplemental Security Income payments that are given to everyone who says they’re hearing voices when their unemployment benefits run out that is really killing the system. Those payments also come out of the Social Security "Trust". This allows people who have never paid a dime into the Social Security “Plan” to collect benefits from it since they are deemed "Disabled". Does the Federal Government actually check whether these people are disabled or not? Nope! What the hell does the Federal Government care, it’s OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, right? It's their job to give out the money so that's what they do. It’s all fun and games in “Other People’s Money” land. Just give it away since that’s what their job is, giving money away to people that “need” it.

That is, until the well runs dry. They it’s back to the taxpayer to get more. But what if there isn't any more? What if there are more people drawing from the well than are contributing? Then the whole shit-show hits a snag.

Although most of the time I avoid thinking about it but I sometimes imagine all the money I've earned up until this point in my life that the government has taken. I compare that figure to the fact that the Federal Government has run a $18 Trillion dollar debt. Then I imagine what I could have done with that money that they've taken out of my pocket before it even went into my pocket. The things that could have purchased, the lives I could have enriched. My life would have been better off for it too. Much better. But instead it went elsewhere. Perhaps to fund the many wars we have fought since I was born. Or to fund free abortions. Or to line the pockets of some Congressman or even the President. But where ever it went, I know it wasn't put to as good a use as it would have if I had been able to hold onto it. That's a given. 

I didn't volunteer for this. I was born into this Socialist Boondoggle and I want OUT. It was doomed to fail and with the nameless faceless government not caring enough to look twice at the people they’re giving the benefits away, taxpayers like me are left holding the bag and we can’t get out because the government is holding a gun to our heads. We can’t opt out. But I want out. In fact, I never wanted in. Not from the first day I received a paycheck when I was a kid and wondered why there was so much taken out of my first paycheck. I was told it was taxes to help the less fortunate. But I was less fortunate, I was working since I was in the sixth grade. Who could be more deserving than ME of MY MONEY. I didn't understand and I STILL don’t understand.

But that’s what Social Security is all about. YOU are too STUPID to provide for your own retirement so the government will help you provide for it whether you like it or not. YOU are incapable of providing for yourself into the future. The government knows best how to provide for you. You just have to pay it out to THEM and someday, maybe, they will pay it back to YOU.

The day I got my first paycheck was the day I became a Libertarian. I have always been a libertarian.

It just took that first check to realize it.

Is this any way to run a free country?

No, it isn't. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Boston Rock Clubs of the 1980s: Jack's

Jack’s was right on Mass Ave in Cambridge just before you hit Harvard Square and where it once stood has been occupied by a large office building ever since.

The place was basically a retail store-front that was turned into a music club with the thick high glass windows still in place but blacked out. It was a good sized club for the Boston area but it would be a stretch to say it was big. It was larger than downstairs at the Rat and about the size of TT the Bear's but with a high ceiling that gave you the impression that it was bigger than it was. Not a rough crowd like at the Rat or what would sometimes show up at the Channel. Cambridge was what we called the "Soda & Lime" crowd in reference to Cambridge's reputation for an unusually low level of beer consumption. I don't know how bars even survived in Cambridge but somebody was out drinking because there are a lot of bars in that town.

As a music venue Jack's was laid out pretty well. They had a stage that had room enough for a five-piece band but not much more. Nobody was going to Duck-Walk it at any rate and it was set rather high and located to the right as you walked in the door and the bar was against the opposite wall. A major plus was that Jack's had a decent sounding pa system. Can’t recall if the monitors worked and most likely they did not since although we played there twice and I don’t remember a fucking thing about the shows, I'm going to rely on the premise that if a monitor on a Boston stage outside of the Channel Nightclub had ever worked, it would be such a standout memory in my mind.

Cambridge sported a number of music venues in those days and Jack's had plenty of competition. Johnathan Swifts, TT the Bears, Bunratty’s and the Plough & Stars were all in that neck of the woods and showcasing similar entertainment. Of these clubs, Johnathan Swifts was the better place to see a band. I was only in there once to see Til Tuesday and there was no place to hide on that stage, it was right out into the audience and you could see and hear the performers from anywhere in the room. There was also the Western Front but that was a different animal since they stuck to touring Reggae acts. Neither I nor my friends ever actually went in there because the cover was $20.00 in 1980s money which was $15 to $17 more than any place else we went to in town and hell, I didn't pay half that much to see Jimmy Cliff at the Channel so I'm gonna shell out that kind of money to see who, nobody I ever heard of at the Western Front? Fuck that. I was paying rent on my apt in West Roxbury and rent on our rehearsal spot at the Pixy Theater, I wasn't made of money! I was only insuring my car half the year as it was and I would cringe every time I broke a string on my bass since it was going to cost me $5.00 for a replacement. Makes you wonder why you put yourself through such things. But what, and give up Show Business!

We got into playing Jack’s during its last year or so of existence but it had a reputation of being one of the “in” places to play in Boston since, much like the Rathskeller, had a famed “History” that had come and gone. We ended up playing two of the three shows, all Wednesdays, booked there and would have played the third except that the place suddenly had a fire the Saturday prior to our scheduled show later in that same week.

It is now part of Boston musical history that the band Treat Her Right had all their equipment burned up in that fire since it broke out just after they setup and then did a Telethon on WBCN to raise money to replace it. WBCN was the top radio station in Boston at the time and they played the bands music ALL DAY and had the band members live on the air, winning new fans and getting them signed to a major record label as a result. We were all saying what “Good Luck” they had! But the bottom line was that Treat Her Right WAS a good band and getting all their stuff burned up wouldn't have done them much good if they weren't.

Jack’s was the hardest time we ever had booking a Boston venue in our seven "odd" years stay on the city music scene. It was the twenty question routine we always got with a new place but more intense: "So why should we book YOU GUYS?" “How many people can you bring?” “Are you POSITIVE you can ABSOLUTELY bring that many?”  "Where else do you play?" “You’re not playing anywhere else this month are you?” And this is for a spot on a Wednesday lineup. It took a lot of time for them to decide to book us at all. One particular back and forth with management lead to what later became an oft quoted declarative out-of-the-blue statement that James made at the time: “No, we are NOT going to give you any Cocaine!” 

Not to play a Wednesday at 11:00PM in Cambridge at any rate. It’s not like we were actually expecting to get PAID for this gig in the middle of the week so far out from our regular and gainfully employed fan-base or any other absurd Pie-in-the-Sky notion. Just what on Earth were the other bands being shaken down for?

Jack’s was the home stage for a popular Boston band named New Man that put out a not-so-well engineered album of pop rock at the time. Although they were a bit slick for my liking in those days of my musical infancy and punk mentality, they certainly sounded better than that live and their shows had more energy than the record had captured. I’d seen the band a couple of times; once at Jack’s and another at Scotch & Sounds (where nobody sounded bad) and heard cuts on the radio where it did a slow fade. From what I saw of them they drew a good crowd and played a lively set. Then the bass player cut out to join the Jon Butcher Axis and I think that was it for them.  

Other acts that played Jack’s on a regular basis were the Greg Greenway Band and Asa Brebner. Greg Greenway has had a long professional music career since then and put out a number of records under just his own name as a “solo” act although I guess he always was a solo act and Asa of course was previously with Robin Lane and was always on the scene playing with different names of bands that came after his own name like Asa Brebner and "Idle Hands" and such. What these three groups had in common was more of a well rehearsed and polished guitar based pop sound as compared to a more, let's just use the term "less-refined", energetic and straight ahead rock & roll which was where our band, Cool McCool, fell into as a genre.

James reminded me that Jack's was the place that George Thorogood was a popular performer and also where he was playing when Rounder Records discovered him and he then put them on the American musical map.

But that was in the past and the New Man\Greenway\Brebner model was what Jack’s was looking for and if you didn't fit that genre and still wanted to play there, I guess you had to pay. Once again we found ourselves as a bit of a square peg in the Boston music scene but you can't be all things to all people, nobody else was either. Only the most popular acts could draw well anywhere in town. We all had our home markets, ours was Green Street Station, Chet's and The Channel but the tough part for any band was breaking out and getting a foothold in a new area. 
The drinking age had gone from 18 to 21 years earlier and the pressure that caused rolled downhill to the bands. So many bands, so few original venues. But ultimately Jack's just gave us the Wednesdays without tribute. 

Our “Sister” band, the group we shared our rehearsal space at the Pixie Theater in Hyde Park with, Those Damned Kids: Scott Harris, Dave Yanolis and John Brelia had gotten into Jack’s first and so we went to their show and knew ahead of time about what management was looking for and what you got in return.

We knew we were never going to move up the ladder at the place but had the chance to book one more show there and took it because word was already out that Jack’s was on its last legs and what the hell, a gig’s a gig, right? The owner of the building, as the story was told, had a new tenant with deep pockets just waiting to get in there and who was willing to pay much more to lease the property than Jack’s could possibly come up with and so, since the lease was going to be up later that summer, Jack’s was doomed, doomed, DOOMED. No, we weren't broken up by this prospect. 

Well it never got that far. The place had an “accidental fire” a month or so before the lease was to expire and the result became Treat Her Right’s well timed and well deserved destiny.

We all joked afterwards that if only Jack’s had burned up four days later that perhaps we would have had a Cool McCool Telethon on WBCN and have signed a recording contract.

I guess we’ll never know.