Category: Commentary

Battle For The States

Another good argument from elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Rcooley123's Blog

During Presidential election years here in the US, there is a basic tendency to downplay media coverage of what is taking place in other political arenas, such as Congress, the soon-to-be-outgoing Presidential Administration, and especially state and local government happenings. This year has been no different is this regard. Who can resist the non-stop madcap coverage of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others constantly berating and disrespecting each other along with major segments of the voting population?

Ever since the 2010 midterm elections and the fallout of redistricting made possible by major GOP victories at the state and Congressional levels during a census year, some of what is arguably the worst state legislation in generations has stung residents of many states at once – often negating gains seemingly coming from Supreme Court decisions. At a time when the people were electing and re-electing a President espousing a break from the…

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Don’t Just “Like” Teachers, Help Them!

Yes, we are all about our slacktivism.  We “like” things on Facebook, “retweet” them on Twitter, and find other ways to spend three seconds at a time in dedicated support to a cause before we move on to something else.  Some of this helps to get the message out to others, and so this is not an entirely useless activity.  However, it is all too easy to think that these momentary (and cost-free) “supports” of a cause really do very little to actually support the cause.

Okay, enough guilt for the day.  This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.  You can “like” this or some other post or meme, “share” it or whatever else you wish to do.  But you can also spend just a few minutes more – and a little of your own money (how much is entirely up to you) – by going to Donorschoose.org and contributing to a classroom project.  The site will give you choices of project types, locations of schools; even specific schools and teachers and projects to support, what the projects are for and how much they need.  You can spend a few bucks or hundreds of dollars (or more), as you choose; finish funding a project needing only a little more help, or be one of many getting a project closer to having full funding, whatever you want.

Today, for a contribution that my wife and I sent to some Detroit schools (a 1st-grade math class and a 4th-grade history class), we got these thank-you cards and letters (you can also donate anonymously if you feel weird about recipients knowing who you are):

Thanks from Donorschoose Kids.jpg

Our nation is strengthened by education, our workers are more competitive when educated, our national earnings and revenues are higher, deficits and debts are lower when our people are educated.  You don’t have to bankrupt yourself to help out, or commit many hours out of your busy schedule.  But just a few moments on this site and whatever contribution you can afford will go a long way toward moving specific kids toward their learning goals, toward better lives, and toward a better nation for us all.  Help out, won’t you?  Thanks!

Headline image taken from a Twitter post.  Photo of cards and letters © Sparkpolitical, 2016.

Your Silence Is Deafening: An Open Letter To the Target Boycotters

An exceptional post on the artificiality of outrage by conservative voices against made-up “dangers”:

Drifting Through

target

I hear you.

You’re angry.

I get it, I’m angry too.

I’m not talking to the people who are angry at Target because their Pro Transgender bathroom policy flies in the face of their cherry picked moral compass. I’m not under any obligation  to respect their beliefs. 

I’m talking to you… the people who have no issue with sharing a bathroom with LGBT people. I’m talking to those of you who are speaking out about this bathroom policy, expressing concern over the women and children who you fear will be in danger because of this policy.

You’re reasonable people. You aren’t expressing hate or bigotry. You just worry. You worry about your kids, your wives, your sisters. I worry too.

I probably worry too much. I have always accompanied my younger kids to the bathroom in public places. When my son was too old to go into the women’s room, I…

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The Global Trends of US Politics

Every few years, the National Intelligence Council of the United States Government publishes a study of the near future, looking ahead roughly 15-20 years.  These studies are part of an effort to predict what kinds of changes the US is facing, and to prepare for these changes.  The studies are an attempt to push the typically myopic American policy-formation process into a more strategic and long-term approach.  The NIC’s latest study, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, prepared in 2012, looks ahead to 2030 (the next study, looking ahead to 2035, is due to be released to the President in December 2016).  The intelligence specialists, and the many academic minds they tapped to game out future potentialities of various trends and changes, offer insight into the kinds of policies – foreign and domestic – which the US needs to compete and survive economically, politically, and militarily.  While the authors of the study (career civil servants and academicians with no consensus on partisan interests or identity) do not promote or criticize any politician or political party, their predictions show clearly that the stances taken by the two major political parties offer drastically different worlds and potential futures for the United States.  The trends show that only the Democratic Party is able and willing to bring our nation into the world of 2030; while the Republican Party offers us only an incompetent and declining nation, and an international arena of ever greater poverty, instability, terror, and war.

Changes which will shape the immediate future:

The principle immediate objective of the authors is understanding the many changes already underway in the world today, which together will transform our world of today into the world of 2030.  The changes noted are mostly global in nature (although the authors also note some changes specific to the US and to other individual nations).  These changes will, to some extent or other, affect all nations.  Among the more decisive of changes (whose precise course the authors generally avoid predicting, preferring to speculate on the effects of various different courses) is the growth of the global middle class.  In China and India especially, but in many nations throughout the world (Brazil also quite prominently), the global middle class is growing far more rapidly than is the overall population.  The gentrification of the global economy is putting geometrically increasing stresses upon the world’s energy, food, and water supplies, and on other resources as well.  The growing middle class also pushes the world into political change, both further democratization, and increased authoritarianism – both of which are common results of different progressions of a growing middle class.

Another change shaping our future is the decisive shift of the global economy from the northern and western world to the southern and eastern – especially to China and India.  In investigating different potential courses, the authors argue that a stable and growing China is of fundamental importance to a continuing global economy and to international security and peace.  The various futures in which China fails to develop both economically and politically are ugly indeed, not only for the fifth or so of the human race who live there, but for those in India, the US, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.  Similarly, Indian development is also a key factor; and the possibility of instability and tension between India and China could throw the world’s entire future development off track (particularly if a breakdown leads to a war between these two massive nuclear powers).

Nuclear war is generally, however, seen as less of a general threat than is another change, the increasing availability of lethal technologies to smaller powers and to non-state actors.  Store-bought drones, GPS, the commercialization of bio-engineering and DNA sequencing, computerized design applications, and other modern technologies are providing access to weaponized UAVs, bioterror capabilities, and other lethal attack options at ever lower prices to ever greater numbers of groups and individuals.  Terror operations like the Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and other attacks are the “new normal” of the 21st century, a cost of living in the modern world to which we are going to have to learn to live with – or else, we are going to have to change radically our attitudes toward freedom, and toward public access to information and other technologies.  We can try to end terror by going backwards; or we can move forward and accept it as a cost for the many advantages with which we are endowed by modern technology.

Another change under way is the progressive aging of most modern states, as medicine and living conditions improve.  While longer life spans are rarely seen as a negative, the economies of aging societies are stagnating as the ratio of working to non-working populations decreases.  While some societies may simply conclude that longer life spans will have to mean longer working lives (at least for the lower and middle classes), other societies may seek demographic changes by attracting new, younger populations through immigration and refugee supports.  Currently, the US has one of the most youthful of populations among the advanced, industrialized states (due to its immigration policies and its history of welcoming immigrants and refugees).  However, Europe’s struggles over taking in refugees from Syria may, if these policies continue, also infuse Europe with younger blood and the greater productivity that comes with it.  But for more insulated societies, like Japan (and Europe should the EU reject further refugees), a new dimension of class warfare may develop as these societies become unable to support their growing, aging populations.

Another demographic change is the world’s accelerating urbanization, related to the growing middle class.  New technologies are creating a potential for new “smart cities” integrating individual smart devices with city services, markets, and resources, making for better and faster management of increasingly scarce resources.  To a degree, the developing world actually has a “smart cities” advantage over the developed, in that smart architectures can (the authors argue) be developed and managed far more easily on a blank slate than in large cities with established bureaucracies.  The middle of the century might well see higher standards of living in Brasilia, Mosul, or Lagos than in New York, London, or Tokyo as newly smart cities outpace old cities trying to mate smart technologies with large, conservative bureaucracies.

One of the few national changes which the authors consider as a global change is the growing energy independence of the US.  The authors call all too unapologetically for increased natural gas and petroleum production as a key to both US economic independence and to addressing the world’s geometrically increasing demand for energy.  The authors see green energy (e.g., solar and wind power) as unlikely to rival fossil fuels in keeping energy costs low before 2030 (around which time technological development may finally enable green energy to do so).  Low energy costs are also vital to increasing the world’s production of food, and to conserving as much as possible our fresh water supplies.  The authors see an energy-independent US as minimizing global competition, tension, and conflict for energy, food, and water (not to mention reducing America’s own impetus to fight for foreign oil supplies).

Finally, the authors (who as intelligence specialists have access to global data on climate conditions) note the definite trend of climate change.  Although they diplomatically avoid predicting environmental catastrophe, they note the likelihood that current trends will continue and accelerate, impeding future food production and access to water, and forcing certain population migrations from the most sharply impacted areas of the world.  They predict the likelihood that trends already long under way will foment conflict in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, areas especially vulnerable to climatic effects and to social change.

Variables which may shape the changes outlined:

There are a vast array of significant variables which will steer events and conditions as the world moves forward to 2030.  These variables are subject to change by government policies, and so effective government policy can steer them toward a healthy nation and a stable world.  Among the greatest of variables are the relationship between the US and Russia; the development of governance, and the related development of infrastructure; and the development of African food independence.  A peaceful and productive relationship between the US and Russia is a key factor that can steer the world away from conflict and tension; from violence, and from costly military productions and adventures.  On the other hand, either Russian adventurism or disproportionate US obstruction of Russian interests can steer international efforts away from harmonic economic development and relief, and into conflict and/or actual warfare – and while the authors always presume a low threat of apocalyptic nuclear wars, the possibility increases as tension between nuclear powers increases.  On a lower level, we can see even today that in Syria, for example, an open US-Russian rivalry is hampering effective work on combating terror and rebuilding state structures in the war zones.  Even without mushroom clouds blossoming over our cities, a new US-Russian Cold War will help no one.

Effective governance and infrastructure will be ever more vital as population demands for finite resources accelerate.  The authors note specifically the stagnation of infrastructural development in the US as a potential turning point in our nation’s path.  If we cease supporting schools to train our youth; building roads, bridges, ports, and communication networks to carry our commerce and data; caring for those needing medical help; or we lose faith in the role of government as a strategic manager of increasingly scarce resources, the US will quickly join the developing world as an economic and financial backwater, and (unlike many developing states moving forward) will move backward toward greater economic dependency and subordination to other powers.  Our political and economic independence is itself at stake – with a key determining variable being our willingness to invest in our own success and our own strengths.  Those forces on the American political map arguing against government expenditures on infrastructure and on welfare and social supports, are threatening (our own intelligence specialists tell us) to push the US off the stage of global relevance, but also away from the ability to protect our people and our way of life.  The authors similarly note the global relevance of government and infrastructure.  All of the developed and developing states must commit to greater education, greater infrastructure, and greater social spending, for the world of 2030 to be a healthy, peaceful, and productive one.  US policy must not just build our nation here at home, but must advocate and support the development of global infrastructure.

Finally, as the global demand for food, water, and energy accelerates – and as fossil energy plateaus, and fresh water supplies become ever more strained and scarce – a key link in the global food supply will be the African agricultural sector.  Africa has some of the world’s most rapidly growing populations, several of the world’s most rapidly growing middle classes (with both of these in particular expanding in Nigeria, Africa’s demographic center), and a number of the world’s most vulnerable and conflict-ridden societies.  Foreign trade with, and aid to African states from the more developed states of the world has historically been exploitative and nation-centered.  But if Africa does not expand its ability to feed itself without external support quickly – and dramatically – the next two decades may well see Africa become the world’s center of famine, instability, and violence.  These are trends that, thanks to growing internet connections and the increasing access of poor peoples to lethal technologies, will impact directly the more advanced states as they are visited by terror at home from the desperate peoples of Africa.  The increasing connections between desperate forces in Africa and the central forces behind ISIS in Syria and Iraq demonstrate just what kind of threat we are facing if Africa does not become self-sufficient in food production.  The authors predict that the focus of international terrorism may shift from the Middle East to Africa – and threats to Paris, London, Tokyo, New York, Detroit, and other cities far from Africa will emerge if the world does not work together to build an effective African agriculture.  On the other hand, successful work there can establish a foundation for greater economic stability not just for Africa but for the world; and will ease terror, both within Africa and beyond.

The Policies of the GOP:  Deconstructing the US, Global Security, and Global Prosperity

The Global Trends study becomes more relevant in the context of the 2016 election year, as the US chooses between two major political parties, and the candidates’ mindsets about how (and where) to steer our nation forward.  As we look to the changes underway, and to the authors’ nonpartisan warnings about what conditions and approaches are needed to traverse them successfully, it becomes clear that the Republican Party’s radicalization by the Tea Party has positioned the GOP to be one of the greatest threats to our nation’s security and future.  The Republican mindset is so inherently flawed and out of sync with the 21st century that the only way that Republicans can bring our nation forward is by abandoning their ideology entirely, becoming Democrats in mind and spirit, and committing unswervingly to the liberal imperative of John Winthrop’s vision of the “shining City on a Hill.”

The basic failure of the Republican Party is its commitment to a 1950s vision of the world, a world now gone and transformed into something both hated and unknowable by American conservatives.  Republican candidates like Trump (who has himself personally steered American jobs to China and Mexico) threaten to “punish” China and Mexico for “stealing” American jobs (shifted overseas by American corporations, enabled by a loose regulatory environment and by consumer disinterest in “product patriotism”).  Republican candidates like him and Cruz clamor to reopen a new Cold War with the new Russia, bringing back (they hope) the “good old days” of a simpler, bipolar world.  But Putin is not Stalin or Brezhnev; and Russia is not the Soviet Union.  China is also not a new Soviet Union – being both more willing to talk, trade, and change; and more difficult to dissuade by traditional tools of diplomacy and military power.  The new Republican leaders understand none of this; and they hope that a 1950s strategic mentality will bring back a 1950s world.

This hope by the GOP for making America 1950s-esque again is not limited, unfortunately, to Republicans’ strategic vision.  They also envision a world shaped by white, male Americans and white, male Russians; but they ironically run away from their party’s 1950s commitment to secure our nation through an effective, nationally directed education program.  As global economic, technological, and environmental change invalidates the Republicans’ 1950s mindset, they cling ever more to a long-gone vision and they reject ever more their old commitment to education.  However, while American and Soviet economic and military power drove the bipolar world of the Cold War, the increasingly diverse world of the 21st century frightens and angers American conservatives.  Conservatives react by rejecting public education in favor of private, for-profit charter schools and of religiously-oriented home schooling.  They take money away from major educational institutions, as in Governor Scott Walker’s evisceration of the internationally competitive University of Wisconsin-Madison (while he channeled equivalent funding to new sports stadiums).

The Global Trends study demonstrates clearly that the US needs a more competitive education system.  The US needs a more directed and strategic approach to education, not a more localized or religious one.  The US needs to rebuild its technological edge as an area for job competitiveness and job creation.  This edge is vanishing as global education improves, and as the US education system deteriorates.  An independent and powerful US of 2030 will only be a reality if the US focuses on improving its education system, teaching more science, more culture, more languages, and more art (and creativity most especially).  Local, state, and national commitments to education must accelerate – not be cut by Trump’s and Cruz’s mutual agreement on dismantling the Department of Education.  China, India, and Russia drool at the very prospect of a Trump or Cruz presidency, and a final decimation of American education and competitiveness.

The conservatives’ lack of faith in American infrastructure is also spelling further trouble for 2030.  A productive America of 2030 will need new roads and bridges.  America will need a better communications network and data management system, and power distribution systems.  America will need to revamp or replace its aging nuclear stations, and will need to develop green energy capabilities for the eventual replacement of fossil fuels.  All of these are improvements that must be implemented now.  We need a political environment of faith in the public good of clean energy, cheap transportation and communication, and fast data networking.  The failure of private corporations to work toward these goals shows us that a “market solution” is not available.  The power of legislation and public funding must step in to protect our nation for the future.  And the Tea Party’s mission, ever more shrilly screeched at the public, is nothing other than stopping these very initiatives from ever happening.  The Tea Party is an obstacle that must be cleared, flattened, and paved over if we are to move our nation forward into the future.

Another Republican problem is defense.  Again, the Republicans remain wedded to a 1950s vision of tanks, fighter planes, and aircraft carriers as the key elements of a modern military.  And yet even our own Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to beg the Republicans in Congress to shift military spending to the tools needed for 21st century warfare – highly educated, techno-savvy soldiers; cyberwarfare assets, language specialists, and cultural specialists; engineering assets; and special warfare assets.  They complain that their tanks and fighters are facing obsolescence without most of them even seeing a day of action in the 14 years of constant warfare of our conservative and Orwellian “War is Peace” mentality.  In the meantime, the assets our military does need are overwhelmed and underfunded.  The US Congress must abandon its 1950s approach to warfighting – and the Republicans are the chief obstacle to making that happen and to securing our nation.

The most apparent defense problem of the Republicans, however, is not one of equipment, but of culture.  Their “whites only” vision of the world continues to foment suspicion and hostility toward Muslims and others.  And yet, Muslims are the central actors in the fight against ISIS, and for the battles over the Middle East.  They are the principal actors in domestic counter-terror operations in the US, where the FBI constantly reports that American Muslims have been the main – sometimes only – intelligence resource for early warning against home-bred terror threats (and that threat is ISIS’s main modus operandi, unlike al-Qaeda-style, centrally trained terror-warfare specialists).  Both abroad and at home, the US needs to cultivate a positive, mutually trusting relationship with Muslims and with Muslim nations.  Iran is a leading combatant against ISIS and al-Qaeda; and the US hostility toward Iran is as obsolete as our “whites only” approach to society and government.  Iran is also becoming a great power in its own right, a major future shaper of regional affairs, and one with much to offer the US in trade and political cooperation on other regional and international issues.  The US needs to push aside a party openly suspicious of Muslims, of Iran, of foreigners, as all of these forces will be ever greater shapers of regional and global destinies in the 21st century.

Democratic Approaches – Building the City on a Hill, and Working With the New World

On the other hand, America’s other major party, the Democracy, promises a more harmonic effort to bring the United States into the future and to maintain our nation’s independence and economic vitality.  The Democrats have a mindset in harmony with Winthrop’s City on a Hill, and with the changes predicted by our best intelligence experts.  The Democrats offer a harmonic fusion of foreign policy and strategy, governance and infrastructure, and situational awareness of strategic realities that contrasts starkly with the Luddite mentality of Republicans and Tea Party extremists.

Hillary Clinton’s work as Secretary of State fits well into the authors’ scheme of China and Russia as major players who will help shape the future.  Clinton’s and President Obama’s priorities in developing peaceful, mutually beneficial economic relations with China indicate the Democrats’ readiness to support Chinese development (a key factor in the peaceful development of Asia and of the global economy).  Two problem areas noted by the authors offer opportunities for positive work between the US and China: Korea and Taiwan.  In both cases, the US and China each have political and military interests in conflict with the other.  However, both states also see a greater benefit in maintaining together the status quo.  Both states are also wary of being unnecessarily driven by their respective clients (North Korea and Taiwan) into an undesirable greater conflict.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have also offered suggestions about working positively and peacefully with Russia (so long, of course, as Russia – or Putin – also sees a benefit to cooperative action).  The authors note that a Russia determined to operate alone and aggressively can undermine global stability; and they subtly imply that US foreign policy must tread carefully between on the one hand allowing Russia too much opportunity for adventurism, and on the other backing Russia into a corner and forcing a proud nation to assert its exceptionalism through military posturing or even open warfare.  Republican posturing about keeping a loose finger on the nuclear trigger and about keeping Russia in line threatens to undermine that balance, and trigger Russian action and a renewal of imperialism.  The Democrats, however, offer cooler heads and a cooler approach in line with the Global Trends study’s recommendations for a careful and agile foreign policy.  Such a foreign policy is also necessary for building a greater US-Russian partnership on counter-terror (a mutual security concern for both nations) and on both European and Asian affairs in general.

The Democrats are also the only party advocating the continuing construction of our “City on a Hill,” developing effective governance and infrastructure.  The single most important element – and one which only the Democrats accept as an imperative for the future – is the development of our national education system.  A drastic improvement of our education system at all levels – primary, secondary, and higher education – is necessary to producing a 21st-century labor force capable of competing with foreign workers.  Unskilled labor is an economy of the past, and workers today and tomorrow need greater skills in math, science, languages, and even the arts (particularly in creative and imaginative work, the most difficult activities for machine intelligence to replicate).

Both to keep jobs at home, and to attract foreign and domestic investment to the United States (when opportunities for investment abound globally and are rapidly expanding in the developing economies), the US needs a highly skilled labor force prepared to work in a fully globalized and integrated economy, and with diverse cultures.  The Republicans are interested only in ensuring that students can pray and can maintain 20th century skills like writing in cursive; in ensuring that private corporations can eke out a profit from “education”; and in ensuring that uneducated parents can override local, state, or national goals of fostering a workforce capable of actually working.  The Democrats, however, are far more in sync with the needs of the labor force and of our business community, needs which drive greater educational efforts.  Our nation needs to rebuild education as the public good that it was during the Cold War, when both political parties committed unflinchingly to developing an effective education system, beginning with large-scale national direction, strategic goal-setting, and federal funding and management.  The obstacles of for-profit schools, charter schools, and home schooling must be overcome if the US is going to compete with the rest of an increasingly educated, literate, competent and affluent world.  If we do not overcome these obstacles, and reestablish public education, the US will quickly be relegated to the status of an economic dependency or colony of greater foreign powers.

The Democrats, including Clinton and Sanders in particular, also call for more physical infrastructure – new water systems, power systems, transportation systems, and communication systems, all of which are necessary to bring the US into the 21st century.  None of these can be developed solely through private enterprise; but instead the traditional American practice of mixing private contractors and employees with public funding and initiative can, as they always have before, build our nation into a greater one.  American businesses will not be able to compete globally without the infrastructural support that the federal, state, and local governments have always given them.  All great periods of rapid development in the US economy were built by the combined efforts of private business and public leadership and funding, building the infrastructure that business needs to survive.  American wealth is not built by private enterprise alone, and never has been.  American wealth is built on a combination of entrepreneurial spirit and the liberal imperatives of the City on a Hill, building public systems that enable private business to operate profitably.  The Republican focus on private market initiatives is a failure to read our nation’s economic history and economic present.  The Democratic focus on building public infrastructure is a commitment to protect both American capitalism and the workers who actually build our businesses and create jobs.

Finally, the Democrats show an awareness of 21st century realities that is gravely lacking in Republican posturing and simian displays of machismo and nationalism.  The Democrats embrace the multicultural nature of our own nation, a nation built by immigrants, refugees, servants, and slaves.  They embrace the right of peoples to come here to live, work, and found new families; and they embrace our nation’s need (demonstrated by the Global Trends study) for new, young workers as our birth rates decline with the rest of the industrialized world.  We also need a regular infusion of foreign cultures and languages to help push our own businesses and local governments into responding to the needs of customers, employees, and markets in a global, non-white, diversely gendered world.  Our nation needs new people to come here more than these new people need our nation – and that argument will become stronger as other options (like Brazil) for emigration become more viable and attract more immigrants.

The Democrats are also the only party willing to accept basic scientific reality, most importantly that of climate change.  The threat posed by climate change to national security has been formally recognized by our best military leaders.  The Republicans, though, just put their hands over ears, eyes, and mouth, and cling to a 1950s exploitative approach of using the Earth as if its bounties were infinite and free.  Here, too, the GOP is not merely “another party,” but poses an actual threat to both our nation and to our world.  The US can no longer afford to play with a group of people stuck in a virtual loop of stupidity and blindness.  If American businesses are to survive in the 21st century, they are going to become green and sustainable, and the 1950s model of exploitative business is going to have to be a thing of the past.  The survival of the US demands a political party committed to supporting the development of a green economy, with green businesses and highly trained workers.  None of these are goals of the Republicans.  All of these are goals expressed by the Democrats.

The Two Parties, and the Alternative Worlds They Offer

Today’s political parties offer starkly divergent plans for the nation and its future.  Our nation’s best intelligence specialists, tasked with predicting the changes that the US will face in the near future, suggest alternate visions of the future which demonstrate clearly that the Democrats remain the only major party capable of and willing to protect the nation’s interests at home and abroad.  While the Republicans strive for austerity measures risking our nation’s ability to compete and to keep businesses and jobs in the United States, the Democrats push for the construction of our City on a Hill in ways that offer to keep businesses here and keep them hiring Americans.  Democrats are committed to improving education, social stability, and the infrastructure upon which American businesses depend for their survival.  While the Republicans’ austerity measures threaten the chances American business has to compete and survive on both domestic and international markets, the Democrats’ clear promotion of infrastructure promises both economic and political stability at home, and a force to anchor the international economy and polity on a global level.   While the Republicans strive to distance our nation from and alienate the very international players shaping the global economy and polity, the Democrats push for partnerships and a recognition of the basic realities of international relations.  While Republicans cut off possibilities for greater governance both here and abroad, the Democrats push for greater efforts to sustain peoples of developing nations, particularly in areas of the world likely to bleed violence into the global system.  While the Republicans deny climate change and refuse to enact energy reforms that will build jobs and protect the environment, the Democrats offer both these jobs and a cleaner environment through such reforms.

The authors of the Global Trends study did not themselves note any party or politicians whose ideals, vision, or policies might help or hinder the nation’s progress.  But their message is all too clear nonetheless: the US can no longer afford a political party uncommitted to preserving the greatness our nation can offer, and unwilling to act responsibly to protect our people’s livelihoods, our nation’s defenses, and the world in which we live.  Rarely in our nation’s history has its interests been at such great stake, or the choice so clear as to which path will take our nation – and the world – forward.  There remains but one major party in the US which acts responsibly and consistently with America’s principles and legacy; and that is the Democratic Party.  In the end, there really is no alternative.

Headline image from the title page of NIC’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, 2012.

 

 

Riding Uber into the Jobless Future

Professional taxicab drivers are fighting for survival in a new economy which is looking hungrily to replace them with other means of transporting customers.  New business models like those of Uber and Lyft are threatening drivers, customers, and bystanders alike; while at the same time offering potentially lower fares (outside of peak business hours) and wait-times.  However, cab drivers are joining a long list of people replaced by new technologies: grocery-store clerks, dockworkers, retail employees (especially from book, music, and video stores), etc.  As the twenty-first century proceeds, it is replacing jobs with apps; and concentrating more and more wealth at the very top.  The “trickle” of wealth to the lower classes by way of employment is rapidly drying up, as global information networks insulate the wealthy from the working classes through new lower-wage and even jobless models of business.  There are three problems at work, which are creating a new jobless economy, and are associated with, respectively, the business models of Uber, Wal-Mart, and Amazon.

The Uber Problem

The first problem with our transitioning economy is the Uberization of the work force and of our business models; replacing well-paid, full-time, professional workers (and the labor organizations that protect them) with lower-paid amateurs.  While Uber drivers bring in somewhat more revenue per hour for short shifts than do cab drivers (who make much more money per hour for long shifts than for short ones), they are also entirely self-financing (car, gas, insurance, maintenance, etc.), unlike most cab drivers (who depend on their companies to provide some or all of their operating costs).  Such jobs are often intended by car-owners to supplement other income, or while looking for a better job, rather than (as for most cab drivers) serving as a long-term profession.  The Uber model of transportation has been deconstructing the regulatory environment designed to keep us safe, allowing drivers to work without undergoing local police investigation (generally required in most places for cab-driving licenses).  They also drive cars that are not inspected by any authority, in contrast to expensively inspected taxicabs.  Uber drivers have been involved in many physical and sexual assaults on passengers and bystanders, an ugly reality that existing regulations for taxi companies (which do not apply to new app-based amateur driving companies) have until now helped to prevent.

Unfortunately the dangers posed by Uber to our communities are not limited to the immediate physical dangers posed by improperly licensed and unvetted drivers, operating uninspected vehicles, and with no police intervention in the employment of potentially dangerous individuals (with criminal backgrounds, or with high accident rates).  Uber is also teaching passengers that any idiot with a car can replace a professional driver operating an expensively fitted, inspected, and insured vehicle.  Uber is teaching us to disrespect professional means of income-earning, and to prefer a cheap but dangerous alternative.  Uber is teaching us to prefer a less effective and less prosperous economy, and offers us discounted car rides in return for our safety, our jobs, and our souls.  As the Uber model passes (as it ultimately will) to cargo transport and other business sectors, our economy will replace more full-time jobs with low-pay, part-time work.  Wealth will be created for the designers of Uber, Lyft, and other services.  But such services are also transforming middle-class jobs of the 20th century into lower-class jobs of the 21st century.  Uberization is driving our income inequality to new heights, concentrating wealth and diminishing jobs as drivers themselves make less money and consume less, driving demand and production down as well.

Uber is not alone, nor is it the first manifestation of this problem.  From the 1950s through the 1980s, grocery-store clerks and cashiers earned income levels closer to the middle class.  Such workers had to memorize many prices and categories of products, and operate complicated registers.  They required training and experience to do their jobs properly; and could only be fired at the expense of the investment in training a new employee.  However, the development of bar-codes and scanners enabled grocery and retail stores to hire lower-paid workers, and to deploy new workers with little training and experience (enabling bosses to replace more easily those wanting raises or organizing for benefits).  A career profession became merely an entry-level job for adolescents; and a job capable of supporting a small family became a minimum-wage job pushing the professional into looking for work elsewhere.

A similar phenomenon took place in the 1960s, when factory farming began replacing family farming.  Factory farms employ low-wage workers with little to no experience (often illegal immigrants, including young children), and provide consumers with cheap food that also pushed family farm workers into seeking work elsewhere (perhaps becoming grocery-store clerks, or cab drivers).  While few would argue that high food prices are good for a population, the path from that step led to the replacement of other middle-class professions with part-time and/or lower-class pay rates, such as our retail workers and cab drivers.  Uber is merely the latest nail in the coffin of the middle-class worker, a coffin we have been building since the middle class first expanded so successfully in the middle of the last century.

The Wal-Mart Problem

Another effect impacting our economy is its growing Walmartization.  Wal-Mart has sought to provide low-cost products to consumers by encouraging (some have said, “forcing“) American manufacturers to push manufacturing jobs to overseas locations.  In order to gain customers, Wal-Mart has deliberately deconstructed the American middle class by shipping overseas the jobs on which we depend.  Consumers giving their money to Wal-Mart pay for the privilege of exporting and eliminating our jobs, our economic security, our union rights, our tax revenues, and our social services.

As with Uber, Wal-Mart is of course not acting alone.  Since the 1990s NAFTA has helped to globalize American manufacturing.  And the US has been bleeding manufacturing jobs for decades, as foreign nations have seen increases in educational levels, technical familiarity, physical health, and political stability; while also remaining below US rates of income (all things encouraging ever more investment in new overseas plant capital).  However, Wal-Mart developed a specifically targeted plan for pushing manufacturing overseas, and at the same time earned opprobrium for keeping its own workers at low wages (forcing many to seek government-funded welfare and social support), and for combating workers in their attempts to organize.  The company has not only exported middle-class American jobs; but also maintains pressure on the labor market to keep wages at or below poverty levels.  The company’s workers become absolutely dependent on companies like Wal-Mart for their cheap food and products, the only products they can then afford.  Wal-Mart cooperates with Uber and other sectors in deprofessionalizing the labor market (by continuing to push retail wages lower), and in depressing wages and income.  Wal-Mart has been steadily converting the middle class into the lower class (driving down consumption and demand and production); and the working class into the unemployed.

The Amazon Problem

The final effect driving us toward universal unemployment is the Amazonification of business; and the related automation of all work areas.  Amazon has amassed an enormous financial empire by replacing “brick and mortar” businesses with instantaneous touch-screen or keyboard shopping by computer, phone, or tablet.  In the process, the “Amazon Effect” has put out of business bookstores (including major chains like Borders), record stores (also killed by iTunes and other music-sharing technologies), and video stores (with an even more forceful shove by businesses like Netflix).  These impacts have hurt large companies and family-owned businesses alike; and they have killed off more jobs than the growing empires of Amazon and other such companies have created.  Amazon’s deconstruction of “brick and mortar” retail operations did not merely (like Uber) push middle-class jobs into the lower class; or (like Wal-Mart) push middle-class jobs overseas.  Instead, the jobs lost to the Amazon business model (and to data services that replace stores providing books, music, and video) are lost completely, and forever.  For example, Netflix has effectively replaced video stores across the nation; and yet it currently employs fewer than 4,000 people (Netflix has also, in contrast to Wal-Mart, been lauded for its exemplary treatment of its employees; but that is a standard that only a relative few can enjoy).

Some businesses have survived the scorched earth left by the “Amazon effect” by emulating the workerless e-commerce model (like Barnes and Noble, which while still maintaining physical book-stores sells a great deal of its merchandise through its automated online ordering system).  Other businesses have survived by becoming tributary fiefdoms of the Amazon empire, selling their products through Amazon’s order processing service (which provides small businesses with a potentially global clientele).  But the failure of 20th century, labor-intensive retail to compete with 21st century, information-intensive business models tells the full story.  Even though some businesses have held on by bowing to the inevitable, the inevitable has killed far more business opportunities and actual jobs than it has created.  Those opportunities created on the information super-highway have largely been monopolized by a few powerful corporations like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, etc.

As with Uber and Wal-Mart, Amazon did not create this phenomenon, but jammed its foot down on the accelerator of the process already underway.  Other technologies have also helped to decimate the work force while creating – and concentrating – wealth for those at the top.  In the 1960s, for example, the development of the now ubiquitous “TEU” (“twenty-foot equivalent unit”) steel shipping container revolutionized cargo transportation (especially at the links connecting road, rail, and sea transport).  Since the container was first used, sea cargo traffic has exploded, carrying a vastly greater tonnage of cargo across the seas than ever before – and has literally decimated the dockworkers as a work force, replacing hundreds of thousands of manual laborers with about a tenth of their number of automated crane specialists and software engineers.  Some of the income changes from the container revolution have strengthened the middle class; the few longshoremen working today are very well paid.  But roughly nine times that number have had to retire or find other work.  A great deal of wealth has been concentrated into a smaller population by the containers, which helped to trigger globalization, as the costs of ocean shipping fell to preposterously low levels.  Wal-Mart could never have pushed manufacturing overseas without the container’s effect on almost eliminating shipping costs from the equation.  But that wealth has also been insulated from the lower classes by the container revolution of the 1960s; and by the information systems of the 21st century.

The container revolution and the “Amazon effect” are the results of automation and the improvement of technology and software.  Grocery stores also automate and eliminate jobs by using self-checkout lanes (enabling a smaller work force to manage larger numbers of customers and products).  Apps replace workers and specialists.  Expensive farming technology pushes small farms into larger, automated corporate farms employing less than 2% of the US labor force.  Computer-controlled 3D “printers” are projected in the next two decades to replace many current manufacturing models – as well as the workers employed by them.  Expanding technologies are going to increase also the number and diversity of jobs lost to automation and applications, including many previously seen as “untouchable” (requiring too much dexterity, skill, creativity or intuition, etc.; all of which are now being surpassed by better technologies and software).

In the next decade, self-driving cars are going to replace many of today’s cars.  The self-driving car will launch the next work-force revolution.  Customers frustrated by sketchy and unstable Uber drivers (who by then will have out-priced cab drivers into obsolescence) will enjoy new services which simply send them self-driving car-bots.  Owners of self-driving cars will realize that having their car sitting in the driveway, or in the parking lot at work, is a lost opportunity to have the car make money.  New apps will enable owners of such cars to release their cars to leasing services until they need them back.  Fewer and fewer people will own (and buy) cars, as it becomes easier and cheaper to simply share cars through such systems.  And fewer people will make them.  Soon, no one will be driving cars for a living.  And in the meantime, the information revolution will find other, new ways for the rich to make money without having to share profits with pesky employees.

Into the Jobless Economy We Go!
These three effects are combining to create the new, jobless economy of the 21st century.  Uberization and related effects are helping to deconstruct middle-class incomes and our respect for middle-class professions.  Walmartization is transferring ever more jobs overseas, and maintaining ever more poor people on low-level incomes that force their dependence on government assistance.  Amazonification and automation are reducing and eliminating the work force entirely, insulating wealth from the need to employ people at all.  These effects are progressively transforming capitalism from a labor-intensive means of generating wealth (which “shares” at least a portion of the wealth with the working classes responsible for actually creating it) into an information-intensive model no longer requiring workers.  Conservatives have longed argued against the maintenance of welfare systems, insisting that the poor are somehow encouraged to avoid work and stay poor if such supports are available.  They conclude that the poor should instead be encouraged to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” through productive employment.  This argument is rapidly approaching the same obsolescence faced by dockworkers, retail workers, and cab drivers, in an economy hemorrhaging jobs as rapidly as it concentrates its remaining wealth at the top.

The jobless economy also inhibits the formation of small businesses by those without inherited or pre-established wealth.  Small businesses cannot compete on the information superhighway with major corporations able to make and exploit new applications and technologies (and economies of scale) which push their operating costs below those of local businesses.  Local businesses are dependent on many other large businesses to move outside and attract global clientele.  As the century progresses, both work and entrepreneurial opportunities are going to be increasingly monopolized at the top, and are going to be increasingly absent at the middle and bottom.

Ultimately, there are three places these effects can lead us.  The first is the realization that, if people are not going to have either work or business opportunities available to them, then the state is just going to have to provide them with food, clothing, housing, medical care, etc.  This will create the conservatives’ ultimate nightmare: the total welfare state.  An uglier option is a dystopian future of mass hunger, disease, suffering, and death  – as well as controls by the state of reproduction, to keep the useless unemployed from breeding.  Finally, a third path takes us through violent revolution by the hungry masses; although that option will likely still lead to one or the other of the first two (welfare state, or dystopia of hunger and death).  Are you ready to explore these exciting new vistas?   Then, hop into an Uber car, load up your Kindle, and enjoy the ride!

Headline image from ClubZone, Uber vs Taxi vs Driverless Cars?

The Timing of Political Revolution

Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders says that now is the time for “political revolution.”  As a campaign slogan, it is catchy, and the evidence from the only two (and disproportionately white) states to vote in the primaries thus far is that it is catching on.  Young people especially are flocking to Sanders and to his message of “political revolution.”  But are the Sanders supporters (and the Senator himself) correct about the timing?  Is it, indeed, really time for a “political revolution”?

I myself am a socialist, of the variety referred to within the large and diverse leftist community as a “trade union socialist.”  We believe in the formation and use of democratic union organizations as a foundation of pushing through a greater democratization of both our economy and our government.  In the United States, trade-union socialists generally vote Democrat (or for the Green Party in local elections); as have I specifically.  Trade-union socialists are the primary constituency of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that has had a long and friendly relationship with Senator Sanders (a contributor to DSA newsletters, and of DSA values).  Sanders has for years been our spearhead.  He has pushed moderate socialist ideals into the legislative conversation.  Despite being an independent (still so listed in the Senate), he has also pushed actual Democrats into remembering and representing their leftist values.  Sanders has had a bountiful impact on American politics.

However, I disagree with the Senator about the timing of political revolution.  I have historical reasons, as well as concerns after viewing the past few years of politics.  Over a century ago, from 1904 to 1905, the Russian Empire was at war with Japan.  The war did not go well for Russia, despite having an overwhelmingly larger army and navy.  The new Japanese military operated on far more modern theories of war, and emphasized much greater modernized training than was found in the Russian military.  After repeated military setbacks, in January of 1905, a revolution began in Russia, mostly spontaneously.  The peasants (who formed the bulk of the personnel in the military, as well as the country’s population) rose up against the regime in protest against the great bloodshed among their own.

The organization that became the Communist Party (at the time called the Russian Socialist Democratic Labor Party, or RSDLP) had already fragmented into a small, radical “Bolshevik” group (led by Lenin); and a larger, more moderate “Menshevik” group (of whom Trotsky was a prominent spokesperson).  With a revolution apparently happening all by itself, the socialists considered what to do about it.  Trotsky saw that the rising was the people’s way of telling the socialists that now was the time.  He also saw it necessary to take the reins and lead the rising so that it ended not in defeat, bloodshed, and more repression; but instead with some measure of democratization of Russian society and government.

Lenin disagreed.  He looked at the rising, by traditionally conservative peasants (the Russian Orthodox Church itself had many clergy acting as leaders of the rising), not as a good sign but as an omen that the people were not ready, and now was not the time to agitate.  He saw a peasant revolution in 1905 as likely to take Russia backwards rather than forward.  The RSDLP largely agreed, regardless of the factional split.  Their concept of revolution was based on modernized, urban industrial workers, not the peasants; and the workers were still a relatively tiny sector of the population.  They feared that conservative peasants would oppose educational reforms, modernization of the economy and infrastructure, and the development of a more inclusive culture (all of which were key platforms for the RSDLP).  Ultimately, the RSDLP stood aside, while a smaller faction followed Trotsky into the revolution and into the new Russian government.  In little time, the Revolution of 1905 was unmade as the Tsar showed himself disinterested in working with a more democratic government.  Finally, World War I erased almost all of what little good the revolution accomplished; and a new revolution (two, in fact) took place in 1917.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 has great relevance to Sanders’s idea of “political revolution.”  Many Americans are, like the Russian peasants of 1905, very conservative; distrusting of outsiders, and of new ideas.  Consider the past few years, as Democrats have used the power of the White House, of the Congress before 2014, and of new social media venues, to try building a greater City on a Hill.  In the meantime, we have seen great push-back.  How much does the Black Lives Matter movement resonate among white voters?  The movement argues only that blacks should not be needlessly targeted for violent reactions by the police.  Is that a “radical” suggestion?  How many Americans, after the BLM campaign, clung ever more tightly to the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of the racist America they wanted to maintain?  How hard has Planned Parenthood and other women’s health organizations had to fight – not for an expansion of services, but only to continue those services legally guaranteed by Roe v. Wade?  Furthermore, it took the US Supreme Court to overturn “marriage amendments” across the nation; and when a Kentucky county clerk told the Court they could go stuff it, a massive upswelling of support stood behind her.  There is still a discouraging proportion of Americans who hate Obama for no other reason than that they still see his color, and political power, as indicative that he is not even American, or Christian (and we will move past the further point of why his being Christian should even matter in a nation that pretends to value “religious freedom”).  These people will all be voting in 2016; and in the mid-terms in 2018.  How much “political revolution” can we expect from these voters?  And what kind of revolution do you expect to see from frightened, and frighteningly well armed, white men?

Sanders is not the only candidate promising political revolution.  Donald Trump has created a movement of trumpenproletariat from whole cloth, from segments of the population that rarely vote.  By moving increasingly conservative and xenophobic people to the polls, his promise to “make America great again” promises precisely to undo everything that has made our nation great already.  Each victory we have enjoyed – and we have had many – is seen as a “defeat” by this anti-American who wants to tear down the City on a Hill and build a parking structure in its place.  If we have a political revolution in 2016, Trump and his petty-fascist followers are promising to be the leaders of that revolution.  It takes a certain naive optimism to presume that “political revolution” is going to go the way Sanders proposes.  Even presuming Trump loses, his fascist army will still be fighting out there in the streets of the information superhighway, on Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat.  They will vote locally while voting for the president, and keep pushing Congress ever more to a radical right extremism that undoes everything we have accomplished over the last half century.

This is not the time for a political revolution.  This is not the time to radicalize heavily armed Americans already suspicious of their government, of new ideas, of people with different skin colors and accents and clothes and religions.  This is a time to consolidate those gains we have made, and to prevent the Right from making further inroads to our rights and our prosperity.  This is the time to build the City on a Hill by speaking to those values most Americans hold dear.  The last half a century has seen progress, and the promise of a new America that is more inclusive and more prosperous than ever before; that builds and shares more wealth than we have ever seen.  But that progress is at risk.  And promises of political revolution threaten to undo that progress, to destroy the foundations of a more inclusive, more productive, more secure America that we have barely begun constructing.

In the 1930s, there was another moment when political revolution was advocated.  Germany had a much larger and better organized socialist movement, and a century previously had led the world in creating what today we think of as modern liberalism.  That very state did see a revolution in the 1930s – a revolution of exactly the type of people that Karl Marx feared would undo all of our leftist values, and exactly the type of people that Donald Trump is bringing together.  With even stronger leftist assets and credentials than the US has today, Germany pushed over into a radical right-wing nightmare that makes today’s Republican party look democratic, inclusive, and reasonable in comparison.  This happened in the home of modern liberalism, and the home of a strong socialist movement.  Political revolution was argued by both left and right.  And when revolution came, those voices who had first advocated it were not its leaders, but its victims.

The last few years of conservative retraction demonstrates that the United States does not possess the capabilities needed for moving a leftist, or even just liberal, political revolution past the trumpenproletariat and past our own conservative peasants.  We have not one, but two candidates who are arguing for a political revolution.  Unlike Trump, Bernie Sanders is a great, principled, and honest leader.  But his promise to light the flame of political revolution is naive and dangerous.  Before you light the flame, be sure you know who is going to be carrying the torch.

Headline image by Ben Sarle, via Sanders campaign on Facebook.

No words….

This post delivers a far more personal touch on the Flint Water Crisis than what many bloggers and reporters (myself included) have provided. It’s well worth the read.

Voices from the Infant, Toddler and Family Field

Yesterday two of my friends and I had the honor of volunteering in Flint, MI for a small NGO called Crossing Water.   This is a volunteer organization started by some members of the National Association of Social Workers-MI chapter.  The goal of this group is to create connections among community groups in Flint to help serve impoverished communities who are deeply affected by the current water crisis.  What I saw was heart-breaking beyond words.  And it was only one day there.  I am trying to imagine living this way and I can’t.

We came to a low-income housing complex run by the Flint Housing Commission.  I saw a case of water on people’s doorsteps that had been delivered earlier in the day by volunteers.  There was no governmental system in the complex to test water, distribute water, or provide lead-testing to the children.  This is a complex managed essentially…

View original post 1,885 more words

When So Few Words Cause So Much Harm to So Many

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” – the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

And there lies the heart of the problem – or one of them, at least.  Today that poorly constructed sentence, with no connective phrasing indicating the relationship between the “well regulated Militia,” the “security of a free State,” or the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” would be edited until it actually made sense (unless, of course, it were posted as a meme on Facebook).  Is the right of Americans to own weapons seated solely, or largely, upon the intent of maintaining a people in arms against a foreign invader or domestic oppressor?  Or, as Justice Antonin Scalia argued in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), is there no necessary relationship, and does the Second Amendment simply promise unfettered rights to arms regardless of the “militia,” or the “security of a free State”?

While this is an interesting constitutional argument, over 30,000 lives are taken each year by firearms in the United States.  Roughly a third of those lives are victims of apparently deliberate violence; while suicides account for the largest share of gun deaths each year.  The many Americans lost each year (equivalent to losing the entire Vietnam War all over again every 21 months) deserve much more than an “interesting constitutional argument.”  Furthermore, as national fears ramp up over an increasing wave of violence (the rise of mass shootings, the rise of police violence against civilians, and the fears of foreign terrorism), gun-rights advocates opposing further regulations and gun-control advocates seeking further regulations both cater to fears of those around us.  The gun lobby and those gun-owners who oppose regulation portray a multitude of apparent threats to themselves, and to their families and homes.  They also ally with more extremist elements expressing fears of the “Other,” and with an increasingly publicly acceptable bigotry against non-whites.  The gun-control advocates fear that they may be next to die to some crazed, Christian “holier than thou” shooter in their church, school, or shopping mall; or that their nephew with problems may be the next to use a weapon to end his life.

President Obama, tired of more than a year of almost weekly “thoughts and prayers” consolations to the nation for the latest shootings du jour, finally moved past a catatonic Congress to enact changes to gun sales regulation via the few powers available to his office.  Immediately, the predictable firestorm of reaction was raised against the President by those in the gun lobby who had eagerly awaited such action for seven years without satisfaction.  The tightening of existing regulations on the sale of firearms now seemed to them to be inaugurating the president’s long-awaited crusade to take away their guns.  Quickly the president rose up to the challenge of national dialogue, in a time when we Americans do not bother to actually listen to each other any more.  At a “town hall” meeting hosted by CNN in Fairfax, VA, the president took questions from representatives from both sides of the gun issue.  Although the NRA’s headquarters is located just down the road from the site of the “town hall,” that organization refused to contribute to the dialogue, preferring instead to steer the issue silently through campaign contributions.

The president attempted to connect with gun-owners and sellers, reminding them that each of them probably had to pass background checks themselves.  His executive order focuses on ensuring that everyone purchasing a firearm passes through the same process.  There was not a lot of listening in the hall that night, however; and the president had to repeat his insistence that new regulations would not result in anyone’s guns being taken away, or even make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to acquire firearms.  When George Lakoff wrote about “framing” political dialogue, this was precisely what he was talking about.  People (on all sides of political and moral questions) create “frameworks” within which new information coming in must either fit, or be discarded.  New facts and arguments which do not connect with existing views of reality are simply discarded; not accepted or even noticed as facts or as being relevant, however well reasoned or argued.  Therefore, it does not matter how much the president reassures conservative gun-owners that he is not “coming for their guns”; since the NRA has spent millions of dollars convincing them that he is, that is their reality regardless of what the new executive order actually spells out, or what the president says to explain the language or intent of the order.

Unlike the gun lobby, however, the president made it clear that at least he was listening to  the other side.  He recognized that the Second Amendment (ambiguity notwithstanding) guarantees the right to own weapons, and that the right to do so is not going to go away.  Those of us who are not killed each year by gun violence are simply going to have to live with the most heavily armed national population in the world.  But, as the president noted, there are ways we can work to ensure safety, to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and terrorists as much as possible.  At the “town hall,” at least, one side (the gun lobby) was “framing” the president’s words into an intent to take away their guns; while the other side (the president) was in fact listening and responding to their fears, even accounting for them into his executive order and his message.

There were more stalwart opponents of gun rights at the town hall, however.  Father Michael Pfleger of Chicago (a longtime acquaintance of the president) argued that in Chicago, it is easier for kids to get guns than it is to get computers.  He asked the president why gun ownership and control could not be handled like that of cars (legal, accessible, but heavily regulated, insured, etc.).  The president reminded the father of the public’s paranoia about the government, citing last year’s Texas freak-out over military maneuvers in a state proud to house some of the largest military bases in the country.  Were the government to take firmer steps, especially without Congressional support, the public outcry would simply escalate past the administration’s ability to get anything done.  The president’s executive orders and arguments now positioned him in the center, rather than on the left or right; with the left arguing for greater controls, and the right arguing for fewer controls (or at least against more controls).  The president showed a willingness to listen to both sides.  Nonetheless, in our divisive political culture, the conservatives view the president’s words and actions as being on the left rather than in the center, as those of an activist and opponent rather than as a mediator between two opposing forces.

There is a simple explanation as to why one side in particular, the conservatives fearing a gun-seizing federalist tyranny, wears greater blinders than the other.  As lawyer and blogger Jack D’Aurora noted, the answer is easy:  “follow the money.”  There’s gold in them thar frames. There is money and power to be made by keeping people afraid and “clinging to their guns.”  And until we work harder to push corporate contributions and moneyed political interest groups out of our representatives’ pockets, they will continue to sell us their products and their consequences.  Until we push the NRA and the gun manufacturers (some of whom have also been attacked by the NRA for attempting to improve gun safety, as the president noted at the town hall) out of congressional offices, we will have to live – or die – with an overarmed and under-listening population.

Headline image from a posting by Odyssey, via Google Image Search.

A good read from other bloggers: The Box that Built the Modern World

Curry_BREAKER_2

In 2013, Andrew Curry posted this blog: “The Box that Built the Modern World: How Shipping Containers Made Distance Irrelevant.”

This was a fascinating (if now slightly dated) article.  As a poster noted a couple of years ago (around when this was first posted), containerization explains a little of how globalization works (in the sense of off-shoring).  But it also explains a foundation of the 21st century “economy without workers,” in which wealth is generated without a great part of that wealth distributing to the middle class through wages and salaries. With much greater volumes of cargo moving through much smaller numbers of manual workers and their managers, wealth is created, but kept at the upper levels, producing greater inequality, and putting out of work the dock-worker and his manager without providing them with any measure of a replacement job.  Wal-Mart, Amazon, and others have joined this network of producing cheap, slave-labor products in poor nations, and transporting them virtually free of movement costs to the US, where the unemployed and under-employed workers have little choice to maintain a standard of living but to buy the cheap products that are all they can afford.

Image posted from Curry (illustrations by Peter & Maria Hoey) in the article cited.

Long Live the King

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the work he did to make our nation into a center of freedom and democracy, Spark! wishes all our readers a happy and safe Martin Luther King Day.  Keep fighting the good fight, and thank you for your service to our nation.

Thanks to the Democratic Senators of the Michigan state legislature for posting the image on Facebook.