25 August 2011

More Jobs are Not the Solution; the Earth Needs Fewer

When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.                 
~ Cree Prophecy
I must start with the caveat that I am not an economist, nor do I wish to be one; I have only a cursory knowledge of economics. Nonetheless, anyone with a perfunctory knowledge of ecology or biology knows that the continuous growth model on which our capitalist economy relies is completely incompatible with life. Ecologists, environmentalists, and ecological economists have been screaming this for decades. It takes nothing more than common sense and observation with one’s own senses to understand that we live on a finite plant with finite resources which we depend on for life, and these resources are being plundered at an ever-increasing rate. Yet, this simple truth garners very little attention in the press where the environment is a “second tier” issue. The only issue that merits attention in the context of almost any discourse in the media is the economy.

The “health” of the economy is meaningless without healthy ecological systems to support it.

When speaking about our manufactured economic “crisis,” a fraudulent hoax created by wholly lopsided wealth distribution rather than actual scarcity, the right promotes putting more money in the hands of the rich, the so-called job creators. This meme should be put to rest once and for all, as it has been proven without a doubt that the accumulation of wealth by the rich does not result in job growth, but in hoarding by the upper classes. The left, on the other hand, feels that the government should be at the forefront of job creation. In either case, the belief is more jobs equals better lives. This is a myopic and dangerous assumption that will lead to the inevitable obliteration of our species.

We are in an age of ecological crisis. Just about every biological system on the planet is in decline. However, to combat this tragedy, instead of reduce, reuse, and recycle, we delude, deny, and distract.

Nearly every job requires the expenditure of tremendous amounts of energy. Now, if the energy came simply from manpower, then it would be a non-issue. Regrettably, the energy is generally generated from environmentally destructive fossil fuels or other renewable sources which may impart less harm, but still have negative effects on geological systems and/or organisms. For example, wind turbines are fatal to many birds and bats, and have been linked to illnesses in humans. Solar panels require mining, sometimes for very rare materials obtained via slave labor in Africa; they require a great deal of energy to produce and maintain; and the materials used and/or the by-products of production can be toxic. Of course, these are merely two examples, but for every large-scale energy infrastructure, there are great numbers of deleterious environmental effects. So, the more we work at jobs, the more energy we use, the more harm to ecosystems.

As for jobs themselves, no matter what they are, they all utilize materials and create waste. Moreover, many involve direct and/or indirect forms of exploitation of the environment, animals, or other humans. So the more jobs we have, the more harm to ecosystems.

We have enough basic goods to sustain every human on the planet. New and used clothing items far exceed the number of people who need them. (One need only see a Hollywood costume warehouse to realize our glut of clothing.) Empty homes dot the landscape across North America. Half of all food produced is wasted. Potable water would likely not be an issue if it were not utilized in and polluted by wasteful industrial processes (i.e., problems of overuse and contamination). Granted, the unequal distribution of these basic necessities renders them inaccessible to many humans on the planet, but that is a problem of allocation, not supply.

Despite the optimism of technophiles, “green” jobs and “green” products are more of a marketing ploy than a reality. Certainly, the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter, and water) when not obtained through reuse and recycling, should be produced and distributed in the most sustainable way. But we also know that when we produce other less necessary “green” products – more energy efficient light bulbs, refrigerators, or cars – we tend to just utilize more of the products themselves and rarely gain a net decrease in energy or materials consumption. Industrial production is clearly a source of unspeakable consumption and environmental degradation due to pollution and toxic waste. Increases in production and consumption of any kind are simply incompatible with environmental or biological sustainability. Sustainability requires jobs that maintain “needs” rather than jobs that produce “wants.”

Due to global capitalism, most of us do not have access to the means of production of our basic needs. We do not have land to grow food, materials for clothing, or materials to build shelters. We do not have clean water bodies of our own. We are wholly reliant on jobs to live.

Given these circumstances, how might we reduce production and consumption and still enable a populace to survive when they are faced with record high unemployment? One solution toward that end, one stop-gap measure on the road to localization, corporate annihilation, and total sustainability, could be a world-wide mandate for a living/livable wage.

I rarely feel a great deal of pride about my undergraduate alma mater, Georgetown University – a place that produced the likes of Bill Clinton, Pat Buchanan and Antonin Scalia. Six years ago, however, I was bursting with admiration for twenty-two brave young students there who staged a ten-day hunger strike to pressure the administration to implement a living wage for campus workers. Many of the service workers at the university could not come close to making a livable income to support their basic needs in our nation’s capitol, and these students took a bold stand in solidarity with the workers.

As income stratification has grown and wages for the majority of the population have stagnated, many people, if employed at all, find themselves with jobs that do not provide enough money to actually pay their bills. Thus, they are forced to take on second and third jobs – all at inadequate wages – which leave them with little or no time for their families.
Unemployment is obviously untenable for families, but so too is over-employment in low-paying jobs. And yet, as unions are being obliterated and CEOs bitch and moan their way to record obscene profits, the majority of jobs being created are lower and lower wage.

Imagine if every job was a 40-hr-a-week position that paid a living wage, a salary that enabled a person to cover her bills and live in a modicum of comfort. Economists will tell you that if you implement a living wage, the total number of jobs will decrease. That is precisely the idea. We do not need more destructive, crappy jobs. With living wages, perhaps only one parent would have to work rather than two. Perhaps the children could forgo working and concentrate on their educations. Then, more jobs would not be necessary because more people would not need to work. Some of the unemployed might be able to be categorized as non-employed and not needing to look. Others of the unemployed could take on the second and third jobs vacated by workers who no longer need them. We would not have to create more jobs; we could get by with fewer. (And that is the point, because fewer jobs mean less ecological destruction.) Additionally, governments would not have to expend as much on programs such as welfare and food stamps, which only have to exist because of insufficient corporate wages and greed at the upper echelons of society.

Sure, CEOs would complain that they could not afford to pay a livable wage, but we know that is an utter lie. Perhaps they might have to learn to cut from the top rather than from the bottom. Maybe they’d have to learn to live without those gold-plated bathroom fixtures, that extra corporate jet, or those thousands-dollar red-bottomed stilettos for a month or two. We know that their salaries alone could be slashed in half and used to pay their employees, and they would still be multimillionaires.  We can no longer allow the lies of the elite class to be taken for granted and perpetuated unchallenged.

A livable wage would be harmful to no one but the people at the top to whom too much is never, ever enough. It could be a means to begin to deal with the immediate problem of poverty, the social problem of the deterioration of the family, and the longer-term, most vital problem of ecological sustainably. I’m certain that all of the economists out there will find fatal flaws in my argument, but consider this in your critique: Do you have any way to attempt to deal with the crisis of ecology in your criticism? Do you even consider it at all?

11 August 2011

When You Play the Plutocrats’ Game, They Win: On Civility and Half Measures

Like many Wisconsinites, I am feeling rather dejected after the disappointing August 9th recall elections. But unlike most of my brothers and sisters, my disappointment stems not so much from the outcome, but from the adherence to propriety and to a faith in inherently corrupt and unjust systems.

I was inspired and awed by the spontaneous and sustained uprisings in February and March and solidarity of the people of Wisconsin. Having lived numerous places throughout this country, there is no other place I would have wanted to call home at that moment. I was so proud to be among the protesters and my tendency toward negativity was suspended for a brief period. And then it ended. People went back to work (or unemployment) and though small demonstrations continued, the massive manpower and money was instead redirected toward recalling six Republican state senators and attempting to replace them with Democrats.

Though I was surprisingly impressed by the bold stand that the fourteen Democratic state senators took to protect the rights of their citizens, and though, having attended hearings in the state legislature, I have found many of these Wisconsin Democratic representatives to be supportive of the needs of the people in the state, I chose not to devote my current activism to the recall elections.

I was at the bargaining table last year when the Wisconsin state legislature and governor’s office were controlled by Democrats. Nevertheless, we state employee unions were told off the bat that any increases in any types of monetary compensation were off the table, and that our health insurance premiums would be increased. Game over. Doing anything else was too risky in “this political climate,” they said. Having worked in the U.S. House of Representatives previously, I saw firsthand the complicity and complacency of many federal Democrats, but I really had no knowledge of politics at the state level in WI. I learned quickly as, after months of negotiating, even our very crappy contracts were voted against by a couple of turncoat Democrats seeking political leverage from the incoming legion of Republicans.

In the past thirty years, state and local governments – in fact society in general - have been catering more and more to corporate interests, and consequently corporate interests have been taking over our state and our society. This has resulted in their co-opting of the only two major political parties allowed to exist in the U.S., as well as in the largest redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich in history. In real terms, massive unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and social decay has spread across America, going largely unnoticed by anyone not experiencing it, or more likely, trying their hardest to deny it. The corporate controlled media does not report it to any substantive extent. They are too busy promoting new products, gadgets and consumer distractions.

In addition to consistent tax cuts for the rich and corporations and the expenses incurred from two-plus illegal and unnecessary imperial wars, the most recent recession in 2008 - caused by the unregulated casino known as Wall Street - has caused most of the fiscal crises in the states and throughout the nation. Yet, the Wall Street bankers committed fraud, the “brilliant” Ivy-League educated economists looked blithely away as the economic system collapsed, and the government officials who should have prosecuted the thieves let the perpetrators go scot free and proceeded to blame vital public employees for the financial woes caused by the rich. They not only allowed the criminals to go away unscathed, they fed these same criminals OUR money so that they could maintain their obscene wealth. Meanwhile, all over the nation, we, who had already lost everything, were being told we had to lose MORE so that those same rich people whom we had bailed out could “save” us through their privatization of all public goods (which, of course, does nothing but fatten their pocketbooks and starve us dead).
These unspeakable acts of reverse Robin-Hood corporate socialism took place under the watch of both Democrats and Republicans. We’d all like for it to not be so, in order for us to be able to easily place blame on one side, and go to the polls to vote in the other direction, but that vote is just a half measure. It often obtains little and changes nothing.

I do not wish to blame the Democratic officials in my state, because many of them - including Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and numerous state assemblypersons and senators whom I have had the good fortune of meeting during these recent months - have proven themselves more stalwart and progressive than most. I also recognize the insidiousness of the phony “grassroots” Tea Party, their corporate sponsors, their Republican allies, and their media propaganda machine. But laying the blame for the desperate state we find ourselves in solely at the feet of the GOP is completely disingenuous. Despite the rhetoric in the media, the real conflict is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; here and throughout the world, there is not a political war but a class war – and the rich are winning by a landslide. Given that context, trying to exact change through electoral politics is futile because the system is already rigged by the plutocrats, and because if one is not willing to deviate from their system, one is bound to lose.

Many political activists working on the recall elections have been saying that we want to elect Democrats to “stop the bleeding” and then we will hold them accountable to the people. From my vantage point, I do not see bleeding; I see fatal hemorrhaging from the carotid artery that only societal change, not politics, will be able to surgically repair.

When we play the game of the plutocrats, we allow:
  • A “Citizen’s United” election in which endless corporate moneys control the outcome
  • Continuation of the false premise that Wisconsin even had a budget “crisis”
  • Media framing that “the people have spoken through their votes” (regardless of the fact that this cannot be the case in a country where corporations are considered people)
  • Domination by “middle class” in discourse, instead of discussions about poverty, racism, and severe social injustices
  • Political tricks and illegal maneuvers (see: falsification of election date on absentee ballots, consistent election irregularities in Waukesha county clerk’s office, phony robo-calls by right-wing groups, voter intimidation at polls, voter disenfranchisement through cumbersome voter ID law, etc.) going uncontested or unprosecuted
  • “Conspiracy theory” narratives to dismiss all skepticism, despite tremendous evidence of organized wrongdoings

One of the main ways we play into their game is through prevarication and civility. What should have happened, as many chanted on March 8th – the day the state Assembly illegally voted on the anti-collective bargaining bill and 7000 people immediately flooded past the gatekeepers at the capitol doors to protest – was a general strike. If our elected officials can break a law that attempts to protect the transparency of our state legislative process by pushing through a vote without due notice, then citizens should have broken a wholly unjust law that attempts to criminalize the rights of workers to not show up for work.

I’m originally from New York. New Yorkers have a justified stereotype of being rude and abrasive (often unprovoked and for no reason). By contrast, what I have found living in Wisconsin for the past two years and in the Upper Midwest for the past four, is that civility is at a premium here. As a general rule, people like to maintain decorum and do not like to complain. That can be a very nice thing, for example, when you are new in town and everyone is welcoming and nice. But it is extremely disadvantageous when one is reticent to “act out” for fear of conflict or contention.

One of the Democrats in the recall elections said in an interview that she did not like the recent changes in Wisconsin government, because things had become so divisive and people could not compromise. Given the current state of affairs, I would say that compromise is not in order. When it comes to balancing a budget by hampering or eliminating all of the social safety nets for the poor in order to enhance incentives for corporate interests, a legislator who seeks a balanced “compromise” on these unequal terms is not a legislator that any citizen needs. Likewise, a citizen who would rather retract into her (not-so) comfortable life by casting a vote rather than by challenging an unjust political and social system is not a citizen who will be victorious for her cause. Right now, I hope that Wisconsinites can realize that when battling plutocracy, one must leave one’s civility at the door. Maybe now’s the time to take a lesson from the New Yorkers; maybe now’s the time to stop playing by their rules and to be belligerent, obstinate, and uncompromising.

01 August 2011

Enough Equivocation: Obama and His Democratic Comrades are Right-Wing Republicans

A few months ago as I walked around the buzzing and ignited capital in Madison, I came upon a vender selling T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers commemorating the ongoing sociopolitical struggle in Wisconsin. One read, “Recall Walker, Re-Elect Obama.” I loudly verbalized, “Well, HALF of that is right” and proceeded to go on a short tirade to my indulgent partner about how misled and idiotic it is to support Barack Obama for President in 2012. Some people around me seemed to glare as if I were crazy.

I have not seen anywhere, in neither the corporate nor the so-called alternative media, an analysis of the debt ceiling “crisis” that truly resembles the obvious truth. Numerous comments on alternative blogs suggest that there are citizens who have it figured out, but that which will not be spoken remains unspoken: not only is the crisis of the debt ceiling a fabrication, but Obama is also getting exactly what he wants.

Back when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President I recall watching the Daily Show, on which a former law school professor who taught both Barack and Michelle spoke about the couple. He told Jon Stewart that back when they were in law school, it seemed to him the Obamas were Republicans. I remember Jon Stewart laughing and thinking that the good professor was making a joke. I thought he was serious, and now more than ever, I still do.

What more evidence do we need that Obama supports a right-wing neoliberal agenda?

Here is but a short list of policies he’s enacted (or not enacted) off the top of my head:

  • Bailing out Wall Street while millions of Americans went homeless and hungry
  • Extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy
  • Enacting an ineffective new health care overhaul which puts even MORE wealth into the coffers of insurance companies but does little to nothing for the sick American (yet force them to pay for this atrocity)
  • Failing to prosecute the Bush administration for war crimes, including torture
  • Increasing free trade agreements throughout the world
  • Continuing detention at Guantanamo Bay
  • Continuing “extraordinary rendition”
  • Continuing the unwarranted and ill-advised war in Afghanistan
  • Cutting and/or threatening to cut Medicare, Medicaid. and Social Security (the latter which has NO connection to the federal budget debt – it is wholly funded by our own separate cash from the FICA tax)
  • Promoting nuclear power as “clean” energy
  • Promoting highly risky offshore drilling as safe
  • Continuing warrantless wire-tapping of innocent citizens
  • Prosecuting more whistleblowers than any other president in recent history

These are neoliberal policies that support the corporate state, not the people. Obama is not, was not, and has never been a socialist. He is not a liberal. He is a corporate conservative serving the ruling class – a class not comprised of you or me or anyone who makes less than a six-figure income, let alone finds themselves in a lingering state of unemployment.

Barack Obama knows exactly what he is doing. He did not cave to the GOP. He did not make concessions to the “other side.” He enacted policies for his side: the ruling class, the rich.

Sure, you may have donated ten, twenty, even a hundred dollars to his 2008 campaign, but that is just a drop in the proverbial bucket. The bulk of his contributions came from his real constituents; the rich and the corporations that they run have donated hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to their boy Barry. These are his people, much as George W. Bush came out and simply stated explicitly: this is his “base.”

Obama could have asked to raise the debt ceiling temporarily months ago. He could have utilized the fourteenth amendment to prevent the issue of raising the debt ceiling from being willfully conflated with the budget deficit. He could have tried to raise the debt ceiling indefinitely, thus ending the whole debacle. He could have taken Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security off the table. Could have, should have, would have …. But didn’t.

Obama is not concerned with the American people who are increasingly jobless, homeless, and in deteriorating health. He is concerned with his re-election and in pleasing those who will enable his victory. By forcing this spurious “emergency” with the debt ceiling, and by agreeing to a “compromise” that takes more of America’s wealth away from those in need in order to enable the ever-increasing prosperity of the 1% ruling class (who currently have 80% of the wealth and soon to be more), he sends a clear signal that he is on their side. He is their man – if even that was really in question to begin with. He indicates that it is safe to contribute to his re-election. It is safe to allow him another four years of pilfering the poor and working class to fatten the wealthy, of enabling ecological destruction to all for the economic benefit of the few.

It is time to open our eyes and understand that in politics, men like the eminently moral and resolute Bernie Sanders are a dying breed, and that Obama was never such a man.

It is time to recognize what some realized when they searched into the depths of Obama’s superficial rhetoric in 2008 – and found nothing. Our current president is not a progressive, not a socialist, not even what used to be a Democrat when I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. He is a corporatist of the ruling class and his actions have been completely consistent with that reality. Furthermore, this debt ceiling sham and its subsequent bill are an immoral travesty that was orchestrated to end precisely as it has.

The Game Never Named, the Addendum Never Spoken

Remember that silly game we used to play with fortune cookies from Chinese restaurants? Maybe people still play it. It’s the one where...