18 12 2016

music: Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows

I confess, I didn’t really expect it to happen. I’m kind of in shock that it did, and I still wonder if some strong wind will suddenly rise up and blow this strange, new, apparent reality away, but for now, the fact remains: On November 8, a strategically located minority of America’s voters–barely a quarter of those eligible–rose up against being slowly roasted in the frying pan of the Democratic Party’s kinder, gentler neoliberalism and…jumped directly into the fire of an undisguised corporate/reactionary/climate denialist takeover of the United States Government. That strategic minority of voters didn’t jump alone, however. They took the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, with them. That’s the bad news. The good news is, millions of people who might have thought everything was OK because Hillary Clinton was in charge now feel extremely insecure, and with good reason. That may not sound like good news, but it’s actually an improvement on what their state of mind with Clinton as President would have been, namely, “feeling secure, but without good reason.” More on that later. It’s one of the several facets of this complex question that we are going to be examining.  We’ll call that “Bad news/Good news.” The others are “how did we get here,” “What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and  “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?”

So…how did we get here? Let’s start by looking at a couple of intertwined longer-term phenomena: our overall national sense of well-being, which, I think, is the force that’s been driving the second phenomenon, the waxing and waning of political party ascendancies since the late sixties and early seventies. The Kennedy-Johnson years and early Nixon years were the point in our country’s history when American workers were at the peak of their earnings. A guy with a blue-collar job could buy a house, support his stay-at-home wife, have a family, and send his kids to college if they wanted to go, or into a high-wage blue-collar job of their own. Note use of pronoun “his.”

Psychological sophistication was, not, and still is not, a hallmark of this culture, however, and white, working-class America’s response to change has been to perceive it as stress, and to respond to change/stress by rejecting the change/source of stress. Thus, some people perceived the Civil Rights movement and the Democratic Party’s efforts on its behalf, the hippies, and the anti-war movement as emotional threats, and reacted viscerally to them, rejecting Johnson’s heir apparent, Hubert Humphrey, and voting instead for Richard Nixon, who promised “law and order,” but proved to be pretty disorderly and unlawful himself. Too much stress. Jimmy Carter is a very unstressful Democrat, a Southerner that Northerners feel comfortable with. He’s the Pres.

But another, far more visceral, source of stress had started to kick in in the late 70’s. Workers’s wages quit rising, but the rest of the economy didn’t. In other words, everything cost more, but workers didn’t have more money at their disposal. Source of stress. Throw in a small Middle-Eastern country grabbing America by the crotch, aka the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and a botched rescue attempt, too much stress–Jimmy Carter is outta there after just one term, replaced by an entertainer, who had received hundreds of hours of television exposure as an easy-going, but principled, actor and show host. Much less stress! “It’s morning in America!” Ronald Reagan actually managed to hand the show off to George Bush, Sr., for one term, but the economic stress was continuing, even intensifying, and here’s two nice young Baby Boomers with a fresh approach. Hey, we all know he really did inhale, and so did his VP…they’ll chill us out way better than that crusty ol’ WWII vet. Read the rest of this entry »


12 11 2005

It’s not much in the news anymore, but for any of 185,000 working Americans and their families, it’s still the biggest story going—Delphi Corporation is going bellyup, and a big chunk of what’s left of the working class in this country is facing a bleaker future.

Nobody expects the company to go out of business—it supplies automotive parts to General Motors, and GM’s not quite ready to throw in the towel just yet—but the company is using its bankruptcy to cut production employee wages by half or more—from an average wage of $27/hr. to an average wage of $10/hr.

That’s going from $54,000 a year to $20,000 a year. That’s going from the kind of wage that can buy a house and put a couple of kids through a good college to living in a trailer and the kids take night classes at community college while they work shifts at McBurger Mart to pay for their expenses. That’s going from buying a new car every few years to driving a clunker. That’s also going from a pension and medical insurance to social security and medicaid, if there is any. And that’s the future most of us can look forward to, if we’re not already there, as globalization sets in and manufacturers chase cheap labor wherever it leads. More on where it leads in a moment….’cause there’s more.

That medical insurance, for all the current AND retired workers—that’s where the vampire’s fangs sank into this victim and sucked it dry. The vampire is not Count Dracula, but Senator Frist or Governor Bredesen or one of their ilk, the schemers behind the for-profit health industry, the terrorists that hold us all hostage with their five-word ultimatum: “your money or your life.” The Health Industry vampires have sucked 185,000 working people and their families right out of the middle class.

Oh, I know. There’s more than just medical expenses tripped up Delphi. It was the foreign competition. It’s hard for a company that pays workers $27/hr to compete with some corporation in Singapore or China that pays its workers $27 a week and houses them in dormitories like soldiers. I’m getting to that—bear with me a moment or two longer.

The flip side of this is, that even at $27 an hour, those hundred and eighty-five thousand people were still wage slaves. WAGE SLAVES, WAGE SLAVES, WAGE SLAVES. They’re upset ’cause massa done turned them out to chop cotton with the field hands, and they ain’t gonna get to stand around in nice clothes and serve tea and feel like they’ve got a better station in life.

BUT–I am willing to bet that well over ninety percent of those hundred and eighty-five thousand workers has something else they’d really rather do with their lives, however much pride they may take in a factory job well done and the society of their fellow-workers. If Delphi were as generous with their factory hands’ severance packages as they’re being with their executives, we might get to find out.

But we’re not going to find out the creative fantasies of those workers—they’re too busy trying to figure out how to cover a fifty-thousand dollar a year lifestyle on twenty thousand dollars a year, and that is causing a lot of pain in America this holiday season.

Meanwhile, overseas, the Chinese are feeling the rising tide….Beijing, once a city of bicycles, has now banned them as traffic hazards….the over view: 5 of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in China, and as our money fuels their economy, they now consume more grain, coal, steel and meat than the United States, and are about to overtake us in oil consumption. Those five items: grain, coal, steel, meat, and oil—are the mainstays of world trade, by the way. If things keep going the way they are now, though, here’s what may happen: in just another twenty-five years, if China’s GNP keeps growing at its current rate, per capita income in China will be the same as current per capita income in the U.S. China will consume two-thirds of the world’s grain, and twice as much paper as the world is now producing—already half the tropical hardwood logs harvested in the world are going to China.

If the Chinese go on acquiring automobiles at the same rate they are now, in twenty-five years there will be 1.1 billion cars in China—almost half again more than exist in the whole world today. And those vehicles, based on current mileage ratings, will contribute to a Chinese demand for about a hundred million barrels of oil every day—fifteen million barrels more than current world production. No wonder there’s so much concern about peak oil, eh?

These figures, by the way, come from Lester Brown’s Worldwatch Institute.

Obviously, the Chinese cannot use more oil, paper, or whatever than the world is capable of producing, nor can they so thoroughly dominate world markets that there will be nothing left over for the rest of us—at least, I hope so! What this points out is that we are going full-tilt boogie towards an impossible situation, so something else will happen. A billion and a half Chinese are not going to be enjoying the lifestyle that only three hundred million Americans can barely support by ripping off the planet for way more than our share of the pie.

And that is why, although I think it’s a shame for corporations to rip off workers and reward the managers who screwed things up, as happened with Delphi, I am also aware that we are all, the workers AND managers at Delphi and me and just about everyone here in the good ole USA, we are all frightfully out of touch with what life is like for the vast majority of people on this planet, both the ones who are lucky enough to still be subsistence farming and the ones who have been displaced by our greed, sucked into the cities to live in shacks, and scramble each day for the pennies that will be needed the next.

Ross Perot talked about the “great sucking sound” made when NAFTA opened up the border between America and Mexico and most of the United States’ manufacturing capacity went south. He was an accurate prophet. But the answer to that sucking sound is not to attempt to plug it up with protectionism. The way to end that sucking noise is to end the dominion of the corporatists, who have run the world’s resources in a way that gives extreme wealth to a few and drudgery to the vast majority. The planet’s resources could still give everyone a graceful life in a sustainable way, but that time is slipping through our fingers. We need to act.

To begin with, I believe there are enough resources tied up in military uses on this planet that, if they were redirected, they would go a long way towards solving the problems that seem to require a military response. The resources tied up in our vastly inequitable and exploitive worldwide corporate distribution system need to be reallocated in ways that promote promote local control, regional self-sufficiency and ecologically appropriate culture. Is that too much to ask?

Perhaps, just perhaps, it will be easier than it first appears. The corporatist media trumpets the idea of a strongly conservative America, but polls of the public on actual issues reveal strong support for stringent environmental protection, universal health care, a higher minimum wage, medical or even general legalization of marihuana, an immediate end to the war in Iraq, and many other positions far more radical than the Democratic Party is ready to endorse, but all positions and proposals articulated by the Green Party.

These same polls reveal that many of the people who endorse these positions see themselves as conservative. Hey, I see myself as a conservative! I want to conserve the ecology of this planet, and the dignity of every human life on it. Friends, remember that: the Green Party is the ULTIMATE conservative party. We are not no f-ing liberals. Well, actually, we ARE liberals, too—because the dictionary definition of liberal is “generous, free, openhanded, ample, loose, broad-minded” and those are all wonderful qualities to aspire to—oh, and then liberal also can mean “licentious,” but hey, weren’t Bill Clinton’s screwups a lot funnier than Dubya’s have been?

So—aren’t the Democrats liberals? Nu, are the Democrats really liberals? They’re taking their cues and money from the same folks as the Republicans. Their main concern is to service the corporate structure, with the genuine welfare of the population running a distant second. That’s why American public opinion is way more radical than anything that ends up in the Democratic platform. They’re more liberal than the Republicans, but that’s not saying much. They’ll actually give you crumbs? That’s nice. Wouldn’t you really rather have a place at the table? I would, and I would like you and everybody else to have a place at the table, too. That’s why I’m Green.

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