10 08 2005

Jim Cooper is Nashville’s congressman. Jim Cooper, as many of you are aware, helped put CAFTA over the top. Jim Cooper also voted for the Bush junta’s tort reform bill, which made it more difficult for individuals to call corporations to account for malfeasance, and for Bush’s bankruptcy reform bill, which made it much more difficult for people in debt to get out from under crushing debt loads—typically, it seems, hospital bills or credit card tabs that were pushed over the line due to unexpected hospital bills. This makes it hard to tell Jim from a Republican, which is especially galling when you consider that Nashville is far and away the most liberal/Democratic city in Tennessee. Him? Us? It doesn’t add up, except in the light of the fact that the tremendously energetic wave of anti-war sentiment in the Democratic party in 2004 resulted in the nomination of John Kerry, a pro-war candidate—and that Howard Dean, who was in the vanguard of the anti-war movement, has said since becoming chairman of the Democratic Party that he wishes Mr. Bush success in his policies in Iraq. That kind of bait-and-switch jazz is why I’m a Green, not a Democrat.

So, yes we are looking for a Green Party candidate to challenge Mr. Cooper, because I think the people of Nashville deserve better than him, and I’m not holding my breath waiting for a righteous Democrat. What are they going to do, clone Dennis Kucinich?

What CAFTA does, is expand NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which involved the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, to the countries of Central America. NAFTA had a tremendous negative effect on the U.S. economy, resulting in the loss of about three quarters of a million jobs to Mexico, but only for a few years—because Mexico is now losing many of those jobs to China. Oops. NAFTA also opened up the Mexican grain market to U.S. imports, driving down the price of grain in Mexico and further destabilizing that country’s agricultural system, making it harder for small farmers in Mexico to support themselves—in a country where subsistence agriculture, also known as growing most of what you eat yourself, is a way of life for millions.

Many people predict that CAFTA will have a minimal impact here in the U.S., because the combined economies of all the Central American countries put together don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the U.S. economy, and besides all the jobs that could leave the U.S. have left already. Burger King and Walmart can’t outsource their sales forces, but you know they would if they could.

Sometimes I have kind of perverse thoughts about those lost jobs. I heard a story the other day about a couple that used to work in a clothing factory in North Carolina, about how happy they had been to be making $40,000 a year with both of them working after twenty years with the company—and I did the math—twenty thou a year is about four hundred a week, that’s ten bucks an hour after twenty years. Here in Nashville, the living wage level is calculated to be about eleven dollars an hour. Wow! It’s a tribute to human adaptability that these folks could feel happy about making dreck wages doing an incredibly boring job for all those years, exploited by their bosses who then just threw them away when they found some people in Mexico—and then China—who were even more exploitable.

To be even more perverse—I think that in some ways America is better off without a class of factory wage slaves—just as Mexico and China would be—the big thing is to help people find some more fulfilling way to spend their time. I have worked in factories. Have you? It’s an incredibly degrading way to waste your life. The cameraderie of factory workers is like the cameraderie of prisoners. The switch from home workshops to factory work in the early 19th century helped create the alienated culture that we all suffer from these days—not that pre-industrial Europe was a paradise by any measure, but if you want to create real “family values” the first thing you have to do is make it so mom and dad don’t go away every day and leave the care of their offspring to underpaid strangers. Of course you also have to back up at least one step and make sure mom and dad are sane enough to raise sane children.

Here’s what I think we need to do: we need to put a 100% tax on all personal income and corporate profits of over $100,000 a year, and use the redistributive power of the federal government to give every adult $20,000 a year in guaranteed income, no matter what—you can stay in bed all year and still collect it, or you can go out and work and make more money if you want to. This will eliminate the need for most petty crime, as well as the number of stupid, low-paying jobs that people only take because they have to. As for hauling the garbage, well, we can make it pay pretty well. We need farmers and trash haulers a lot more than we need stockbrokers and corporate lawyers.

What this will do is give people the leisure to discover what they really want to do. We need to couple it with a national wellness and health care program that will teach or encourage people to live healthily and take care of them if they do fall ill. And with the environment in the mess it’s in, a lot of people are going to have health problems in spite of their best efforts.

You may be wondering if there is the kind of money around that could guarantee everybody twenty grand a year—i just did the math, and the gross domestic product of the U.S. is over 11 trillion dollars a year, which yes, is plenty enough to give every individual from Paris Hilton to the nameless homeless guy their twenty grand. I think that democratizing our national income would result in much more intelligent decisions being made with the money than now happen, since what happens now is a few people have way more money than they know what to do with, and it’s making them crazy. The compassionate thing to do is confiscate their excess wealth so all those poor, overstuffed Republicans can regain their sanity.

So this is a long way from Jim Cooper betraying the working class by voting for CAFTA. I’m sure it’s not what was on his mind when he voted against it. I called and asked his office why he voted for CAFTA, but they have not returned my call. Maybe Bush threatened his family. I don’t know. Until we get a Green government and a guaranteed income, we need to enable people to earn a decent living, and in any case we need to be the ones who make what we use, rather than hauling clothing and other household goods halfway around the world so a few people can make a lot of money. Sorry, Jim Cooper—you screwed the pooch one time too many with this one.



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