There’s so much complaining about unions, especially our own! But our radio program on the Communications Workers of America revealed some very positive aspects of the American union movement.

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My co-host, Bonnie Mathias is an outspoken member of two CWA locals, including the Dallas dominating CWA 6215. Our guests were from CWA 6171, headquartered in Krum, Texas. Travis Pirotte is the elected president, and Tony Schaeffer is the professional representative from CWA District 6, a five-state region. Tony is the big guy on your left in the photo.

Right now, CWA 6171 is negotiating a new contract with Frontier. A couple of callers wanted to know if they were expecting the company to want big pay cuts. They also wanted to know if the union was doing anything about the national problem of companies’ outsourcing work from union members to low-paid subcontractors. Another caller wanted to know if their union was trying to organize any of the many low-paid, no-benefits workers in the “gig” economy. These were really good questions.

Tony is the expert on negotiations. He said that the company had not made any economic proposals yet. Unions negotiate “economic” and “non-economic” issues separately, with the non-economics usually first, he said. As for the sub-contractors stealing work from the union, Tony said that the CWA has been fighting this nationwide all along.

The Good Part

For me, the good part was when Bonnie and our guests started talking about all the socially responsible things that their union is doing. I knew that Herb Keener from CWA 6215 speaks up for the Blue/Green Alliance between labor and environmentalists. I also know that Claude Cummings, District 6 leader, is a major figure in civil rights activities — whether they concern union members or not. It was good to hear the guests confirm these things.

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–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM central time every Saturday. Podcasts are available from the “events” tab. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site

Reverend L. Charles Stovall needed a ride home from the Dallas Labor Day Breakfast, and I was happy to get to spend time with him.

Stovall and Hickman at the Labor Day Breakfast in 2011

Almost as soon as he got in the car, he called Reverend Holsey Hickman to tell him that the annual breakfast is getting better and better. I wholeheartedly agreed.

The hard data showed that ticket sales were way over the 500 mark that we strived for over the last decade. Participation from labor, political, religious, and community leaders was far better. The three of us could remember when area unions had to scramble to even find even one religious leader to open the ceremonies. There were no community groups. Civil rights and immigrant rights weren’t mentioned.

National Unions Are Watching Dallas

This year, we had two national union leaders speaking: UFCW International President Marc Perrone and ATU International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens. Perrone told the crowd, “We are the labor movement. We are the last and only hope for America.” He also said, “The fight for justice will go on forever as long as there are greedy bastards out there!” My favorite quote was one word repeated three times, “Organize! Organize! Organize!”

Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy was in the audience and trying to listen while admirers hustled him into one photo opportunity after another. Louis Malfaro, leader of Texas’ biggest union, the Federation of Teachers, presented the Linda Bridges award for outstanding union women to the Dallas AFL-CIO Political Director, Lorraine Montemayor. The applause showed how much everyone agreed with the choice. Montemayor said, “You are the backbone of this country!” Then, true to form, she began outlining some of the hard work planned for this election season.

The award for “Hero of Labor” deservedly went to DJ Garza of the UAW. As an organizer for the Workers’ Defense Project, Garza has made a difference in winning rights for Dallas workers. The “Community Champion” award went to Faith in Texas. They turned out many volunteers for the recent petitioning campaign to win paid sick time.

Political Leaders Know the Value of Union Support

I don’t know if Mark York, principal officer of the Dallas AFL-CIO and emcee for the breakfast, was able to mention every office holder and candidate in the audience. It seemed to me that they were all there. Texas governor candidate Lupe Valdez put it this way: “I work with unions because we want to do the right thing for every working Texan.”

Colin Allred, candidate for Congress in District 32 — one of the most closely watched races in America — wowed the crowd. Like many candidates this year, he is also a union member. Also on the dais were Congresspersons Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey. The Texas Democratic Party Chair, Gilberto Hinojosa, came to speak, as did  Senator Royce West, State Rep Victoria Neave, County Judge Clay Jenkins, Commissioner John Wiley Price, and Councilman Scott Griggs. Out in the audience, there were many more.

Look Back, Look Forward!

Us old timers can remember when the annual breakfast petered out for a couple of years. It was expensive back in the 1990s, and sometimes it just didn’t seem like it was worth the trouble. During those two years without the annual AFL-CIO breakfast, our little Jobs with Justice group seized the opportunity. We didn’t have the money for a banquet, so we fell back on time-tested labor tactics. We did car caravans to labor’s “hot spots” around North Texas. News reporters liked it, and we more than kept up the Labor Day tradition.

When the breakfast started again, Jobs with Justice worked to get faith leaders, especially Stovall and Hickman — because they were also major civil rights leaders — to come. We had to raise the money, but we soon had a table of ten religious and community leaders. Stovall and Hickman reflected the new, broader and more inclusive AFL-CIO that would extend its influence throughout the progressive movement.

This trend is extending. In 1999, the AFL-CIO began to reach out to undocumented workers for the first time in its history. Today, there are no barriers between the Dallas AFL-CIO and every aspect of the progressive movement. The Labor Day breakfast showed that we have made tremendous progress, and it points the way toward a future in which the progressive movement is truly focused on working families. In that future, nothing can stop us!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

Book Review:

Piketty, Thomas, “Why Save the Bankers? And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston New York, 2016. Dallas Library 330.94 P636W 2016

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Apparently, publishers were looking for anything by Piketty after his world-shaking 2014 (in French, 2015 in English) book “Capital in the 21st Century.” This is only a collection of his essays on contemporary developments in Europe 2010-2015. He has a monthly newspaper column.

These are short and readable and, if nothing else, give a short summary of major economic developments in the European Union during the period. They also encapsulate some of his major recommendations for solutions to the capitalist crisis:

  1. The worldwide wealth tax espoused in his major work
  2. Additional economic integration — he calls it ‘federation’ — within the European Union. He particularly wants the EU to be able to issue common bonds and have common debt. At other times, he mentions other economic aspects of closer federation.

“Federalism, the Only Solution,” is the title of one very central essay.

Piketty doesn’t believe that austerity will solve any particular country’s crisis, consequently, he sees no reason why some countries (Germany and France) would force it onto other countries (Greece). He opposes what he calls “tax competition” between nations. It consists of lowering business taxes in order to entice more economic activity away from countries with higher taxes. He mentions Luxembourg and Ireland particularly.

At the end of 2017, Republicans in Congress drastically lowered taxes for businesses and wealthy Americans. One of their excuses was that other nations had lowered theirs already. Race to the bottom!

In a very general sense, Piketty sees the European Union as having unnecessary crises because they only partly joined their economies. Fiscal and monetary policy simply don’t work when they aren’t coordinated among the nations. What hurts one helps another.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio‘s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. 89.3 FM in Dallas. They podcast them on Itunes. If you are curious about what I actually think, check out my personal web site.

On this 125th Labor Day, there’s good news for our side:

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The statistics recently shared by the AFL-CIO are pretty good:

  • 48% of unorganized Americans would join a union if they could. If you add the ones that already have a union, we’re a majority!
  • 262,000 new members joined last year
  • Union approval is at 62%, an all-time high

And you can add some local things that are impressive:

  • The Dallas Labor Day Breakfast has already sold more tickets than ever
  • The Dallas AFL-CIO has more staff and more participation than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching for a long, long time
  • The Dallas AFL-CIO is playing a central role in several critical coalitions
  • My own local union has about 375 new members!

Look at the Trend

To really understand anything, don’t just look at what it is. Look at what it was, and look at what it is becoming. If you go back to the period between 1947 and 1995, you’ll see an American labor movement that was conservative, timid, and isolated. It was also losing two-thirds of its membership and most of its political clout.

The ice began to break in 1987 when five of the more progressive industrial unions formed Jobs with Justice to consolidate the movement and take new initiatives. In 1992, as part of Jobs with Justice, I attended a special conference on low-wage workers. In 1995, for the first time in 100 years, there was a disruption in the succession of leadership. The outgoing leaders of the AFL-CIO did not get to pick their own successors.

After 1995, things really began to happen. In 1997, they removed the anti-communist clause from their constitution and started trying to work with more people. In 1999, they stopped calling for deportations of immigrants and committed themselves to organizing everybody that works.  Since then they’ve greatly improved their outreach to women, to minorities, to gays, to environmentalists, to retirees, to workers in other nations, and anybody else that might help American working people.

And through that period, from 1995 to now, the progressive leadership from the top has sifted down into the affiliated unions, the Central Labor Councils, the rank and file, and the many other kinds of organizations that can make up a united progressive movement.

We’re Not Done

There’s a lot more to do. Way to many union members still think of themselves as superior because they have better jobs than ordinary Americans. Way too many ordinary Americans still think that the labor movement doesn’t share their interests. Way too many people don’t see the crisis we’re in and don’t see that organizing is the only way out of it. Way too many old habits persist.

But if you think of employers and employees as two different sides of a war, and if you realize that you belong on the employee side, you begin to appreciate the fact that our side is better informed and better organized than ever in American history. The employer side may have the option of destroying the world, that may be in their power to do.

But defeating our side is not one of their options.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program in Dallas 89.3 FM at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “The Captain (Der Haptmann)”.  Directed by Robert Schwentke. 1 hour, 58 minutes.

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Just as you learned from the trailer, the movie is about a low-level German deserter who masquerades as an officer during the final two weeks of World War II. Toward the end of the movie, one learns that it’s a true story about a young man named Willi Herold.

Before that, you spend nearly two hours wondering and watching Willi pull off his incredible masquerade. Not only does he convince everybody he meets that he really is a high-level German officer with direct instructions from Hitler; but he convinces everybody watching the movie that he is one of the worst stereotypes of a monstrous Nazi in a monstrous war.

And we are never actually told his motivations. We really don’t know where to put Willi Herold, and he doesn’t tell us. Is he doing everything he does because he knows he is close to death and is living in a state of panic? Or is he just a terrible person who sees a chance to do something awful?

Also, we are never actually told whether we are watching a farce or a horror movie. Some scenes are as grim as any war movie ever filmed, maybe worse. Other scenes are so downright wacky that they might be some kind of movie tribute to Federico Fellini, the great Italian film maker who used realism only part of the time.

My movie buddy and I agreed that the movie was well made and that it is important. A work of art is defined as something that changes you, but it recognizes no obligation to guarantee the nature of the change.

The actors in “The Captain,” all of them set free to portray the far extremes of human emotion, are simply wonderful. The music and the shiny black and white cinematography melt the audience into the screen. My movie buddy and I agreed that we felt the need to seek out someone who would explain what we had just seen. Or maybe what we really need is somebody to sit us down and carefully explain Nazi Germany and World War II.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat,” 89.3FM in Dallas, at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

The outlook for working families is far worse than usually noted.

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The graph above is one of those used in the best selling, world-shaking economics book “Capital in the 21st Century” by Thomas Piketty.

Like many graphs in the book, this one shows that income inequality dropped during the middle part of the 20th century. Then it began to rise again and continues to rise toward conditions that Monsieur Piketty and others describe as “intolerable.”

Popular economics books of today such as “Runaway Inequality,” a book broadly used in the American labor movement, only look at the later half of the graph – from 1945 to present. Most of the economic analysis used by the AFL-CIO is based on a “return to normal” which they define as 1945-1973. Most of us grew up in that period and consequently it is natural that we would think of it as “normal.”

In 1973, the United States and the world dropped the gold standard and began floating their currencies. After those great economic changes of the Nixon Administration, and even more so under the trickle-down “Reaganomics” of 1980, we say that really bad people distorted American economics to the detriment of working families. Since the bad people took power, inequality has continually grown much worse.

The world owes its gratitude to the Occupy Movement for having focused our attention on rising inequality. They saw that the 1% was growing in wealth and power to the detriment of the 99%, and they forced the rest of us to see it. The unfortunate inadequacy of their solution grew from the shortcomings of their analysis. They didn’t look deeply enough into the data.

Bernie Sanders took this growing consciousness much further. His analysis included the nuts and bolts of inequality, the ways that the 1% keeps the flow of wealth moving upward toward them. Sanders’ prescriptions for new nuts and bolts were much more useful than what the Occupy Movement had offered. Sanders and his followers are converging with the American labor movement today, and both are being strengthened. For that, too, the world must be grateful. I am grateful.

At the same time, during the fiery height of the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016, even while I was campaigning for him, I often said, “Bernie Sanders will never live to see his program implemented. They would kill him first.”

The solution being put forward by almost everyone in the labor movement and by progressives at large, Bernie Sanders included, is to stop electing bad people and start electing good people who will return to the good policies that reduced inequality during 1914-1973. It’s a simple and seductive solution.

It Won’t Work

I would truly like to think that elections, elections in general and specifically the ones we’re about to have, will elect those good people, with those good solutions, and we will return to the policies that lowered instead of raising inequality in the United States and in the world. But they won’t.

I want to tell you why, even though I supported the Occupy Movement, and even though I support the Bernie Sanders socialists, and even though I am completely devoted to the AFL-CIO and the American labor movement, I want to tell you why I think their analysis is incomplete. Not only is their analysis incomplete, but their prescription, what to do about our situation, is inadequate. One cannot arrive at successful tactics without first understanding the present situation.

Look at the Whole Graph

The popular analysis, and the prescriptions that come from it, are wrong. Look at the whole graph. In fact, look at the entire history of capitalism. Piketty and his associates have accumulated data and anecdotal records going back to the early days of capitalism. Those data show incontrovertibly that increasing inequality is fundamental to capitalism. The 60-year drop in inequality, roughly from World War I until 1973, a small part of capitalism’s history, was never normal. It was completely abnormal and, in fact, antithetical to normal capitalism. What we had before 1914, and what we have now, rising inequality, is “normal.”

Didn’t Work in 2008, Won’t Work in 2018

If one realizes that we are now living in a “normal” period, then one should be able to see that there is no single simple solution. Even if we have great election victories in 2018, as we did in 2008 by the way, inequality is not going to diminish. We’re going to have to work a lot harder than that.

What we are living in now, and what we lived in before World War I, is normal. In an article titled “Who Will Be the Winners of the Crisis?”, Piketty himself explains: “Left to itself, capitalism, because it is profoundly unstable and inegalitarian, leads naturally to catastrophes.” “Inegalitarian” means what you think it does.

So the period of my youth was abnormal. What we are suffering under today is normal.

Why Did Inequality Diminish in the Abnormal Period?

Monsieur Piketty points out that the crises of the 20th century did not cause inequality to go down. As he says in the article I just quoted, “The historical data… shows unambiguously that that financial crises, as such, have no lasting effect on inequality; it all depends on the political response to them.”

So the political responses to the two world wars and to the great depression were what lowered inequality. It was the progressive taxation that lowered inequality. But why did these progressive policies get selected? Why not let the rich continue getting richer and the poor get poorer? Piketty says that the system received “shocks” with two world wars and a great depression.

Look At the Graph Again

Piketty is wrong about the “why” of diminished inequality 1914-1973. It wasn’t “shocks.” It was the success of the working class. We may not know much about the 23 countries that Piketty studied, but we do know what happened in the United States in the middle of the 20th century.

Workers Power Grew

In 1914, when Piketty says inequality began to get lower, the Socialist Party was riding high in America. Even out here, in Texas and in Oklahoma, many people were openly socialists. They voted socialist. There were socialists elected here and there and everywhere. There were socialists in Congress! The Industrial Workers of the World was terrifying employers from the textile mills of New England to the timber forests of Oregon. In 1917, socialists took power in the Russian empire! In 1919, Eugene Debs got a million votes for President while he was in prison!

The great depression hit hard in the capitalist countries, but the socialists were able to point to the Soviet Union and say “They aren’t having a depression!” Socialism, and the workers movement, was growing in popularity while inequality was falling. During World War II, it was the socialists who led the resistance movements. Many of them were so popular that they took power when the Germans and Japanese were finally defeated. Look at Marshall Tito in Yugoslavia, Enver Hoxha in Albania. Look at Mao Tse Tung in China and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam!

In 1935 in America, the Committee for Industrial Organization took over where the Industrial Workers of the World left off. The progressive movement grew like crazy. By 1947, they had gone from a small part of the labor movement to approximately 1/3 of the American workforce! The actual numbers of people in unions continued to rise until the mid-1950s. Then it started to drop off. In that same period, socialists were red-baited into virtual obscurity.  The Soviet Union was probably at the height of its world popularity when it sent up Sputnik in 1957, but its popularity sagged after that. By the time Reagan declared war against the progressive movement, the steam had gone out of the workers’ movement, both internationally and here.

I saw one book, sold by the AFL-CIO, that says the American labor movement died in 1972 because they failed to support McGovern for President. We didn’t actually die, but we lost a lot of blood.

However one may analyze it, no matter what statistics one uses, one still has to conclude that the workers’ movement does not have the power that it enjoyed in the middle of the century, when inequality was at its lowest.

After 1980, the power of American employers waxed while ours waned. Inequality grew. Inequality is still growing.

While Employers Rule, Workers Can Make No Permanent Gains

The greatest person I ever knew personally was named George Meyers. He had been a leader of the CIO before he joined the army in World War II. George used to say, ‘There are no permanent gains for workers under capitalism.” No matter what you win, you will always have to fight for the same things again.

I had a personal experience with that. My union carried out an incredible fight in 1984-5, and we emerged with the best contract in the aerospace industry. Better than Boeing’s contract, and we were just little LTV in Grand Prairie, Texas. But nobody hangs on to those gains. You have to win them over again, the same things, win them over and over and over, every contract.

With Understanding, We Can Prescribe Solutions

The solution to the rising inequality caused today by normal capitalism is to fight with everything we can find. We have to fight to win these elections, of course, and we really need to win. But that’s not all. We need economic struggle as well as political struggle. We need boycotts, we need petitioning campaigns, we need militant contract fights, and above all we need to organize. We need to bring the entire progressive movement together and focus it on fighting the employers, the 1%.

It’s easy to say these things but not so easy to do. Contract fights are rare today, because the legalities have become so rigorous against us and our leaders have lost their edge while our members are confused. Even a simple idea like organizing is really really hard. Most union staffers and officers are far too busy to organize. There’s very little money for organizing, and there are very few unpaid volunteers in today’s labor movement.

But There’s Good News

We are in the biggest and most general progressive upsurge in American history. It isn’t focused, it isn’t united, but it’s big and it’s enthusiastic. The most exciting news of the 21st century came from the teachers of West Virginia and a few other states this year. They carried out victorious political strikes. Political strikes are common in Europe, but almost unheard of in America. That kind of planning, that kind of volunteering, and that kind of militancy is what we have to have.

I won’t say it’s easy to do what has to be done, but I will say that it has to be done. There is no other way.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, see my personal web site. I intend to present the ideas in this article at 6:30PM Central Time on September 1 at Romo’s Restaurant, 7033 Greenville Av in Dallas. Come down and discuss it!

In my lifetime (1940-so far, so good) the biggest historical question has always been, “Why didn’t the German people stop fascism?”

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Book Review: Erik Larson, “In the Garden of Beasts,” Crown, New York, 2011

When we meet people from Germany, we start looking for the right opportunity to, politely, ask them. When we read the histories, it’s what we want to know. “In the Garden of Beasts” relates the personal histories of the four family members of Professor William E Dodd, Ambassador to Germany 1933-37.

Worldwide attitudes toward the Nazis ranged from admiration to revulsion when Dodd moved to Berlin. Like most people, his family fell somewhere in between. Dodd felt that his role was to be an intermediary without strong bias. That changed over time and the course of this book.

Probably the most detailed account comes from vivacious daughter Martha Dodd. That may be because she wrote the most and lived the longest. It may also have been because she was more involved with more people and with people of more disparate political views. One of her lovers was a communist who worked in the Soviet Embassy; another headed the Gestapo, and there were several in-between.

Hitler had already been elected to high office before the Dodd’s arrived, and his popularity was already rising to fanatic levels. But he didn’t really consolidate all his power until the period that the Dodd’s experienced up close and personally. While they were there, he murdered some of his rivals and outlasted General Hindenberg, the only single person who could have stopped him.

Interestingly, Dodd had his detractors within the State Department all along. Especially after he began to condemn the Nazis, powerful Americans wanted him removed and finally had their way. His successor was still apologizing for Hitler at the end of the book. According to this author’s account, President Roosevelt supported Dodd’s view, but was forced to acquiesce in getting rid of him.

After Dodd returned to the United States, he toured the country to warn about fascism. Martha, too, worked against the fascists, but, like many others, she had to seek exile during the post-war witch hunt.

So, why didn’t the Germans stop Hitler? The best answer I got by asking came from a World War II veteran (their side, not ours) living in Dallas. He said, “The Nazis got people jobs.” Hitler came to power during the great worldwide depression. German unemployment was 25%. That’s why it was so easy for the relatively wealthy National Socialist Party to recruit young men into their Stormtroopers. After they took power, the Nazis started their great military building, which eventually overcame the worst of their unemployment problem. That’s a partial answer to the question, but not a fully satisfying one.

The real answer may never be found by asking individual Germans or reading history books. The real answer has to do with comfort zones, lack of understanding, lack of organization, miseducation, and lack of will. The reasons the German people didn’t stop fascism, even though they could see it, are the same reasons that the people of the United States have not yet stopped the trend toward fascism here. Let’s start asking about that!

–Gene Lantz

I am on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. Podcasts are on Itunes. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

Movie Review:

“Never Going Back,” directed by Augustine Frizzell, 1 hour 26 minutes

“Puzzle,” Directed by Marc Turtletaub, 1 hour 43 minutes

This is the year of the women in movies as well as elections. My movie buddy and I caught two better-than-average films this weekend.

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Jessie and Angela are two wild teenaged waitresses in “Never Going Back.” Agnes is a straightlaced housewife in “Puzzle.” There are light moments, but neither movie is a comedy. Both of them ring true as comments on the lives of contemporary American women.

Jessie and Angela are parent- and school- free waifs just about to turn 17. They live with Jessie’s older brother. He is a stoner and aspiring drug dealer. He has even less sense than they do. He tries to borrow money from them while they save up to spend a weekend on the faraway beach in Galveston. The movie, takes place in Garland, Texas,  next to Dallas.

The viewer would probably respect the young women a lot more if they weren’t such zany outlaws, but he/she would probably care for them less. I worried about them all the way through the film.

I wasn’t worried about Agnes in the other movie, but I was pulling for her. As the film begins, she is taking care of men, her husband and two nearly grown sons. Before that, she took care of her father. “You’re the boss,” she cheerfully tells her husband at one point.

But Agnes has a secret. She’s taken up competitive jig saw puzzling with an exotic man in the big city. Agnes guides herself through big changes, but she is never entirely out of control. One admires her all the way through the film.

Both movies are well done. The music is particularly good, and the acting is outstanding.

For moviegoers who are interested in women as victims and women as rebels, these are two pretty good movies.

–Gene Lantz

I am on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site