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Category: Politics

Gardener 1
I think I have found the solution to all our problems. What’s more, the time for this idea is right now.

We have the Great Recession to thank for that. Without the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000 and the real estate bubble in 2008, we never would have awakened to the new reality. All of a sudden, a whole lot of middle class jobs disappeared all at once, and we were more like the rest of the world than we’d been in almost a century. Good jobs are rare and getting rarer, and now that truth is staring us right in the face.

This new reality is a product of two irresistible trends. One is globalization and the relentless flow of manufacturing jobs to the cheapest possible labor markets. The other is our inexorable transition toward a fully digitized economy and an increased dependence on programming and robotics for work once performed by human beings. If there were any doubts about this trend, Facebook’s recent purchase of WhatsApp — a business with only 55 employees — for 19 billion dollars should have blown them away.

Without the Great Recession, we might have wandered even further into our fool’s paradise, making it that much harder to get out. But get out we must. The age of the living wage, which reached its peak in twentieth century America, is coming to an end. Jobs that can go overseas are leaving, and even service jobs in the professions are being taken over by machines … machines that are made overseas.

Similar concerns were expressed in the nineteenth century about the Industrial Revolution. It was thought that the rapid growth of those technologies would soon make human labor obsolete. Those concerns, it seems, were unfounded. That revolution ended up producing both more jobs and higher wages. Sadly, I don’t see it playing out that way this time, not with globalization and digitization driving the plot. It’s time to start asking what we’re going to do about it.

Entrepreneurs will continue to thrive (some of them, at least), and the rich can be counted on to keep their elevated status, but what about the rest of us? Can we maintain our standard of living on just a minimum wage? Where will we all be if the middle class disappears? Can an economy with so many low wage citizens survive?

The economy, furthermore, is increasingly based on the very technological wonders that are changing it. In order for the whole mess to keep going, we’ll need consumers with enough money to afford those wonders. So how do we get there? One suggestion would have the government simply cut everyone a check. We would spend it, of course, and our choices in the marketplace would continue to dictate who the big winners are. The winners, in turn, would be taxed at a level sufficient to cover all those checks.

On first take, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. We would all be left with enough time to fulfill our full potential as thinking, creative beings. On second take, though, it sounds like New Age hokum. We may reach that nirvana eventually, but we are clearly not ready for it now. Some people will still have to work because our machines are just not ready to take over everything. The resulting stratification of society into two distinct classes — the working and the non-working — could lead to some very hard feelings. As long as there is work to be done, I think the social contract demands that we all try to pull some of the weight. Until work is phased out completely, everybody has to work.

Another proposal would subsidize businesses by paying them to hire people. Those people would have to work to get their living wage, but if they wanted to, they could. A greatly expanded Earned Income Tax Credit could achieve the same result. Once again, the most successful corporations (and their human companions) would be called upon to pick up the tab.

I don’t, however, feel confident in either of these ideas. They seem too radical, too untested. We need something that’s worked before, something that could start small and grow with the expanding ranks of unemployed. This is where I come in with the aforementioned solution to all our problems: we need another Civilian Conservation Corps.

The CCC, which operated from 1933 to 1942, was the most popular of FDR’s New Deal programs. It clothed and housed young men during the Depression and put them to work at a low wage conserving our natural resources. It was an unqualified success across the board.

To meet the needs of this present time in history, of course, the CCC would have to be updated. Men and women of all ages could serve — and receive a living wage. Nor would the work be limited to unskilled physical labor. All levels of field work and administration would be staffed and properly compensated. This would not be a mere make-work program, but a new branch of government dedicated to one simple mission: save the Earth.

The making of our planet into an Eden seems like the perfect task for human beings, one for which they should be fairly paid. The entry-level position of Gardener 1 would be available to everyone. The starting salary for a Gardener 1 would be $30,000, and benefit and pay increases would come with seniority and higher productivity. All that would be required of workers would be a willingness to take part in the stewardship of our planet.

You see? I told you I had the solution to all our problems. The global economy would stabilize, climate change would be halted in its tracks, and humankind would be blessed with a new sense of unity. It’s all there. I only hope that it doesn’t take an Even Greater Recession to make it happen.
Color Bind
The conservative political community was in the highest of high dudgeons last week. Some staffer at MSNBC had tweeted about the latest “adorable” TV ad for Cheerios. The ad features a bi-racial couple and their child, and our tweeter imagined that “maybe the right wing will hate it.”

The outrage on the right was absolutely molten. How dare MSNBC suggest that conservatives are bigots!? Us, racists? Ridiculous! Here, look at this guy… he’s an actual black conservative! And do you see this bi-racial family? They believe, as we do, that we should trust in people, not in the government. This only proves how hateful all liberals really are!

And you know what? That hot outrage had a very good point: not all conservatives are bigots, and it is wrong to suggest that they are. In fact, MSNBC itself agrees. They cut loose the offending tweeter and apologized with the usual liberal effusiveness to everyone who might have been offended by the tweet.

How could that (now unemployed) tweeter have made such a misguided and hurtful gaffe? What could he or she have been thinking to have concluded that the right might be racist?

Well, I suppose that the tweeter might have been confused by the various efforts around the country to prevent voter fraud. All of these anti-fraud efforts — every single one — were conceived, passed, and signed into law by Republicans. The effect of these new laws has been two-fold: they put a stop to the frightening (though non-existent) epidemic of voter fraud, and they prevent many thousands of qualified voters from exercising their right to vote. Those who are turned away by these restrictions tend overwhelmingly to be black.

Even so, this could be nothing more than a big misunderstanding. After all, Republicans do trust people, not the government. They would certainly prefer that individuals be allowed to exercise their Constitutional rights rather than have those rights denied by government overreach, wouldn’t they? Of course…but how can we be sure?

Well, I decided to take an imaginary poll of every Ku Klux Klan member in the country and ask them which of the two major parties they felt most comfortable with. Did you know that every single one of these certified, died-in-the-wool, card-carrying bigots answered “Republican”? I can see how someone might get the wrong impression about the kind of people who inhabit the right wing.

But that does not excuse our tweeter. One should not make generalizations about people, especially on such an incendiary subject. No, not all right-wingers are racists. Such claims are deplorable and just plain wrong. What you should have said is that all racists are right-wingers.
Decline to State
Have you ever wondered which is our stupidest state? Our cruelest? Our most incompetent? There are multiple contenders for each title, of course, but why limit our inquiry with such narrow parameters? Why not simply ask, which of the 50 is our absolute worst state?

By opening up the discussion in this way, we can excavate everything that is ugly and poisonous about America. Not because we hate America, as some might charge, but because we are true patriots. Only by recognizing our flaws as a nation can we hope for a better future for all of us.

All right, now that we’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to mocking our country. First, let’s eliminate those states that are clearly not in contention — the entire West Coast, for starters, and any state on the Eastern seaboard from, say, Virginia north. Everybody knows these states are cooler and smarter. No offense. I’m also going to give most of the Midwest a pass because, in spite of being the home to a lot of extreme nutcases, they manage to keep most of these people in check and out of power. Alaska and Hawaii are not eligible because they are too young to know better.

That leaves mostly the Southern and Mountain West states. We can whittle our list down a bit more by asking which are refusing Medicaid expansion — a program that costs them practically nothing yet would provide healthcare to their neediest citizens. No matter what excuses come out of their mouths, their refusal to do so is nothing more than cruelty for political reasons. Of the remaining states still in the running, only Kentucky, Utah, and Arkansas pass this test (if only feebly in the case of the last two). Wisconsin and Michigan have refused to agree to the coverage, making them the only Midwestern states bad enough to still be in the running. No offense.

Fortunately for them, however, they are eliminated from the list because they pass my next test for awfulness: does the state try to teach creationism as science in its public schools? This test also lets Wyoming, Idaho, and North Carolina off the hook.

Alabama , Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas are still standing. If we now drop the states that are too inconsequential to worry about, we have our finalists:

Florida, South Carolina, and Texas. Wow, pretty bad all right..

Let’s drop South Carolina from consideration, okay? Their main claims to infamy are a particularly virulent brand of racism and a long string of bad people in public office: Jim DeMint, Strom Thurmond, Mark Sanford, Joe Wilson, etc, etc. (I won’t include Lindsey Graham; he’s just silly). Bad as it is, South Carolina just doesn’t measure up to the depth and breadth of awfulness of the other two.

So, how do we decide this? Both states already fail the tests I’ve mentioned; what are their other faults?

They each have a Bush brother, but Texas has W, so the point goes to them. They’re both unpleasantly hot, but Florida is sticky, so point to them. Both have passed laws that suppress voting, but it was Florida that screwed the pooch in the 2000 election. The governors are both putzes, but Rick Perry beats Rick Scott (or anyone else) in a clueless contest.

That leaves us tied. Here, however, one contestant begins to pull away. Florida is lame, but the Lone Star State is just plain mean. And the Sunshine State has nothing to match the assassination of a president — and his assassin. They don’t have the psychotic gun-love, or the drive for secession, or the unjustifiable egotism, or Ted Cruz, or the Dallas Cowboys. Only Texas has these, and I hereby declare it the clear winner in our search for the absolute worst state.

As I have said, we conduct this study not to divide or denigrate, but to pursue the hope that we will learn something about ourselves — all of us — that will help us become a better nation, a better people. And that something is … avoid Texas at all costs. No offense.
2.0
I’ve been having some doubts about it recently, and now I’m convinced. Civilization has become obsolete.

Oh, I acknowledge that it has advantages over other forms of group living. The hunter-gatherer system has a certain romantic appeal, but who wants to live like a wild animal? An agricultural society would be placid but numbingly dull. Civilization, on the other hand, gives us plenty of choices. It produces tons of cool stuff. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s edgy. Plus, I really believe that this is the kindest, most polite, and least murderous time in human history. On balance, that is, all things considered, relatively speaking.

But look at the downside. Along with that cool stuff created by technology comes more ingenious and deadlier weaponry. Civilization has spurred overpopulation, so that humanity itself threatens to be a plague upon the earth. And now, civilization’s dependence on commerce and consumption has involved us all in a slow motion self-immolation — a long, lingering death for us and half the life forms on earth.

So there’s that. What’s more, my belief that we live in the kindest and gentlest world ever is based on per capita calculations. Since the earth’s population has septupled over the last 200 years, the absolute numbers for these variables have actually been quite horrifying. Civilization, perhaps the greatest invention in human history, looks like it may be on course to self-destruct before the end of this century.

That gives us only eighty-six years to fix it. Or we’re all dead. But hey, no pressure. We don’t have time to invent something new to replace civilization, so we’ll need to do some drastic tweaking on the fly. Here are my top three recommendations:

Cut back. I guess we’re stuck with commerce and free enterprise, but who needs all this consumption? Just a little would be fine — enough to be comfortable, but not enough to tap out the planet’s resources. Violators, I’m afraid, will have to be disciplined.

Eliminate private wealth. It’s also time to admit that large concentrations of money tend to breed all kinds of bad outcomes. People just can’t be trusted with all that moolah. Much better for the greater good to have everyone own everything. All of your other freedoms, of course, would remain intact.

Stop having intercourse. It only leads to more people, you know, and we’re crowded enough already. Fortunately, civilization itself has already provided the answer to this problem. The digital revolution has birthed this weird self-centered universe where we can be alone and all together at the same time. Sure, it’s creepy, but at least people aren’t actually touching each other, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps the development of fully functional robots might also be part of the solution.

Maybe “obsolete” is the wrong word. Clearly, however, civilization needs a serious upgrade. And while we’re at it, it’s also time for us to grow up. If a One World Government is necessary to make all this happen, then that’s what we'll have to create. We can no longer afford to cling to such childish notions as patriotism. To do so would be uncivilized.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee