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Category: Politics

Globally Warm and Cuddly
If I picked the topics for my political cartoons based on the importance of a given issue to all life on earth, I would draw one about climate change every week. Its potential to cause human misery could only be matched by a collision with an asteroid, but the probability of that happening is pretty remote. Global warming, on the other hand, is an ice cold certainty that will sting everyone now alive and everyone yet to be born. The need to stop it becomes more pressing with every passing moment.

Political cartoons, for the most part, are satire, and as such they are exercises in negativity. They point out the foibles and phoniness that so often surround the actions of the powerful. At their most positive, the drawings simply point to the absurdity of some situation. Even those cartoons, though, reflect unflatteringly on the people involved, making them appear foolish or ineffectual — or worse.

I could do cartoons like that all day on the topic of global warming. The parade of fools and liars in the midst of this crisis provides an unending source of fodder for satire. Sadly, the good that is being done by conscientious people rarely finds a place in what I do.

Normally, that doesn’t bother me. I think I bend naturally toward satire, and doing it for so long has bent me even further toward ironic, absurdist, sometimes caustic assertions of my worldview. It’s gotten to the point that sincere expressions of optimism and gratitude kind of give me the creeps. In honor of Climate Week, however, I’m going to try and unbend just a bit and give some credit where credit is due.

First, let me recognize the 400,000 or so people who flooded the streets of New York on Monday to demand action on climate change. Exercising our Constitutional right to freedom of assembly is one of the few powers most of us have to affect change. It may be feeble compared to the power wielded by Big Oil, but it’s something. So thanks, my fellow citizens.

Thanks also to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund which just divested its portfolio of all oil and fossil fuel interests. The satirist in me appreciates the irony of the descendants of Standard Oil (the original, and biggest, of all Big Oils) cutting ties with their own history to help the rest of us. I could summon up a sarcastic image or two about this story, but for now I will just say it was the right thing to do.

And speaking of the superrich, hats off to Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google. He recently walked away from his association with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. That utterly meaningless name fronts an organization whose goal is to leverage corporate control of our government. Mr. Schmidt explained his move as a reaction to the group’s habit of lying and “making the world a worse place.” My satirist self might point to the fact that Schmidt had been heavily petitioned to take this action and that he had freely joined with ALEC to begin with, but hey.

Microsoft recently made a similar move with regard to ALEC in an effort “to be greener.” We might well ask, “What took you, jackass?”, but let’s not go there right now.

Let me also honor here all the owners of Priuses (both smug and not) for helping us move toward healing the planet. The same goes for those who have gone solar, or recycled, or turned off the light when they left the room. Thanks to Al Gore, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.N., and every person and organization who is working to do right on this very important issue.

Okay, that’s enough. All this Kumbaya-singing is starting to make me queasy. I’m going back to being my bent, ironic self now, but before I do let me just say that we can stop global warming if we can just work together and keep our wits about us. Oop, I just threw up in my mouth.
As Stupid Does
We’ve heard some criticism of Barack Obama’s thinking on foreign policy recently, notably from as-yet-unannounced candidate for president Hillary Clinton. Hillary charges that 44’s standard of performance is not a worthy organizing principle for a great nation. His stated maxim: don’t do stupid stuff.

He delivered that line half-jokingly, I think, as a testament to the complexities and dangers that make international politics so difficult. It was taken with great seriousness by Mrs. Clinton, however. She no doubt thought that she needed to differentiate herself from her ex-boss.

But let’s put politics aside for a moment and just examine the notion itself: don’t do stupid stuff. Is that really such a bad rule of thumb in world affairs? How about for simple governance? Or for life itself?

It is a hard enough job to avoid stupidity in this world — perhaps even a full-time job. There are, after all, so many opportunities to be stupid. Every day we are presented with decisions that, no matter how mundane, include many more stupid options than smart ones. Take this morning, for example. Rather than heading off to work, you could have caught a tramp steamer to Vladivostok, or volunteered down at the neo-nazi institute, or simply spent the day streaking all the malls in the tri-county area. None of those options would be fatal, but they would be stupid.

It is commendable, of course, to also have some positive objective to help guide our actions, but such high-minded ideals are no guarantee against stupid mistakes. We need a special rule to avoid those. If we can, then what’s left will be not-stupid — maybe even smart. Doctors, who have a reputation for being smart, have to take the Hippocratic Oath when entering their profession. That pledge is filled with all kinds of affirmations about patient care, but what is at the top of the list? First, do no harm. Even smart people need to be reminded of the obvious.

So let me suggest this to you as part of any personal philosophy: first, don’t do stupid stuff. After you’ve checked that box, you can move on to loftier motivations. And if you find yourself in a position to make foreign policy for a great nation, please remember this: of all the stupid things that humans do, war is by far the stupidest. It kills people by the millions, it cripples the lives of the survivors, and it’s a big money loser, even for the victors.

So don’t give in to this stupidest of all ideas, please. Not if you want to be smart. War is the idea that even the dumbest guy in the room can come up with. The smart folks, meanwhile, will think as hard as they can to find a way not to go to war.

For instance, by not voting for it when they were in the Senate…Hillary.
Taxation Nation
The poor Danes. Year in, year out, they remain one of the Most Taxed People in the World. They were number one again last year, with an average income tax rate of 60.2% per person. In the U.S., the rate is about 44%.

Before you start to feel too sorry for them, though, consider this: when measured by such standards as sense of well-being, mental health, opportunity, freedom, and general life-satisfaction, the Danish are also the Happiest People in the World.

Please feel free to draw whatever conclusions you like.
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.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon