The Big Threat

From a Google Image Search – Paradise Village, Mexico

Much has been said about the wealth gap in America and in nations around the planet. History suggests that enormous gaps between a wealthy few and the many whose lives are limited by their finances leads to unrest and eventually revolution. History also suggests that once the revolution is over, although a few may change their economic circumstances, things quickly revert to the same inequalities that pertained before the bloody upheaval. This leads to the conclusion that revolution may not be the best way to resolve the recurring problem that makes all the cream rise to the top. Money gives people power over governance and allows the privileged few to make sure that laws are passed which keep money flowing into their pockets – that taxes are structured to their advantage – and allows them to broadcast the “big threat” –  if we take away or redistribute their wealth it will mean that they will take the whole economy down with them, not necessarily from malice they assure us, but because without them the entire economy will not work.

Forbes tells us that since the pandemic the rich have gotten richer. Just seven Americans are worth $996 billion. The seven are Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla and Space X), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). “That’s a group small enough to fit in an SUV,” says Forbes. Some of the graphs from Inequality.com show how skewed our economy has become.

This first graph shows the gaps in wealth between top and bottom of US citizens:

This graph shows how similar wealth inequality now is to wealth inequality just before the Great Depression:

This third graph shows the differences between CEO’s and workers in terms of paychecks:

Clearly, once you have money it is difficult to think about giving it up. Those who have it believe the money is theirs. They earned it, they don’t intend to share it with the untalented, the uncreative masses, the worker bees, or the deadbeats. They resist arguments that show how the wealthy stacked the deck in their own favor. They refuse to accept that when their own profits grew, they could have raised employee’s wages to close the gap. Many refuse to use “their” fortunes to fund societal needs that will reduce their profits, such as oil and gas millionaires and billionaires who refuse to believe they are changing the earth’s climate and refuse to give up their addiction to fossil fuels even though they share the dangers extreme climate changes bring. Homogeneity might work with milk, but they have no wish to join the masses. They like being the cream. 

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was shocking, although most Americans were very clear about what Republicans had wanted for over a decade. Despite clear evidence that “trickle down” doesn’t work, Republicans insisted that if we cut taxes for corporations and wealthy families, corporations would be beating down doors, transporting factories back across oceans to bring manufacturing back to America. It was quite easy to see that corporations would not be likely to come back to a nation with such high overhead costs and labor costs, at least until there was no cheap labor left in the world. 

Of course, not everyone saw this. They believed the story that the Democrats killed American business with unions and their strident demands, although globalization was the real reason factories migrated to Asia. They wanted the fifties back, although the fifties lasted for a very short time and represented a postwar boom. After the 2017 Tax Act was passed the economy did pick up a bit, but certainly did not take off enough to bring us a new boom. Even if the pandemic did not come along, the economy did not show any signs of recreating the 50’s, or even the “sigh” 80’s, halcyon days of that economic genius Ronald Reagan (mythic or myth).

This graph shows wealth distribution after the tax act became law:

So, Mitch McConnell is supposedly protecting America when he refuses to increase the budget to meet the needs of the moment or raise the debt ceiling in a mean snit to throw more shade against those spendthrift Democrats who actually think that lifting up the ‘bottom dwellers’ will be good for the economy. Kentucky accepted the expanded Medicaid offered in the Affordable Care Act and would benefit from the programs offered in the For the People Act. Why do they keep sending McConnell to Congress when he doesn’t even back things his constituents need? It’s a mystery. 

Henry Olsen is a conservative opinion writer that The Washington Post offers a voice to, perhaps out of respect for his longevity. He swears that passing a $3.5 trillion dollar act that supports people in a time of economic transition, when many are not necessarily trained for the jobs that will be available, will do incalculable damage to the American economy. However, it seems that if the American economy must be this skewed to survive, then our nation is already on its last legs. 

How can we bring the American economy back into some semblance of balance? There are many options. Wealthy Americans finally won exemption from paying taxes on capital gains, thus insuring generational wealth. We could back track on this. We could raise the corporate tax rates to something reasonable. We could beef up the IRS to enforce taxes on the wealthy. We could raise wages. And for starters we could pass the For the People Act, which is not nearly as progressive as progressives would like it to be. Our wealth distribution does not have to be this out of whack. No one deserves to hoard enough money that it will threaten the survival of everyone on the planet. 

Work Anxiety Affects Every Other Aspect of Human Societies

From a Google image Search – Emery Reddy

Transitional periods, when new developments change everything about the way people work and live, cause people to experience fear, anxiety, and, even for some who know how to take advantage of changing times, exhilaration. How people work is interesting. Once agriculture was how families made ends meet. When farm machines grew sophisticated enough to free up family members to pursue careers besides farming it was a wrenching adjustment for many. Farms failed and children who thought they would inherit the farm and live the life had to adjust. Working in a factory is very different from working on a farm, although both things are classified as work. Factory work was the next trend especially when Ford gave us the assembly line. 

So many transitions have occurred in the ways people work. When. steam was supplanted by combustion engines people had to adapt. When factory work was booming people thought they had found an economic safety zone. When that certainty became uncertainty people turned to office work to return to that economic safety zone. An economic safety zone is a place to work that reliably produces the resources to feed, clothe, and save for future needs for a family or a single parent or a single person. When someone can no longer find that economic safety zone s/he panics and then looks for a new position to supply what their lifestyle requires. When the market is chaotic and it is difficult to find a place to work that provides that safe financial place, people experience varying degrees of mental anguish. When a population is consumed by mental anguish day-to-day life becomes precarious. If there is no leader or trend that comes along to provide a reliable safety zone, then there is upheaval or failure. We see this all over the world. When people have a reliable economic safety zone in which to operate they can concentrate on things like the quality of the work they do, rewards provided to their psyche by the work they do.

Right now, we are in a time when many workers are not sure what their economic safety zone will look like in the future. Work from home or work at the office seems like a minor matter, since you still have work. However, when people left offices to work at home to help stop a pandemic it clearly was not easy to adjust. The traditional pattern where a husband or father closed himself in his study all day while his wife kept the children occupied (who were also home) did not work for every home situation. Single parent families had to train children to leave them alone during working hours or had to stagger their work in order to care for their children and their employer. Two income families had to find a live-in childcare provider/tutor or one parent had to give up a job perhaps. Now that families function in a WFH environment and children are back in school they are required to turn on a dime and go back to the office. 

One article called this ‘whiplash’ because then delta came along and sent workers home again. Some workers are not so ready to go back to the office or even to the job they had. They have found that they like working from home. Workers are humans with feelings and these feelings affect the way the entire society functions at any given point in time. America does not feel calm right now. It is not humming along. Finding out what will make America hum is the key to what will happen in the world of work.

Rushing to ‘robot-up’ may be the next new thing but it creates as many problems as if solves. Capitalism relies on consumers. If people don’t work, they can’t consume. If robots, even temporarily displace multiple workers how will these workers find a new economic safety zone. Transitions may offer more jobs at some future time, but those caught in the crunch, left unemployed and unemployable will require some of our creative thoughts, if we like to live in a healthy society. 

Will we have a Universal Basic Income? This was discussed in the PBS series on work, and it was a policy of Andrew Yang who ran for President and for Mayor of NYC. CEO’s and other employers are aghast at the idea of a UBI, ‘what pay people not to work’, but if you like to live in a society that feels like it is working well that may be the only way to help keeps things afloat and keep the capitalism beloved by wealthy folks everywhere.

What about people who don’t work in an office, like educators? Educators work a school day and then they work at home planning and marking papers, keeping records. Their days are sometimes long, and they strive to come up with ways to entice different sorts of learners to learn. WFH, teaching over zoom, has been less successful for many teachers and students than in-person learning. But going back to school with a virus still stalking the land and now affecting children is proving less than ideal. Some major thinking needs to be done about what the future of education in America will look like. 

While one worker may find gig work exciting another might find it stifling to have to start over each day to create an economic safety zone that follows you wherever you go and depends entirely on your own resources to keep you and your family solvent from day to day. Although this new working model will probably stick around, it probably won’t be the only way work is done. Since the way workers feel, either supported by work or in a constant state of uncertainty about where they will be working, affects the entire zeitgeist of a culture, a lot of energy is going into figuring out what will happen next in the world of work. But there is still far more speculation than solid insight and that keeps us all off-balance. What happens in the world of work is of vital interest if a theme of a culture is that work is at the center of life and survival depends on work that offers a wage sufficient to produce an economic safety zone.

Follow the conversation about Work at Tremr.com

Work in the Twenty-First Century

From The Future of Work Series on PBS

Labor Day got me thinking about the world of work in America. So many people are pontificating about how the pandemic will change work in the future. Many of these people are employers trying to decide whether they want employees back in office or if work from home (WFH) will be more common even after COVID. Hybrid models are being tried out in some work environments, models which have employees spending part of the work week on site and the rest of the week spent working from home. There are discussions about 4-day work weeks once again, and shorter work hours. When commuting to work was interrupted, the WFH model, which we did not think we were ready for, became an important way to work, take care of family needs, and stay healthy. 

Of course, in retail, workers had to report to stores, especially grocery workers. Lucite shields were erected in attempts to stop the air borne virus and masks were required. I met mostly resigned workers, many able to interact normally when I went to buy groceries or to the drug store, but I also met some workers who resented being front line workers when they were also low- pay workers. Restaurants and bars were hit hard. These businesses rarely pay a full wage, assuming low wages will be fleshed out by tips and that competing for good tips will create better servers. Restaurants/bars often created a family atmosphere for their workers. Having to lay off so many of the kitchen and the wait staff showed that there was close family and family that could be parted with. Hard times unraveled the myth of ‘family.’ There were not enough profits to pay everyone through the pandemic as restaurants turned to delivery mode.

Now we see employers having trouble finding employees, and employees taking a moment to reassess how and where they want to work, perhaps seeing this moment of worker scarcity as a bargaining moment. However, even before the pandemic work in America (and globally) was already changing. Workers in low paid jobs were exhausted from working two or three jobs to make ends meet. They wanted higher pay and it was becoming a cultural pressure point. Gig workers had their own challenges with a style of working that offered both independence and uncertainty. There was an argument about whether they were employees who got benefits or independent contractors who did not get benefits. Gig work never seemed like a career, a life plan. It did not seem like something workers would want to still be doing as they aged unless it turned into an online business or remunerative WFH situation, which some creative souls were able to engineer.

Clearly the old factory-to-grave model is only marginally available and not at all reliable. There is always the fear that change will come to the business you are counting on, and that any feelings of job security may be unrealistic. Benefits tied to such jobs are under review. If your company needs to respond nimbly to a changing marketplace and you can’t adjust, you lose your health care and your pension. Many are suggesting that benefits need to be separated from workplaces or companies and either offered privately, by government, or made portable through benefit passports (still making them the domain of private or public providers).

It turns out that PBS was also spending time considering what was happening in the world of work. They have been broadcasting a three-part series called The Future of Work. These programs are available on You Tube. Optimistically the researchers who wrote the content found that in every other major transitional age in work, when workers feared that they would never again see boom years, businesses found their feet and more jobs were created than before the change occurred. This time technology is the innovation that is wreaking havoc with the job market. Combine the upheaval workers were already experiencing with an out-of-control pandemic and the future of work looks grim. 

Shockingly, many Americans refuse to be vaccinated against this virus. We all prayed for a vaccine and, for most of us, when we got several vaccines that were effective, we were relieved and felt that the world would soon right itself, or at least America would. But other Americans were convinced that we never should have noticed COVID. We should have flicked it off like an errant gnat and lived life without any concessions to the virus. These Americans have refused the vaccines and plunged the American job market back into precautions that should be unnecessary. Spiraling hospital admissions have left workers wondering if, given the delta variant, now is really the time to go back to work. 

COVID and the unvaccinated have made a transitional age of work even more problematic and in some ways has hastened the introduction of digital innovations. Technological approaches to work are being accelerated by those who are working on AI and robotic approaches to doing work. What jobs can be done by techie inventions and what jobs will have to be done by humans? Robots don’t need childcare, they don’t need sick days (although they do break down), and they can work long hours. 

The prospect of losing our jobs to machines with chips is making us question how children should prepare for the work force. Is a college education still useful? Should education be based on what jobs will be available when children graduate from high school? Will we be able to make meaningful projections that far in advance? Should we return to an apprenticeship model? 

There are many children in America who still have no early access to computers and graduate without having grown up with the digital skills necessary to work in a job that pays an American Dream level wage. Are we planning to address that or doom some children to growing up as a permanent underclass (which is something we are doing right now)? 

A college education gives people a body of knowledge that cannot be suppressed and can enrich the life of the mind. Will this become a frill that a practical society cannot afford. Is the process too time consuming to continue? Is the process becoming too expensive and therefore an indulgence and a burden for the average American, or will we fight for the right of any America to pursue a college degree at a reasonable cost should they wish to follow that path? Go online to almost any content rich social media site and you will find yourself amidst the conversations about the future of work, schooling, and training in America.

The Future of Work series doesn’t give absolute answers to where work in America is headed but it does conclude that transitions usually end up offering more work opportunities rather than fewer positions. If you happen to be living in the eye of that storm, while the transition is happening all around you, that little piece of optimism may not cheer you. Watching innovators find more and more ways to use AI and robotics to do work will displace workers in the short run as workplaces convert and fire low pay workers and hire workers who can manage the mechanical/digital workforce consisting of nonhuman workers. 

The Future of Work program hypothesizes that domestic, childcare and healthcare workers will be the most difficult to replace. While I don’t think parents are ready to leave their babies or senior parents in the care of a virtual reality device or even a humanlike robot, housework might be the ideal place to employ robotics, freeing many Americans from repetitive household tasks and allowing them to keep learning and working. We don’t have robots that are humanlike enough to keep house well, yet.

This series of presentations on the future of work stresses the possibility that workers will need to be open to constant change, to constant learning and retraining. The research suggests that unions may also morph into different forms just as guilds did in earlier societies. Workers may form groups across industries if their needs align. But workers probably will still need to organize in some fashion. Work – how we work, how we train for work, how we are paid for work, how many hours we work, how many breaks we have from work, how often we end up being unemployed – is a key element of our society. Issues around working affect the feeling of well-being or panic in every American and, indeed, every person on the globe.

Transitions are exciting and unnerving, and they can take decades to unfold before a term of stability is restored. Add to this the need to develop alternative energies, the exigencies of climate change and global warming, and we have a recipe for disaster if we can’t adapt. The future of work will affect us all. Keep up with the unfolding drama and keep finding ways to adapt. It may keep us on our toes. It may even make the concept of retirement obsolete and even more enticing as a time to reinvent ourselves once again. Perhaps people who feel useful live longer lives or at least more rewarding lives.

If there is a future for our planet at all, The Future of Work will be perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of that future. However, if you can’t feed your family or afford a place to live it’s impossible to take a long view. We need to acknowledge that workers need support services in a transitional age where periods of unemployment may be part of workers’ lives through no fault of their own. 

Divided

From a Google Image Search – Teachers College, Columbia University

We are so divided that we can’t do what is necessary to beat a devious virus that keeps spinning out mutations as we procrastinate about getting it under control. This pandemic is destroying the American economy, and our divisions over simple health measures like masks and vaccines are destroying the American spirit. But our divisions are not real. At least we were not this divided until one political party decided to gin up our differences because it offered an engineered political advantage. 

We live right next door to each other. We used to be family and neighbors. Now we are enemies. Now we don’t know what we can and cannot say to each other. The right-wing media used the way workers felt cheated when factories left their towns to move South or to move overseas. They whipped up a vague sense of grievance into a movement of defiance. They made sure that this group of angry Americans would be armed, and they used guns as an issue to divide us, to make us feel afraid of each other. They enlisted the aggrieved as an army to make a war between Democrats and Republicans. They escalated feelings of xenophobia brought on by terrorism (when we lost our invincibility on 9/11/2001) and they turned our fear of terrorism into an argument for nativism and white supremacy. 

It all happened in the minds and hearts of Americans. The only way to trace that it happened at all is in the battlelines we face over every issue that concerns us as Americans. We see it in the way we insisted that our schools switch to common core, that we stress nonfiction materials over literature. We see it in the movement to charter schools designed to perpetuate segregation. We see in attitudes towards police reform and bail reform intended to end racism in our justice system. We see it in the way people who needed health care still were persuaded to reject the Medicaid expansion.We see it in the Wall. We see it in the fight over whether there is election fraud in America or not. We see it in the willingness to break with Constitutional law in order to exploit our differences over the issue of abortion and increase our divisions. We saw it starkly during the pandemic when half of American became convinced that wearing a mask would destroy their freedom – freedom to do what, die? We see it again in the refusal of half of our population to get a vaccine that has proven to be safe and effective. 

These divisions are fake, they are a product of some of the most successful propaganda that America (possibly the world) has ever seen. One political party has turned common sense upside down and inside out to gain political advantage. They have whispered in people ears over air pods and car radios. They have ranted and raved over televisions and computers, and whipped people into a frenzy about the supposed hypocrisy of the Democratic Party, while their own hypocrisy has been downplayed and explained away with twisted logic — logic which forces a wedge between the convinced and those who are not susceptible to the harangues of obvious demagogues. 

Neighbors and family who loved Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and even discredited sources like Bill O’Reilly, have been offered a constant menu of replacements. Tucker Carlsen is the new darling they listen to all day in living rooms, kitchens and garages. Sean Hannity, best friend of Trump is still around offering up his smarmy harangues to make sure Americans can no longer trust each other, to make us want to feel such levels of angry frustration with each other that we want to brawl in the streets or shoot each other, although (and thank goodness) most of us stop short of that so far. This propaganda has been so successful that it is now self-sustaining and, perhaps, permanent. 

This disingenuous attack on the United States of America may have succeeded even beyond the imaginations of those who began it. It may have begun as a political ploy to turn a minority party into a force that defied elections and stayed in office reliably. The party had objectives that they knew would help them succeed. They planned to stuff the courts and were dismayed when Obama was elected, twice. But after two years GOP machinations held and they controlled Congress, pursued a policy of obstruction and were able to minimalize the ‘damage’ to the courts. Republicans were able to block Obama when he should have been able to fill a seat in the Supreme Court, using a political argument they abandoned at the first opportunity. They allied with Evangelicals and Catholics on the issue of abortion, enlisting churches to preach propaganda from pulpits (which violated their tax-free status) partly from genuine conviction, partly for reasons of political exploitation.

By recruiting individual states and making sure that their statehouses were run by Republicans, the GOP was able to use the old Civil War states’ rights fight, used to defuse Reconstruction, to further divide us into ‘Red States’ and ‘Blue States’. (Of course, these governments do not accurately reflect the attitudes of all the residents of these states). They argued for small federal government while also enabling an omnipotent federal executive branch headed by an all-powerful President, backed up by his own Justice Department dedicated to defending the President’s all-powerful state. Republicans were, in this manner, willing to switch out a democracy/republic for a dictatorship and their brainwashed crew did/does not even flinch, did/does not see the seditious intent in invoking two incompatible approaches to American governance. 

Civil War resentments nursed for over a century, bubbled to the surface as they had in the years of our battles over civil rights. Rich southerners had never accepted that their ‘slaves’ were free and equal citizens of America. They consistently offered faux evidence that black folks were mentally inferior and only suited for physical labor. They have kept up a drumbeat of racism as a bass line in America since they lost the Civil War in 1865. This ‘Southern pride’ was kept alive by our entire nation when the federal government stepped away from interfering in violence during Reconstruction and Jim Crow, when they left matters up to local sheriffs. The Civil War has reared its divisive spirit to add intensity to more modern grievances and has added to contemporary racial animosities resulting from segregation, what appears to be racist policing, and generational inequality.

How do we heal our divide? How do we get our disaffected family and friends to recognize how they are being used by one political party to kill off a rival party? How do we help those who live among us realize that what the Republicans have to offer them will not prepare them in any meaningful way for the changes America must own and adapt to? Computer chips changed everything. Since this is being written on the 20 th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and possibly on Washington DC, there is much talk of how 9/11 changed America, how it made us less self-assured, more vulnerable. But our parent’s way of life had already been changed so much by job losses and Vietnam and the 1960’s, and climate change, perhaps 9/11 was just the last straw. Perhaps anger was in some American hearts just waiting to be stoked by those among us who were most hungry for power. 

If we can’t unite over a pandemic, over something that is clearly apolitical, how will we unite over anything?  Our national sadness and frustrations are with us every day, and this is tearing our nation apart. People are determined to pretend that it is fine to be joyful even in the face of so much upheaval and grief, but there is probably a price to pay for keeping up a pretense of pleasure and personal indulgence at such a moment. So far, no one has appeared with a recipe that will heal us, but we can always hope. The dialectic, if there is such a thing, may eventually predict a swing towards unity once again. However, it is scary to think what might happen to unite us if a pandemic doesn’t.  

Now Is The Moment Democrats

From a Google Image Search – The New York Times

Congress is back in session after Labor Day, and it will be time for holiday recess before we know it. For Democrats this may be a now-or-never moment. This is the moment when we either put some accomplishments on the Congressional Record and implement them in the real world, or possibly lose seats in the 2022 midterms. Democrats’ margins are already so thin in both the House and the Senate that if we lose any seats we will be locked out of action by partisan Republicans and there will be no legislation to take America forward into new opportunities that could replace inequality with some balance. If Democrats lose not only do the American people lose, but the Democrats will lose, and not just in 2022 but in 2024. Republicans are frantically working to fix elections so that Democrats cannot win. If laws passed by Democrats have a chance to show Americans that Democratic initiatives will improve their lives, all the fixes in the world might not help the Republican Party.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (S.4263) is coming up for a vote. It will attempt to stop states from passing laws that suppress the right to vote by forcing any new voting rules to seek preclearance in a federal court before they can become laws. This restores a procedure that was subtracted from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prematurely, based on the bills we are watching red states pass. 

Since the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is unlikely to pass the Senate, Democrats propose that the “For the People Act” could do the job (although it would be even better if both bills passed). This House Bill is HR-1, showing the priority Democrats place on this bill. It would expand voting rights, change campaign finance law to reduce the influence of money in politics (overturn Citizens United v FEC), ban partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal office holders. 

The Infrastructure and Jobs Act – HR.3684 which passed the Senate on August 10, 2021, and affects highways, rail – both rail safety and freight, public transit, airports, electric vehicles, water infrastructure, energy and Western water infrastructure, broadband infrastructure, resiliency for the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA funding, and cybersecurity, environmental remediation, and ‘pay-fors’. (Holland and Knightlaw.com)

The 3.5 T “Human Infrastructure” Package which focuses on family, climate and health care. This bill is still in committees but includes universal pre-K, free community college tuition, paid family leave, climate priorities, public housing, job training, new Medicare benefits and extends expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and immigration policy.

Only one of these bills has any support from Republicans and there are at least two Democrats who say these bills are too expensive and too progressive. (Kristin Sinema – D-AZ and Joe Manchin – D-WV). America needs all these bills to pass and become law. 

Nancy Pelosi is aware that Republicans will use their barely bipartisan participation in passing the infrastructure bill as a point in their favor in the midterm elections. She knows we need to get the “human infrastructure” bill passed if we expect Americans to understand the advantages of a Democratic administration. She says she will not advance the Infrastructure and Jobs Act until the ‘Human Infrastructure’ Bill is also ready to be signed by the President, either by a bipartisan vote or by using the reconciliation process to pass the bill with only Democrats. Nancy Pelosi understands the legislative process far better than anyone, but the pressure is on. Timeliness is important and timeliness is not something Congress is noted for.

Can we get this all done before the holiday recess? 

Most Democrats are anxious to end the filibuster rules that can be used to block legislation in the Senate. Filibuster rules are not part of our original documents, so it’s odd that the ‘originalist’ Republicans are desperate to hold on to this holdover from Jim Crow days, yet not so odd given the difficulty Republicans are having because their racism is showing. Unless we want to leave American jobs and social opportunities to powerful corporations who do not want to pay taxes because they don’t live in the America the rest of us live in, we need to end the filibuster. Even without the filibuster it will be difficult to pass these important bills into budget priorities. Considering the difficulty states have had distributing COVID funds to renters and landlords, designating money does not necessarily mean that all these programs will be administered properly in every state. We need to show that government can step up and step up quickly.

Everyone throws their hands in the air when someone timidly proposes added four seats to the Supreme Court, but Democrats also need to pursue that path. The current makeup of the Supreme Court is part of the Republican coup (not the Trump coup, although he got to implement that strategy and that’s why they love him so). The Supremes can block every law the Democrats pass and that should not be allowed if Dems intend to block the coup. 

Perhaps we will have to accept that endless cycles of progress are not good for people or for the planet, that growth cannot be a giant spiral, but perhaps a slow and thoughtful process of change and adaptation. Republican policies are far more likely to stall human progress and even make the economy more unequal than it already is. If wealth remains this skewed or gets further out of balance, there really will be a few aristocrats and most of us will be their serfs. We will be cut off from the rest of the world and we will be paranoid, constantly spending our money on military and intelligence priorities. We will have strange new allies who will not be our friends. From now until Thanksgiving is a crucial time for Democrats. We are sending you positive energy, hope it helps.

Labor Day, My Father, and Unions

This week began with Labor Day which always puts my mind on my father. Dad earned the nickname “Brain” because, had he not been born into a poor family just at the edge of the Great Depression, his intelligence might have led to a very different life than the one he lived. He had to drop out of school after eighth grade to go to work in order to help support his mother and father. He found a job at the Easy Washer plant in Syracuse, NY. I know he worked there for at least 15 years, beginning when he was thirteen. Easy Washer made wringer washing machines. I also know that he worked there right through WWII, doing essential war work. 

After the war, my father’s plant was folded into General Electric. He had taught himself all about electrical circuits and even learned higher math skills, algebra and calculus, through home correspondence courses. For the rest of his life, until he retired, he worked in the TVR section of GE where assembly lines turned out the first televisions, whose guts consisted of an array of cathode tubes. Televisions were small and heavy and changed over time from black and white to color sets. He knew how each tube functioned in the TV and he purchased tubes which he kept in his basement workshop where he fixed our neighbors’ televisions and radios. 

General Electric had a very active union, AFL-CIO, and my father became a union steward. Management was never fond of unions. Unions turned workers into a powerful bargaining unit. Often unions fought to force management to stop encroaching on rights that workers had already won. It was common to force workers to work hours of overtime after a full shift by threatening to replace workers who said “no” to extra hours. Whenever a worker had a grievance, they could ask the union to put the power of numbers behind the rather puny efforts of one worker in order to right a wrong. Of course, sometimes unions overstepped also, and used their power to force the company to keep workers who were slackers, or who stirred up disagreements with fellow workers. Unions often stood up for workers in cases of discrimination, but not always as often as they should have. 

A pattern was set up in the minds of workers, that anyone hired into a factory like GE would work there for his or her entire life and would retire from there one day in their old age. There were no health care plans, no retirement plans, no unemployment insurance, no social security, but there supposedly was the sense that you had joined a family and if you ‘pulled your weight’ you would keep your job for a lifetime. Gradually the federal government began to offer programs to help workers with retirement and unemployment. 

My father and the union workers at GE went on strike many times to win higher wages as the American economy began to grow and inflation kicked in. Often, they were offered benefits in place of higher wages. Probably half of our family’s eight children had left home before the company offered health care and retirement savings programs. Workers did not get paid while they were out on strike, and some strikes were lengthy. The union gave striking families stipends which kept them from starvation but caused wage earners much anxiety about other costs like mortgage payments, clothing for their children for school, other school costs, and the costs of keeping a car on the road. Our family seemed to live in waves of feast and famine. 

Capitalism is an economic system which encourages private ownership of a business paired with the sale of items in a marketplace to consumers who keep the owner in business. Since businesses are run by people and people have flaws like greed, or a single-minded drive to succeed at the cost of employees, corporations are as corrupt as their owners. Businesses must please stockholders and boards of directors when they become large corporations. When money seems pinched or the market wobbly, workers without unions could face unreasonable work demands from these large corporation, where the work force was basically faceless to the owners. Unions filled an essential role.

But, a fact of our lives is that life moves on, sometimes at a fast pace, sometimes slowly. Promises made for a lifetime may not be kept if conditions change and the world after WWII saw many changes. In 1960 SONY introduced the first solid state television sets. These sets did not use tubes. The technology was new, and my father was unprepared for it. But he did not make televisions by that time. He worked in the “Master Oscillator” room checking instruments and keeping records. 

By the time he was thinking about retirement he still had four children at home who were in high school. He could not retire yet. GE encouraged him to leave by putting him back on the main assembly line. He was anxious all the time and the assembly line pressures disturbed his sleep at night. Soon television production was no longer profitable for GE in Syracuse, and the company decided to move their TV operations to another city. 

Southeast Asia was producing more and more televisions and they were less expensive for consumers to buy. The marketplace was changing, and unions were also caught off guard. They did not understand that they were competing against a foreign labor force that could be paid far less than American workers were being paid. Unions kept asking for higher wages. Corporations like to say that the unions pushed them to go overseas. However, corporations go where their bottom line is best served, where their profit margins are best, where consumers are hungry for the goods they produce. 

Once the USSR came apart in 1981 and businesses in China began to take off in the 1980’s, corporations rushed to fill a factory vacuum in countries that offered a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor. The unions may not have seen the handwriting on the wall, but the corporations did, and they leaped across oceans to seize the opportunities presented. American companies declared bankruptcy, leaving their employees without their pensions. Finally, the federal government had to step in and offer some recompense to workers left high and dry after years of labor. The labor market in America changed drastically causing the grievances that right-wing talk show hosts inflamed. 

Now we have people who must work two or three low-wage jobs and still cannot pay for all their needs. We have something called ‘gig workers’ whatever that is. We have more entrepreneurs which is not necessarily a bad thing, but our small businesses are less stable than those large corporations once were. And we have a pandemic which has led to interruptions in supply chains. The American economy seems poised to recover but is being held back by partisan fights over commonsense health initiatives.

As companies joined the Great Factory Migration, we saw a right-wing push to make unions obsolete by passing laws called ‘right to work’ laws, which is meant to put a positive spin on something that is not positive at all. Unions charged nonunion workers a fee although they were not members because it made the union more powerful and allowed the unions to win more battles with management. Workers resented these fees, but they also received the same hard-won benefits that union members received when the fight was over. Pressure from the right-wing to pass right-to-work laws included the use of strategies that escalated the anger already present in nonunion workers about having to help pay for union negotiations

Unions may seem like archaic vestiges of a former age right now, but I would not give up on all that employee empowerment so quickly. Workers still need to band together to keep from giving management free reign over its worst impulses. There are many rights that workers still need in America, rights that workers have in other nations. Workers still must choose between family and employers when emergencies arise. Workers must choose between childcare and work, and this often affects female workers most, although men actually have children too, and there are few if any choices offered for men who might choose to be a childcare provider.     

My dad was forced into early retirement when his skill set no longer matched what was needed in a company that he thought had become his other family. He was fortunate to work for a company that did not have to declare bankruptcy. GE was able to keep its retirement promises to senior employees. Watching his skills become obsolete was still hard on my father and the strategy of putting senior workers back on the main assembly line where they were often too slow to keep up left him feeling abused, angry, and incompetent. 

Spending a lifetime in the hire of a single corporation or employer is highly unlikely in today’s work climate. But I still pay my union dues, although I am retired. I hope that all union workers will keep paying dues to their unions if they can. We may need our unions again. Even Amazon employees are trying to unionize, so far without much success and some possible cheating on the part of management. Workers may all be replaced by robots, but it looks like that will not happen quite yet. People will still want to be productive and won’t want those Republicans to think of them as deadbeats. AI presents whole new challenges for workers. How soon this transition will happen no one knows. So, for now we need to keep our unions alive and oppose the passage of right-to-work laws. CEO’s don’t run the world, workers do.

Texas Abortion Law Not Just About Abortion

From a Google image Search – Getty Images

Abortion is not the real issue in the pitched battle between the prolife folks and the proabortion contingent. No one is forced to have an abortion. Roe v Wade does not make abortions mandatory. This is a fight about morality. This is an attempt to legislate morality for every woman in a nation that has always professed to be about freedom of religion, separation of church and state. This is also a fight about the role of women in the world.

Most Americans of past generations were born in the Christian tradition, although in the twenty-first century many question the existence of any deity given overwhelming evidence that suggests that we are alone in this world. Many others feel that if there is a divine being s/he does not interfere in world events. But there is a minority group, who believes that they must fight against abortion, which they classify as murder, or they will be guilty of a mortal sin and will be unable to ‘ascend into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father almighty’. They are putting God before country, as their religion requires. But in a nation that has sworn to give its citizens the right to worship as they see fit, in order for these people to honor a Schrodinger’s box sort of God who only exists if one has faith, they must try to overturn what they see as a bad law, or if that doesn’t work, they must violate Constitutional law. 

Not everyone who opposes abortion does it for religious reasons. It has become a political football by those who seek to win the votes of this minority group which may represent almost 42% of Americans according to data presented on Meet the Press this morning. Republicans have long used a prolife stance to win an election in a region of the country where religion is an important aspect of culture. Democrats have used a proabortion stance to win elections in regions where women’s rights are an important issue. 

The role of religion in American culture is another factor contributing to the divides we see between red states and blue states. Red states are not monolithic in terms of religion or politics, and neither are blue states. However, it seems that state houses often are either predominantly Republican or Democratic and this is determining the kinds of legislation on offer, and even the way to treat a pandemic. Whoever thought we would be fighting in school boards about wearing a mask to prevent infections from a virus that is proving intractable? Whoever thought that school boards would become a political battlefield on a national scale, as opposed to the usual local personality or culture wars? It is mind-boggling to see how passionately we are pursuing some fairly petty battles where it seems that there should not even be two sides when there are larger issues to discuss.

Are women equal to men or not? Are women and men partners taking on a complex and not always kind world, or are women meant to be submissive to men? Throughout history it made some sense to divide tasks between men and women, but does that still make sense now? Why were women given brains with the same mental capacity as those given to men if they were meant to simply run a home? Raising children seems to work better when women are permitted to use their intelligence. Children value themselves more when they see both of their parents contributing to the society in which they live. They tend to assume that they will one day make their own contributions to making their society sensitive to the needs of all the citizens.

Why were women denied the vote until 1920? Why did they have to pitch decades of fits in order to win the right to vote? Why do they now have to fight to control their own bodies? The pandemic has offered new fodder for discussions among women about how they wish to conduct their lives. For centuries wealthy women wanted to have some control of their own lives. Since the 1960’s, better methods of contraception that did not hinder the enjoyment of men, gave even middle-class women the idea that they were now free to have lives outside of housekeeping and child-rearing. This freedom has filtered down to even poorer women. 

If women have children, should they have to stay home to raise them? If women marry, should their husbands decide how many children they will bear? Men were often tyrants in their homes and women had to cope or not, depending on the level of bullying behavior. Are we still basically a hunter-gatherer culture where men do the hunting and gathering and the little woman stays home and tends the fire and the laundry and raises the children, feeds the animals, sews the clothing, plants the crops and accepts whatever moods are presented by her husband?

Many Christians who follow the teachings of a Bible that is now centuries old long to return to nuclear families, with a husband and a wife producing offspring to make sure that white Americans do not become a minority. What do women do when men choose not to stay in a marriage, or no suitable partner appears but they want to raise a child? What do women do when they don’t wish to put up with a dominating male, when they want to be an equal to their partner? More women stay single because men are unable to change the internal or external messaging that tells them that they are weak if they give into a woman who wants to share equal ground?

This discussion does not even pretend to cover all the complexities that women and men face in America, and the world, since the ‘sexual revolution’. Women had to work from home during the pandemic because workplaces closed, but they also had to work from home because schools were closed. From studies reported on sites like Linked In it appears that women took on more of the duties related to child rearing, home schooling, keeping children on-task; while also doing much of the housekeeping, and working on Zoom or other digital workspaces. 

Women are once again analyzing how they wish to rate the priorities among their many responsibilities. Do they want to spend more family time? Do they want more flexible work rules? Do they think that it is time to have comprehensive childcare options in our nation?  Would having these options even work if there was another pandemic, or if this pandemic keeps evolving and mutating? Why would men in government choose this moment to add to the dilemmas around the shifting nature of women’s rights? Why are we allowing a minority to dictate morality for all? Why are we pretending that this is really about babies and mothers, when it is just about finding one more tool to widen the divide between Americans so one party can win election after election, and take us back to a male dominated society that we have been trying to equalize for decades, even centuries.  

Closer and Closer to Civil War

Texas Abortion Law – From a Google Image Search-The Economist

Today people assumed that the Supreme Court would say something about the new Abortion law that just passed in Texas. The Supremes said nothing (crickets). This law says that as soon as there is a fetal heart beat an abortion becomes illegal. This happens at around 6 weeks when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant.

This law also says that anyone can report a woman who asks about an abortion, anyone who answers questions of a pregnant woman about abortion, the doctor who anyone suspects may have provided an abortion, or anyone connected with an abortion. Anyone who files such a case will be paid $10,000 (if they win).

Heartbeat laws are not new but until now have been overturned by the courts. Vigilante enforcement of a law is new and very frightening. It sets household against household and person against person. Any person who just wants $10,000 can hunt down even someone who has had a miscarriage and claim their bounty. This could be the end of American democracy. This is a true witch hunt, which turns women into outlaws and even some men, as in the case of doctors. If these laws stand that is the end of Roe v Wade. That is not how a Supreme Court decision is usually overturned.

In addition, Texas joined 19 other states in saying you do not need to show a permit to open carry. Anyone who got a gun legally is allowed to carry it, but since no one will ask to see your permit, I guess it will be fine for anyone to carry a gun openly.

As of today, we will find out whether it matters if America has a president or not. This is the day that we see why Republicans fought so hard for states’ rights and why they wooed and won 30 states as red states. Republicans refused to allow a Democratic president (President Obama) to appoint any more justices to the Supreme Court. We all watched it happen. Ruth Bader Ginsburg tried to live forever, but her death happened at the worst possible moment. Now Republicans have the Supreme Court of their dreams. 

The US Senate can still be held in a state of suspension, especially since Democrats are not voting as a single bloc. Republicans have managed to keep control of Washington politics without having a Republican president in the Oval Office.

People who supposedly believe in unregulated capitalism will not wear masks so that our economy can recover. They may not feel any empathy for their new enemies, those of us who mask and get vaccines, but it would seem they would see the advantages for the economy. Apparently, we are supposed to just let diseases rage and just keep walking that hamster wheel. They don’t even seem to care about protecting their own children. They want to see their faces. What if they lose the faces of the people they love most through their own inability to show some common sense? I don’t wish it for them, I will grieve with them, but I assume they will feel the guilt of knowing they did this. 

It looks like Democrats in blue states might have to live in an America with laws and regulations dictated by red states. If it looks like we are headed in that direction (which it already does) what are Democrats willing to do? Will we go along to get along? Do we wait for the 2020 elections to see if all the new voting laws make it impossible for Democrats to win? That could be too late. I hope someone has some ideas that will allow us to avoid another Civil War. My solution has been to write about it. That barely made a dent in the national dialogue. 

Read my books about 2028. They are meant to be social commentary. They liked the first one in Japan. 

https://www.amazon.com/author/nlbrisson

Water

From a Google Image Search – The Arizona Republic

We should all be getting a bit worried about America’s fresh water supplies and the distribution of fresh water. Tempted by pleasant year-round temperatures, or at least the lack of snowy days, and plenty of sunshine it sometimes seems that too many people have decided to move to locations with limited fresh water supplies. The pictures we saw on the media this week of the rock-face record of changing water depths on the Colorado River, which serves as a main source of water for dry states and western states, was quite shocking. A long drought has been forcing states to look at how they will supply water to a ballooning population and a vitally important agricultural area, all drawing water from sources that are drying up. 

I remember reading a book, popular in the seventies, called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, which warned that climate change would bring drought to America in the future. That was 40+ years ago now. Climate change is, of course, unpredictable. It is entirely possible that western states could be seeing torrential rains and flooding, or that the dwindling snows in the Sierras could be replenished to offer the snow melt that bodies of water and wells rely on. But none of our meteorological experts would predict that such a turn of events is imminent.

If you live in a state with plentiful water, you must have at least given a thought to whether water pipelines will send some of the water you rely on to drier areas, or to areas like Florida which may run out of potable water. Will we willingly share our freshwater resources? Remember the water cycle. There is no new freshwater being added to our reserves. Most water is simply recycled. While it is true that salt in water does not evaporate and storms that arise over oceans do change salt water into fresh water, the water falls so fast that flooding happens and this is often more of a nuisance or even a disaster than a replenishment. In a normal water cycle water evaporates into the air and is returned to the earth as rain or snow. 

The problem is that the rain that is evaporated is not always dropped on the same place it evaporated from. In fact, it is hardly ever dropped back in the same geological location. There are predictable patterns of where water will condense as clouds and fall back to earth. These patterns are never 100% predictable. Ask the farmers. 

Those of us who agree that climate change is real accept that patterns of water and wind and temperature that humans in America (and of course the world) have depended on for decades, perhaps even centuries, are becoming even less reliable than usual. There are more dry years in some places, flash flooding in others, weather events are sometimes more devastating than usual. The fires on the west coast have been fierce and human communities have been burned to the ground. Fire fighters have been faced with almost insurmountable danger and the constant battle with fire has left people exhausted. Landscapes often recover, but for humans, recovery is more problematic.

So, do we send water from relatively water rich areas so that people can continue to live in deserts, or in areas prone to a cycle of disasters and rebuilding, like our beaches? We have all that water sitting in our oceans so it is difficult to believe that water shortages ever will be a problem. However, apparently, desalination is a problem, not just because it’s expensive, but because there is nowhere to put the resulting brine where it will not threaten freshwater supplies. Will we be given a choice? Humans are generous, but when supply is limited are we still inclined to share? People who agreed to tough it out in areas with four seasons, when snow makes it so difficult to get around, might resent shipping water to snowbirds and sun seekers who tried to recreate the green lawns of northern suburbs without a thought for future shortages. How can we capture water that drowns an area prone to hurricanes and send it off to where would be useful? Nature still overwhelms us.

It seems we always see things coming but we never exercise foresight in order to create workable plans. Political divisions make action difficult, giving states more power and then dealing with 50 different policies from 50 different governors doesn’t help, and so we drift through the years with plenty of ideas offered by experts but no plans to stave off crop failures, fires, destruction of habitats, destruction of homes, and possible dystopian water wars. Who gets water, what can people in different biomes use water for, how can we keep our creature comforts and use much less water if we need to, should we transport water from one region of American to another if rains become ineffective for moving water around? Do we have a federal commission to control the use of freshwater resources in American, to husband our freshwater and collect it where rainfall is wasted in order to preserve enough water to always take care of the needs of farmers and citizens? Isn’t it about time we formed such a commission, separate from the EPA to concentrate on managing our freshwater resources?

Since the world is a much smaller place these days and movement of people around the world will return to normal someday if we can stabilize COVID, we cannot afford to just consider the distribution of water resources in America. We must also think globally. People may have to migrate to follow freshwater availabilities. Currently, the world’s nations frown on migration. If you live in a desert, that’s your problem. If one country’s industrial pollution ruins farming in another country, oh well. Look what has happen to the Uyghurs in China, as their desert home became even drier and less livable. They lost their autonomy and have attracted the attentions of President Xi, who is being accused of genocide. Look at what is happening to South Americans as drought affects crops and they are not allowed to migrate north. Water management may not be able to wait if we want to avoid mass migrations and even water wars.

On January 31, 2012, I wrote an article called “How Likely are Water Wars?  You can find the post in my books, Loving America to Death. There is a book that just covers 2012 and there is an omnibus edition that covers 2010 to 2016.

https://www.amazon.com/author/nlbrisson

We mourn for lives lost in Afghanistan – photo- Newport News

“Safe Haven”

From a Google Image Search – AP News

Liz Cheney was on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd this morning. Chuck Todd likes to show that bipartisanship is still possible and that he can get Republicans to offer opinions that are outside the cult talking points. Liz Cheney has been in trouble with her Republican colleagues because she refuses to act in lockstep with the Trump cult. She admits that ‘the big lie’ is a big lie, that Trump was not cheated out of winning the 2020 election by fraudulent voting, and that what happened on January 6, 2021 was an insurrection. She is on the bipartisan committee investigating the activities of January 6 th, Trump’s ties to the violence, and the attempt to overturn a valid American election. Cheney shows us an integrity that is missing in most Republican behavior recently. She is certainly not the most frustrating Republican Chuck Todd has forced Americans to listen to in the interests of restoring cross-the-aisle discussions and legislative compromises. So far, his attempts at both-sides-ism have been less than effective and are hardly welcomed by his audience.

In today’s discussion of Afghanistan Liz Cheney said that our troops were in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming a ‘safe haven’ for terrorists and extremists. While that rationale might have been apparent right after the actions against America on September 11, 2001, very little is made of this as a reason for still being in Afghanistan 20 years later. Once Americans get involved militarily in a nation that is struggling, where people are poor and the government seems far away, too corrupt and disorganized to provide help, we start to believe that there is a humanitarian aspect to our sacrifices. This makes losing our soldiers seem to be an act of grace with a purpose beyond our own interests. In the case of Afghanistan when we were seeing positive changes in the lives of Afghan people, especially women and girls, it was easy to forget that this was only true in a small cordoned off piece of Afghanistan that was temporarily being remade in America’s image. It was easy to forget the poverty in far-flung villages where the government held little sway. 

Republicans do not like getting distracted by humanistic concerns. They don’t like it at home, and they really don’t like it abroad. The world is just a surface without boundaries for American troops to roam at will. The world is full of deadbeats to Republicans. If you are poor, you did something to deserve it, or you didn’t do the things necessary to avoid it.

It’s possible Republicans once had a heart that could still be moved to tears, but the party decided along the way that compassion was something they could not afford. Being in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming a terrorist safe haven is not necessarily a bad reason to be there. Perhaps it should just not be the only reason. There are still forces that would love to topple America, although they can sit back and watch us do that for ourselves in 2021. Our divisiveness about masks and vaccines is so powerful that we cannot act in unison, even to beat a disastrous virus that is changing America even more than our political divisions have managed to change us.

It seems as if someone came up with this ‘no safe haven’ motive for staying in Afghanistan just to spite Biden’s removal of our troops and to make Biden look incompetent. If keeping terrorists at bay was the most important reason for being in Afghanistan all along, why weren’t we constantly reminded of that mission. Instead, the mission got more and more muddled, until it seemed like a rescue operation and another nation building project. People are saying that we are once again peddling democracy to a nation that has no democratic traditions. Trying to sell democracy in a world that is becoming increasingly authoritarian may be unrealistic, but it is understandable. Republicans used to be focused on selling both democracy and capitalism. 

Republicans certainly don’t need to come up with more ways to push us all to believe that Biden did not have a good plan or a clear understanding of how many people did not want to live under the Taliban. The ‘no safe haven’ rationale is overkill at this point. But it may be the one that sticks. Republican have discovered and exploited the power of fear for at least the past two decades. Striking fear in people’s hearts is not the same thing as striving to lift human hearts.