It’s fall and midterm elections are only a year away. Once again Trump is “too much with us near and far” (Wordsworth). Echoes of past lies, rallies to entertain the Trump peeps with bogus claims about fraudulent elections in states all over the nation in 2020, taunts about President Biden’s senility hidden by his staff (the childish “I’m rubber, you’re glue” defense), repetition of all his ‘oldies but goodies’ (I am the most stable genius, I alone can do that), sniping at liberals, and nary a sign of a policy because the guy is not interested in politics, just in winning. Just that voice coming over the media far too frequently is enough to give us the heebie jeebies.
Maybe it’s because it’s almost Halloween and he keeps popping back up like Freddy Krueger, or because his style with women resembles that of an old school vampire. (There is a new school of vampires.) Our anxiety is returning, the Trump-as-President anxiety.
The man is spooky. He can apparently commit any of the sins that usually spell disaster for politicians and, since he is soulless, never experiences guilt or remorse, these sins just do not slow his roll. He abuses women, a sin which has cost a number of politicians their jobs and the conversation disappears into a black hole.
He fires all of the inspectors general, attorneys general, and anyone else who might criticize or curb his bad behaviors and the accusations gain no traction in the media.
He pretends a pandemic is no big deal in order to maintain his supposedly strong record on the economy even though his lack of an organized response causes many deaths, and half the nation agrees with him and refuses to take a preventative vaccine.
He (with the help of the Republicans) trashes voting in America and then walks away a bit and says, as if he had nothing to do with it, “look at our flawed elections.” We all know elections were fine before Trump got his fascism going and made half of Americans doubt our free and fair elections. Then, he tells “The Big Lie” and half of America, at least, piles on pretending they believe him. How he does go on! Once he gets what he believes is a winning tactic he expands on it – now he has multiple states involved in auditing election results from 2020, even though there was no fraud and 2020 is almost over. And he is making sure that no one will have any trust in future elections – a true authoritarian move.
He foments a riot at the Capitol on January 6. He denies any responsibility and once again walks away, not only without being charged with sedition or impeached in the Senate, but here he is once again, bold as brass, planning to run to be our president again in 2024 and he is treated in the press like an acceptable candidate.
So, we are seeing that ‘Bob’s Big Boy’ face everywhere again and bracing ourselves for more election insanity. Biden is being prevented from any accomplishments so Republicans can say he and the Democrats did nothing. It is easy to believe that 2020 may be the last election Dems ever win.
Americans, who have been taught to see liberals as their enemies are flying black flags, some pure black, some a black and white version of the American flag used in the Civil War by the Confederacy to serve as symbolic threats to neighbors that if they are liberals, they will soon be toast. Is it time for liberals to arm themselves?
If your nightmares bear the face of Trump, pray to whoever created the planet and the universe to please stop Trump from ever again being the President of the United States, or any splintered off segment of the United States, and hope (or believe) there is a caring God out there in the void.
Orange County oil spill cleanup – From a Google image Search – ABC7
In May 2015 I wrote:
“We sort of view our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes as a giant purification system. We can empty any dirty old thing in there and it will come out clean. But we have been fooling ourselves with this science of wishful thinking. When our population was smaller, and the waste we emptied into our water was mainly organic, this faux water science sort of worked. But with 7 billion plus people on the planet even organic wastes are taxing our water systems, fresh and salty.”
We seem to be trying to keep our freshwater resources cleaner and fresher, although there are still too many environmental accidents. But, most individuals have little or no control over what is happening in our seas and oceans. We are still presented with so much plastic as consumers. Getting rid of plastic bags is finally happening and that’s great. Plastic take-out containers, plastic straws, plastic wraps and packing materials are still making mountains of trash, and although much of it can be recycled, some places that used to accept plastic to recycle like China, no longer accept our plastic waste. Tons of plastic waste ends up in our waterways and oceans. There is that great group, “4Oceans”, that is working to clean up plastic waste on beaches. There is the guy who invented the giant plastic vacuum cleaner to pull plastics out of water using nets, similar to the way fishermen pull fish from the oceans. Plastic waste is a problem we can help with, by innovating ways to replace each piece of plastic we use.
We have learned a lesson we already knew, and we have learned it repeatedly – everything is interconnected. Plastic waste doesn’t stay in the ocean. Plastic finds its way around the necks of birds; it destroys a fish’s quality of life by getting wrapped around its mouth and head. There is usually no person around that poor fish to remove the plastic. It stays there as an irritant, or perhaps the fish can no longer eat properly, and the plastic becomes a killer.
The ocean grinds plastics down into tiny pebbles the size of grains of sand, birds who eat by scooping up tiny organisms in sand have ways to filter out the sand, but not the plastic. Then they feed their babies with the food they have scooped up, but the plastic is passed on too, the babies starve, and the entire family dies off. We have lost 3 billion birds in the last census taken by bird counters. If plastic kills birds which are pretty high up on the food chain, imagine what happens to those tiny critters that birds eat that rely on even smaller things that live in the sand at the bottom of ocean. If birds die and fish die, then eventually we die. Everything is interconnected.
This past week in early October 2021 a pipeline was breached near the beautiful beaches of Orange County, California – Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point Harbor, Newport Harbor. It was an underwater oil pipeline possibly scraped by anchors in a high-volume shipping harbor. At the bottom of the ocean oil coats seaweeds and living things and kills everything that it covers. On the beach it smells and makes enjoying a beautiful natural environment dangerous and unpleasant. Near the beach are the wetlands, biological nurseries, environmental safeguards; protected sanctuaries designed to act as buffers against man’s voracious desires for development and biome destruction. But the oil cannot be kept away, at least until the booms are placed that block the oil from traveling across the water. We mourn every time we see the birds drenched in black raw oil and see the habitat workers cleaning them off. We sometimes are shown the ones that die, sometimes not. Plants are killed off too which can hopefully regrow if the soil is not too poisoned. This happens over and over.
“We sort of view our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes as a giant purification system.”
When does the challenge become too great? What is the tipping point? When do our oceans die? Can oceans clean up oil? Oil and water don’t mix. Water requires additives to clean up oil, additives we can’t put into our water because they will alter water’s chemistry. Where does the oil go in the long term? What knock on effects does that oil have years later? Oil spills have happened near every nation that has a coastline and imports and/or exports oil. Here’s a short list of some of the largest oil spills.
Orange County pipeline spill, 2021
Deepwater Horizon blowout, 2010
Exxon Valdez tanker grounded off Alaska, 1989
Ixtoc, spill off Mexico, 1979
Gulf War spill, collision, 1981
Amoco Cadiz, tanker ran aground, 1978
Castillo de Beliver oil fire after spill, 1983
Atlantic Empress, collision off Trinidad and Tobago, 1979
There was a spill in the Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon, the Emerald Marine Ltd. spill, there have been oil spills off the China coast-in 2021 a collision between oil tanker and bulk carrier off China’s east port city of Qingdao into the Yellow Sea, in 2018 when an Iranian oil tanker sank in the East China Sea. Most of this info is available online as a search answer on Google.
An article in Environmental Science and Technology at pub.acs.org is entitled, “Long-Term Ecological Impacts from Oil Spills: Comparison of Exxon Valley, Hebei Spirit, Deepwater Horizon”. Scientists found long term effects on seabirds, sea otters, killer whales, and subtidal communities. Near the Deepwater Horizon spill they found effects on a diversity of complex aquatic communities in the deep ocean and offshore biologic areas, coastal environmental impacts to deep ocean corals, failed recruitment of oysters over multiple years, damage to coastal wetlands, reduced dolphin, sea turtles and seabird populations. In the Hebei Spirit spill off Western Korea, environmental conditions that were different and extensive cleanup resulted in limited long-term impacts. This last example offers some hope that human intervention can work although in open ocean situations the consequences may not be as easily ameliorated.
Living on a planet with dead oceans will eventually kill us all. This is not even global warming, which is having other effects like slowing the Atlantic current, but this is a fossil fuel effect because oil and gas are being moved around the globe and accidents happen, drunk captains happen, storms happen, wars happen. This is a repetitive tragedy that individuals cannot resolve. This is an industry problem, so we need the help of everyone in the oil and gas chain, all those who are least likely to want to help. This is a problem that will cost money, so it is the province of billionaires and millionaires. We’ll help if we have clear guidance about what to do.
Obviously, the biggest problem of all is that we don’t have enough clean energy sources to generate all the energy we use without gas, oil, and even, perhaps, coal. We don’t want to lose our comforts, but we want to keep the planet functioning. Keep working on this everyone. Perhaps the universe will offer up a solution if they see that we really want to save our planet. Keep finding biodegradable alternatives to plastics. Keep creating better batteries or other ways to store power. Keep inventing alternative energies. Meditate. Speak to a higher power. We may be locusts, but we are locusts with brains, and we can do this.
“The Pandora Papers documents — more than 11.9 million records from 14 offshore entities, including law and wealth-management firms — illuminate a hidden world that has allowed government leaders, a monarch, billionaires and criminals to shield their assets.”
The Pandora Papers hit the news yesterday. I saw the story in The Washington Post, but it was also available in other media sources. It’s not all that shocking, since we knew wealth was being hidden to avoid taxes, but the scope and complexity of the way trusts are structured and the fact that most of it is legal suggests that hoping for a balanced economy anytime soon is a pipe dream. (It is now legal in many American states to talk openly about pipe dreams.)
Not many Americans were exposed in this tranche of data, perhaps because they use different places to shelter their wealth and different lawyers to set up their irrevocable trusts. Many trust structures are so complex that flow charts and spread sheets must be used to keep track of the legal and illegal shenanigans. Maybe there are even some disorganized hoarders who lose track of all the money and assets they have stashed away. Some American states have become “islands” where assets can be stashed without penalties or oversight. South Dakota, Nevada, and others were mentioned.
The Panama Papers gave us a peek into these vast caches of assets, but the Pandora Papers exposé is “huge” (a descriptive adjective made popular by a recent impeached president). If money becomes useless and the world moves to digital money systems, will all these assets disappear? Only if the transformation takes them totally by surprise. Rumor has it that certain ancient members of Congress are trying to learn the ins and outs of bitcoin and cybercurrency.
Can we change laws enough to make these sequestered assets visible to the IRS once again? Can we do such a thing when people in our government have a vested interest in continuing to improve the Machiavellian twists that have made trusts so useful? Can we do it when all around the world powerful people are deeply invested in “creative” financing? Read all about it in your favorite media source.
In a capitalist system “a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
“Capitalism is often thought of as an economic system in which private actors own and control property in accord with their interests, and demand and supply freely set prices in markets in a way that can serve the best interests of society. The essential feature of capitalism is the motive to make a profit.”
Capitalism has been around for ages. The stock market began when the Dutch East India Company began selling shares out of Amsterdam. When other countries saw how this increased profits, they adopted the same model in their own countries. Even in nations governed by monarchs there was some private enterprise, small businesses offering the services of artisans, bakers, farmer’s markets, cobblers, tanners, silversmiths, and so on. Although the king or queen took a share, the owner of the business kept most of the profits.
However, when steam engines and then combustion engines came along, as monarchies began to fail, get overthrown, or become less responsible for governing and more titular in nature, we started to see capitalism on steroids. This was an age of invention and innovation, with machines, improvements on machines, improvements on ways to fuel machines, new designs to produce with machines, and finally assembly lines which followed immediately after Ford’s example. Wheels turned on new cars, on railroad trains, boats got engines, the world practically bustled with industry, at least in Europe, America, Canada, and some of South America. Streets turned gritty with ashy remnants of burning coal and later gas and oil. Even electricity often had to be fueled with fossil fuels, although hydropower was also used and did not foul the air. There was work for everyone and there were no rules.
These days capitalism may be a problem the world faces, rather than the engine of prosperity. Both definitions I found use the term control. Private owners control trade and industry, supply and demand. Both definitions claim that the state (the government) does not have a role in business. Capitalism would be fine, but capitalism with no controls, no rules, no regulations is untenable. Conservatives stridently insist that we must have free markets, we must have an unregulated business scenario if we want booming profits. America’s economic problems are not necessarily with capitalism. It is just a system for doing business. The system doesn’t require any ‘purity’ in order to function, and since it is an idea, it has no values of its own. The values belong to those private owners who say that profits are highest when business is unregulated. It is the way humans interpret capitalism that makes the system problematic.
If profits are all that matters, then every nation could just be run by corporations, and everyone would buy from the company store, and all the profits would accrue to the owners. Since there would be no central government corporations would probably run their own little kingdoms and perhaps have wars with each other. Capitalism does not, in and of itself, offer any governance, allow for a civilized society, leave room for small businesses. Left to their own devices corporate owners would not concern themselves with anyone’s quality of life, except the owner’s own quality of life.
But capitalism is not our system of government; it is simply the way we do business. Totally unregulated capitalism is incompatible with democracy. We see what happens with too much market freedom. Wealth pools at the top. A system for conducting business may not be greedy, but the people who own the parts of the system can be. They can be cruel and uncaring, and they can begin to feel that they are above government and above workers; above it all. Even people who seem civil may still believe that all the wealth accruing to them is theirs by right. After all, they started the company, or s/he started the company. Owners forget that their business could not have expanded to provide ever greater profits unless they hired people to help them. They did not see the people as helpers; they are workers, lesser beings, to be paid as little as the owner can get away with and still attract the quality of help s/he needs.
Conservatives have come to be the American citizens who insist that business can only operate if government keeps hands off. They act as if the definition of capitalism is absolute and not mutable. They act as if business profits everyone if there are no rules and regulations, if we let supply and demand control the marketplace, if trade is freely determined by owners of corporations, and if it is up to corporate leaders to decide how trade will be conducted. (Do they get together and decide, or is it every business for itself?) Conservatives insist that if governments keep their “mitts off” business, the profits will be so great that they will overflow and trickle down on workers. They never describe how small that trickle will be.
It is a myth that capitalism only functions or functions best when there are no rules. Free markets and unregulated capitalism have not produced market stability or enough trickle down to reach those at the bottom of the culture. We have seen markets experience cycles of boom, recession, and even depression without some oversight. These cycles don’t always exempt the wealthy owners either. Even the rich can lose everything and, in fact, they have a lot farther to fall.
Our economy will not survive the current conservative messaging on corporations and businesses. Just as conservatives seek an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, they seek totally unfettered capitalism. “Fettered” capitalism works just fine. Harness capitalism a bit and it can serve everyone in a society and not just those at the top. If the thirst for profits of those at the top of corporations gets too heavy, then it robs everyone at the bottom. If those on the bottom cannot perform their role in a capitalist system as consumers, then there is no demand for goods. Regardless of the supply side options no one can afford to buy whatever is on offer, and capitalism dies, the economy dies. Greed at the top will kill the economy just as surely as too much regulation.
Conservatives say that Democrats will ruin the economy. They want to allow the government to exercise control over business by making rules and regulations about things like masking and vaccinations. Even before the pandemic, Conservatives said that Democrats liked to make up all kinds of rules to hamstring owners of businesses. They want to raise taxes on the wealthy. Conservatives say, if we call it “redistribution” and label it as “socialism” people will climb on board with us to fight the Democrats, even if they are low wage workers. This is exactly what has happened.
Too much regulation can also be bad for a capitalist economy, but there is a whole lot of room between no control and too much control. The economy will show us when the balance is right. There will be a more even distribution of money, a prospering middle class, and no poverty. But those at the top will still be wealthy, just a bit less wealthy. These are the signs of a healthy economy. These are signs that taxes and regulations are set at appropriate levels.
If you look at our historical record on booms, or prosperous times, and recessions and depressions, it tells a tale. Recessions and depressions tended to occur after Republicans were in power. Steady progress tended to occur when Democrats were in power. Capitalism should not conform to an absolute definition, it should conform to reality, to conducting the system in a manner that will achieve balance, and a healthy planet. With all the great minds that have delivered us to the brink of the technological age you would think there would be a plan for a sustainable business model that is not totally out of balance, as well as a sustainable planet. Those of us who are not wealthy could stop enabling wealthy corporations that are hoarding profits. We could support laws that help workers, and we could insist on more balance in pay and in taxes.
Friday evening, September 24, 2021, I happened to stop channel surfing to watch Jonathan Capehart and David Brooks on the PBS News Hour. They were discussing the $3.5 trillion bill that I like to call the For the People Bill (but that name is really reserved for HR1-the Voting Rights Bill). The $3.5 trillion bill was joined with the American Jobs Plan which is now the separate Infrastructure Bill. So far, the larger worker-centered bill is mainly referred to as the “reconciliation bill”, or the “Build Back Better bill.”
David Brooks has been a Conservative writer for many years. He is a ‘bespoke’ 61-year-old, perfectly groomed American man, and worth 20 million dollars as of September 2021. He was born Jewish, but news sources suggest that he has evolved to a loosely Christian orientation. He speaks in terms of morality and community. Brooks seems to see the current extremism in the Republican Party as a temporary aberration that will go away any day restoring Reagan Conservatives as the appropriate voice of reason and flag-carriers of the true American identity. So, he traces a straight line from “saint” Reagan to now and ignores the Tea Bags and the Trump-sized garbage bag hanging from that line in recent years. He does not seem to accept that it is the nature of Conservatism that enabled the extremism in his party. For now, he is a man without a party.
This is what he had to say about the $3.5 trillion dollar plan when Judy Woodruff asked him about it.
“[W]hat strikes me is how so many people are drawing red lines. The progressives are saying, we want $3.5 trillion. We’re not going under. Manchin and others say $1.5 trillion, we’re not going over.
“And so that’s a gigantic gap. They can’t even agree on when to vote on what. And so, I think what they need to do is look at, what is the key insight of each side? The progressives are right that we need something big. We’re a nation in decline. We’re a nation — because of disunity. Lots of people have been left behind by this economy. And they’re right to do something big to try to jolt us back to unity.
The moderates, in my view, are right that we’re not going to have a European-style welfare state. We’re just not that kind of country. We’re an individualistic country. We like to tie benefits to work and have a work obligation. We’re never going to give away as much money in taxes as the Europeans do. The Norwegians give away about 46 percent of their GDP to taxes. If this passed, it would get us up to 19.
We’re just not that kind of country. So, if you take the scope of the progressives and the values of the moderates, I think you can get a deal, but they’re pretty far away from it right now.”
There is a lot packed in there. 1) We need something big, 2) We are a nation in decline, 3) So, Progressives are right 4) Moderates are also right 5) We (Americans) are not going to have a European-style welfare state.
“We’re an individualistic country.” What does that even mean? How individualistic does someone who is making $7.25 an hour feel? Do you think they would turn up their nose at free childcare? Do you think they would feel the same if childcare was a tax rebate? Do you think someone who will be burdened by the relatively low costs of a community college degree would be too proud to accept free tuition? Do you think any of these Americans would mind if we raised taxes on the rich?
Does someone with $20 million dollars in his bank account think he is truly able to judge how individualistic people are in this country? Does he think a senior would turn down help with dental work that becomes more expensive as we age? It would not stretch his budget at all if he wanted dental implants. For most seniors they are out of the question. Even good dentures are a stretch. If David Brooks needs new hearing aids every few years, he just buys them. Most seniors are lucky if they get one pair.
Does he admire Cliven Bundy who grazed his cattle for free on land other ranchers paid a fee to graze their cattle on, who then welcomed the ersatz militia guys who faced down the feds from a federal highway and who hauled out the old Posse Comitatus laws from Reconstruction to say that he only answers to the local sheriff? Is that the kind of individualism we revere in America? Although some Americans think Bundy is a hero, I don’t think David Brooks is one of those Americans.
“We like to tie benefits to work and have a work obligation.” This is David Brooks speaking for all Americans. The Protestant work ethic is a Conservative touchstone. No work, no eat. Can’t get a job. That’s on you. Brooks does express empathy for people who are poor, and he does suggest that we are a connected community and individuals should lift-up the less fortunate, just not government. If government lifts people up, they will not work. They will become lazy deadbeats living off the government dime. We will raise taxes on hard working people who have been successful to fritter money away on people who will not need to work. If we do subsidize those who are low wage workers, we need to make it as degrading as possible so that they will get off the public dime as soon as possible. Of course, “saint” Reagan is the one who came up with the term “welfare queens.”
But research into the future of work suggests that leaving benefits tied to work will not be useful for future workers. Workers will have to be more mobile; they may have to change jobs more often, even move to different cities. Some have suggested a ‘benefit’s passport’ that travels with a worker from job to job. But who pays? This would suggest private companies would offer benefit plans that would only be available to workers, but not paid by individual employers or the government. Without unions to represent workers what will those benefits be like? It could result in “the incredibly shrinking benefits”. Studies of the future of work also suggest that as AI and robotics become more common many may lose their jobs through no fault of their own, at least for a while. What economic guarantees will apply in a situation like that if all benefits must be tied to work?
Lastly Brooks argues that America is not Europe. (Conservatives think that turning into Europe is scary for Americans, but it’s probably not something we spend a lot of our time thinking about.) “The moderates, in my view, are right that we’re not going to have a European-style welfare state. We’re never going to give away as much money in taxes as the Europeans do. The Norwegians give away about 46 percent of their GDP to taxes. If this passed, it would get us up to 19. We’re just not that kind of country.”
Such arrogance from a man who has no party. Such arrogance from a man whose conservative policies led to Trump who is a man with no ideology and no empathy. Brooks does not seem to see that the times may call for a new ideology, a more progressive, less work-ethic-above-all kind of ideology. He’s very educated but not very flexible. Perhaps it’s because he has become a brand.
I think people like to work when they are treated well. I think they need work. Without some way to earn their own money and support a family, people are bereft. If there are people who don’t like to work perhaps it is because they have no good examples to call on, or they need to be trained to work productively, or they need to feel that their work has value. If there are large numbers of people who don’t work, there is a societal reason for that, and it needs to be explored and changed.
Europe has its own problems with benefits. Many European nations are far less diverse than America. The argument about giving money to ‘others’ is not as important. However, some benefits go to people who don’t need them but are protected by such powerful groups within the society that the structures that exist cannot be rearranged. Public employees are protected and cannot be fired but other workers are not so fortunate. Tax dollars are collected and then placed back in the same hands that paid those dollars which is inefficient and costly and not the point of a system of benefits. Europe has even more difficulty changing the “welfare system” as it exists than America does. If this $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill puts our number at 19% of our GDP to taxes it hardly seems outrageous, especially compared to the 46% in Nordic countries.
The times are against Conservative messaging. Our economy is in chaos. Our supply chains are broken. We are still in a pandemic, especially in ‘red’ states, (look it up). People can’t decide if they should return to their old jobs or take advantage of a fluid market and switch jobs. This is leaving employers short-staffed. Even employers are thinking about offering more paid leave. We need this bill to pass. We need to ignore conservative voices that led us to a right-wing that refuses to govern, that campaigns for conspiracy theorists and congress-people intent on sedition who pass their actions off as free speech.
David Brooks said this on Twitter, one day before speaking with Judy Woodruff:
“Progressives are right about one thing. We need a big spending infusion to reverse national decline.” 9.23.2021
Another Conservative, Andy Smarick, from the American Enterprise Institute (A Koch funded organization) popped up to offer this thread, proving that Brooks is not alone:
I have a piece coming out tomorrow that agrees with two of
points: 1) America is not Europe, and 2) America is struggling in important ways. But I disagree strongly with the third point–that American needs a massive federal package. I argue there’s another way…
And then he added:
My latest. “Consolidated power, centralized tinkering, and a bossy Washington are incompatible with American conservatism because the American character and the American experience teach us they are incompatible with American success.”
Do you sit around your kitchen table and talk like this about the American character and what is and is not compatible with American success? If you do discuss such things, do you arrive at the same conclusions? Or do you just go over your budget, what is happening at your child’s school, the grocery list, who will be home when your children arrive home from school, and wonder if you will lose your job if your child is exposed to COVID and has to quarantine at home.
Conservatives still have free speech but the failures of their chosen party, their flirtations with authoritarianism, should warn us that they may be too certain that they know all the answers, that they lack hubris, and their answers may be too outdated to help us make useful decisions about the next American century (if we last that long).
Why are Welfare States in US and Europe Different by Alberto Alessina, Edward L Glasser, Cairn Info, 2006
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.
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.
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.
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 20th 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.
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.