What’s Behind the Mask Controversy?

5/14/21

Can we stipulate for these purposes that science has made it clear to all that for the preceding months, the wearing of masks was for the health benefit of the nation, and therefore, also for my neighbors, even for my own family; and, secondly, can we stipulate that the wearing of a mask is a very small thing, not a great inconvenience to anyone?  

This much is quite clear to everyone.

So, why has the matter of masks turned into such a feud? Officials are named and shamed for both wearing and not wearing masks, depending on whether you are watching Fox or CNN. This can’t be entirely because there are some minor scientific differences on where and when to wear masks, because there just isn’t much scientific disagreement.

What seems a simple issue has become rancorous, divisive, and bitter, between Republicans and Democrats. This is really hard to understand unless one reflects on the sociological history of the US. Our pilgrims had little government, often none, as they pushed west. They fought their way through all manner of challenges and hardships, with little or no help. They fought through all forms of interference in pursuit of their freedom and opportunity. Even as we grew and needed so much that could only be done by working together, this deep seated attitude has sustained and prevailed.

The answer to the mask mystery must be in our nation’s long history of individualism, the resistance to accepting responsibility for the collective. 

When Ronald Reagan said, “government IS the problem,” he was playing to this sentiment. Government exists for the collective, for the communal good. So abolishing government would be victory for those who want no responsibility for others and feel they are perfectly prepared to go it alone, needing no help from anyone.

When Donald Trump proclaimed, “America First,” he was rallying to this same sentiment—we as a nation can go it alone—we can be self-sufficient—we don’t need anything from the rest of the world. Likewise, we don’t need immigrants. 

There are objections to anyone controlling when my kids can be back in school, and anyone controlling when I can re-open my restaurant or business, and just how I must operate when I do. The police are here to protect me and my property. They’re not here to be social workers for those who should be taking care of themselves.

And on and on.

Fueling this bias is the failure of government to operate in ways seen as in the best interest of the individuals, the citizens of this country. And it’s not just the institutions of government which have lost the trust of citizens. Corporations have also failed the individual. There are few pension plans remaining. “Defined benefit plans” have taken their place, essentially meaning employer abandonment of the lifetime concern for the employee. Employment “at will” prevails, meaning the boss can fire you for any reason without warning. Unions have also failed their workers. Public schools have failed their students and parents.

In quasi-individualist moves, the wealthy have taken to private schools for their kids, and some to private jets and helicopters for their travel. The wealthy belong to private clubs and live in private gated communities. Inequality has skyrocketed and polls show working class Americans don’t care to fix it—many hoping they also can “make it,” and be left to enjoy it without being taxed. 

This is all a reflection of the extreme appeal to individualism, which has been and remains uniquely characteristic of the US. Sociological studies have compared our nation to a variety of European nations and found us at the extreme.

The mask objectors have seized on this symbol of being forced to concern for the collective. They see it as a loss of freedom for the individual. The mask objectors are saying, “no one can tell me what to do—not the government, not the scientists, not the CDC.”

Our unfortunate extreme dedication to individualism has costs. The value of community is lost and starved for resources. Only with community can all manner of shared assets and services be provided—from roads and bridges to Medicare and Social Security. Only with community can we have police, military, and careful protection to our environment. Our dedication to individualism means that all of these (and more) can be seen as somehow infringing on individual rights.

I vote for government, and higher taxes for the wealthy of us. I vote for leaders who respect and appreciate government, want to improve it, not to destroy it.

America First!

 

5/10/21

He said America First

Nobody else until we get all we want

No scraps from our table

Until our own poor are fed

And, our dogs are fed too

No shelter from the storm

Until all of us have a shelter

And a good one too

No jobs for anyone else

Until all of us have jobs

And high paying jobs too

And even if you want the dirty jobs

Dig ditches in the hot sun

Clean our dirty toilets

Feel our Alzheimer’s patients

And more stuff like that

And pay taxes

And obey our laws

Doesn’t matter

We don’t want to help you

We don’t want you coming here

Not until every single one of us

Has everything we want

And, that’s not going to happen soon

So forget it

And you, thousands, millions

Standing at the wall

Or the river

Or even the gate

We are America First

We really don’t care about anyone 

Except ourselves

See, this is a nice place

And you’d only mess it up

We can’t allow that

So walk on back to your dictators

Your criminal gangs

Your hunger

Your hopelessness

And your deprivation

It’s not our fault

You should have been born here

And born white

That’s where you made your mistake

We are America First

Lemmings to the Cliff

May 8, 2021

I’ve lost my patience. Looks like the Republicans are going to oust Liz Cheney, one of the few sober and honest voices they have left. The vast majority of Republicans in Congress seem convinced the future of the party is with Trump.

Republicans, I guess you’re betting on America First, which translated, means blaming immigrants and foreign countries like China, for all our problems. It means we don’t care about those abroad who are starving, persecuted, or in danger. It means we are not global citizens, but simply a populist and nationalist country. It means we don’t care about climate change, and we don’t trust and don’t choose to involve our nation in international governance organizations.

It means your Congressmen continue to claim a “stolen election,” along with thousands of fact-checked lies and misinformation your demagogue spewed through Twitter and Facebook, both of which have justifiably suspended him.

It means you don’t believe anything is wrong with policing in America or in the proliferation of all kinds of guns. It means Black Lives Matter is really the cause of the riots and property destruction, and not white nationalist and far right domestic terror groups. It means those who stormed the Capital resulting in deaths were just some patriotic Americans who wanted our flawed election systems to be repaired.

It means there is no systemic racism in the US, none at all. It therefore means the US is already fair to all, but clearly China is not. Since we’re clean, we have the right and obligation to meddle in China’s human rights issues.

It means we never have enough military or budget for them. If it comes down to it, we’ll take the money from education and welfare and build more rockets.

It means constant complaining by Mitch and the Fox anchors and guests about President Biden being disingenuous in promising to try to be bipartisan. Can they really hope Americans don’t remember how Mitch and Republicans treated Merrick Garland, Barack Obama, and have now promised to treat Biden? “Nothing gets approved!” Seems “bipartisan” means one thing—do it my way or you’re not bipartisan. Do it my way even if I won’t compromise. 

Being Republican used to mean believing in austerity and small government, but there was none of that during Trump’s four years, only now that he lost, it turns out to be a good opportunity for criticism of President Biden’s progressive budget proposals.

Oh, and it means it is not necessary to wear masks–ever.

With your sudden about face dedication to austerity, it means the infrastructure proposal, the jobs proposal, and the American Families proposal—they’re all far too generous, aren’t needed. Furthermore, paying for these with higher taxes on the wealthy is unfair to the wealthy.

Sad. Stupid. But, OK, go ahead and destroy your party. You are lemmings, who will follow Trump into oblivion.

Contradictions and hypocrisy abound. This week has weak jobs and increased unemployment, yet Fox argues that no additional stimulus is needed—these sudden austerity hawks seem without a good argument this week, but they plod on. Last week, it was that all is fine, economy growing, no stimulus needed. Oops, well, no stimulus needed, no matter what.

Take my state: Gavin Newsom will face an recall election. The arguments starting it were about Gavin keeping kids from returning full time to classrooms. But guess what—California has the lowest level of Covid cases in the country now, thanks to Gavin’s measures, and kids are returning to school and restaurants can now safely open. Good luck, John Cox and Caitlyn Jenner!

This is all good news for the Democratic Party in 2022 and 2024. The majority of Americans do not really want the Trump/Republican agenda described above. Trump will (has) flame(d) out and will never recover. The Biden agenda is going to offer revitalization to America, increased jobs and increased wages. That alone is a winning formula. 

Think about this: Most Americans want some police reform. Most want some controls over gun rights. Most want to keep abortion legal. Most support a path to citizenship for our illegal immigrants. And, certainly, the vast majority want all the benefits promised by the huge progressive Biden budget. All of these, most Trumpian Republican congressmen oppose, against “the will of the people.” Not a good formula for election success.

And while the “crisis” at the border is providing lots of fuel for Sean Hannity, Judge Jeannine, and four of “The Five” on Fox (not including Juan Williams, the only sane voice of that five), the border problem will get resolved within these two years, before the next set of Congressional elections.

I join the many sane Americans who lament the absence of a healthy two-party system. But the Republicans are not headed toward creating their part of it. 

Well, Republicans, it’s no fun to have no control whatsoever in the three chambers of government, is it? But you brought it upon yourselves and you don’t even now seem to “get it!”

Imminent Danger–Immigration

April 21, 2021

A big problem is looming for President Biden and the Democrats—immigration. If we don’t get this resolved, 2022 and 24 are at risk. 

Republicans are again inflaming distrust for immigrants. Fox News spends a highly disproportionate amount of screen time crying about the “humanitarian crisis at the border.” They focus on poor handling of the influx—beds, medical care, childcare, etc. They focus on the sheer numbers, implying we are allowing far too many in. They find rare instances of child abuse or criminal entry and exaggerate these, no matter how rare. Fox shows no empathy for the plight of those risking their lives to escape hardship and danger just to swim the Rio Grande, usually penniless.

We are a country of 330 million people, all immigrants or children of. Today 86 million are either first-or second-generation immigrants. We have built our great country in short centuries on the talents and hard work of immigrants. This seems forgotten as others seek to join us—most of them wanting only to work, provide for their families, pay taxes, and obey our laws. Many of those without skills serve a great need of doing all manner of menial work that many Americans have decided is beneath them.

We have fought, denigrated, lynched, killed, and punished immigrants across our bloody history—after we did the same to the natives of this land. Trump seized on an accumulated history of widespread US concern for immigration and distrust of immigrants and made this his signature campaign promise.  He denigrated certain populations of immigrants—Mexicans (“drug dealers, rapists, criminals”), Muslims, Chinese, etc. He stoked negative attitudes toward immigrants in general. 

There was no Trump administration attempt to define how many immigrants we could accommodate, or how we might expand our system such as to accommodate more. There was no empathy extended to those in distress who may be in far worse shape than even our own poor, in terms of lack of food, jobs, or criminal danger. 

The Biden administration started with a “humanitarian” point of view. That’s Great! But they need much more—a plan, management, and communication. If immigration is not managed right, Democrats are in big trouble.

I’m no expert on immigration. I don’t pretend to fully understand all the complicated policies, jurisdictions, agencies, laws, etc., etc., that make our immigration process so very challenging to all outside our borders who seek to join us here. But it must be clear to all that the process is way too cumbersome, very inefficient in achieving its aims—for those simply legally seeking to come, and especially all those who flee danger and hardship in their home countries.

Altogether, our complex system has been allowing about 1 million new immigrants (legally) annually. We can double it, and grow it for years, to the great benefit of the nation.

I venture to recommend the following steps to our new Administration:

First—establish a bold overall objective—something like this:

“We will take in as many immigrants as we can, and continuously work aggressively to expand our capacity.” 

There are many factors determining limits—beds, facilities, care workers of various skills, food and other necessities, educational resources, etc., etc., but there are also emotional or psychological limits—fears and concerns, real or imagined, in various communities, which must be considered. Democrats join Republicans in having limits. We can’t take all of the reportedly 65 million abroad who want to come here—as least not immediately. Republicans know Democrats do not want open borders, but they keep falsely politicizing with that rhetoric. We can’t take everyone, but we can take many more than we have been taking.

To aggressively expand our capacities:

  1. Calculate the capacity of the system at this time
  2. Implement immediate emergency expansions, albeit less than ideal, for those already in and above capacity—includes best possible—tents, etc. This to deal humanely with the existing border crisis
  3. Immediately enforce strict limits at the border to allow only what the system can accommodate, as the system expands 
  4. Immediately examine all reasonable expansion alternatives
  5. Create detailed timeline for expansion, begin expansion immediately
  6. Continue to work with immigrant nations to hold and protect refugees in home countries until US can accommodate
  7. Government can provide incentives to employers and communities which are able to integrate and sponsor numbers of immigrants
  8. Streamline, shorten and simplify the process of legal immigration
  9. Where any jobs are lost to Americans, provide assistance to those impacted
  10. Provide extensive data to the public on the cost of accommodating immigrants, how many are working, how many are paying taxes, and the net economic contribution of immigrant population
  11. Create a short path to citizenship for the 11 million here working, obeying laws, and paying taxes

I am confident the bottom line of immigrant value to the US is highly positive, measured in net economic contribution (after recovering all the costs of entry), and measured in terms of the cultural, artistic, and sociological value to us. 

If the Biden Administration boldly sets forth an agenda like this—rapid expansion of immigrant intake coupled with best control of the border—better than under Trump, we can turn a crisis into a humanitarian and an economic success.

For an immensely superior study of the problems of US immigration (and solutions), please obtain a copy of the excellent book written by my friend Linda Dakin-Grimm, “Dignity and Justice.”

Make Fox News Relevant

April 9, 2021

Since the election, I have been watching Fox News–a lot: Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Greg Gutfeld, Harry Watters, and some a bit more sane–John and Sandra, Neil Cavuto, and others. I have done so because I wanted to see how Fox and their constituency reacts to the election.

The answer has been “not very well.” Most of the Fox coverage has been focused on items which Fox seems to think will galvanize American discontent with the Biden administration.

I haven’t found any which carefully are developed with the intent of offering a comprehensive alternative to what they continuously criticize. That’s what would make the leading Conservative voice truly relevant, and indeed would actually be a great service to our country–working toward creative solutions which can be bipartisan. The same could be said of the leadership of the Republican Party. If Fox and the Republican leaders would take the initiative, regardless of whether CNN and the Democratic leadership may have similarly failed in the past–if they would take the lead toward a truly bipartisan approach to producing and debating good alternatives, not simply criticizing existing actions. It’s always easy to find fault, and much harder to find solutions. Fox is lazy.

Here’s the top of the list of Fox coverage since the election:

1-The border crisis–“it’s a total humanitarian crisis, if only we had kept all the Trump policies!”

2-Democratic Governors are not moving fast enough to open up schools

3-Democratic Governors are not moving fast enough to open up everything

4-Raising taxes is ALWAYS a bad thing for the US

5-Covid risks are overstated. Restrictions and mask mandates infringe on American freedoms

6-Democrats want to “pack” the Supreme Court

7-Democrats want to overturn the 2nd Amendment with all their gun control proposals

8-Hunter Biden is a potential criminal with national security risk issues

9-Big Tech restricts free speech, such as Trump on Twitter, claiming the election was stolen

10-Biden is not tough enough on China, not tough on US Fortune 500s protesting new GA voting restrictions

Let’s take the crisis at the border. It IS a crisis, and it WAS also a crisis under Trump. Here are some of the most important issues which Fox could choose to study and engage in:

How many people should the US allow to immigrate annually? What is the rationale for that number? How can it be increased? Do immigrants cost the US or contribute to the US–long term? Show the data. What can be done by governments to compensate for the unintended consequences of migration into the US? How can we truly secure the border–even Republicans acknowledged that Trump’s wall was only a small piece of best total border protection. What is our obligation to those who come to us in true asylum and refugee status, fleeing danger and persecution back home? Do we care? Should we? Is it morally fair for us to just be “America First,” regardless of all that suffer outside our borders?

If we had only kept the Trump policies? That’s not a solution. The border was a crisis under Trump also–otherwise, why would he have tried so hard to implement an unpopular partial solution–the wall? And, Trump’s policy doesn’t even attempt to address the humanitarian issues listed above, or the question of how many, how, and how to grow our capacity, how to ameliorate the negative impacts of immigration.

So, why not? The easy answer is that answering these questions is really tough work. It takes a lot of research, a lot of searching conversations, struggle to create a meaningful action plan, considering budget realities, opinions of Americans, politics, and collaboration and cooperation of a vast array of parties–local and federal government, foreign nations, agencies, professionals (health and mental care, child care), police and other law enforcement, vendors, and many others. It’s a lot of hard work, much harder than planning the daily array of criticisms, with rabid Republicans like Jim Jordan, Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham making cameo appearances to stoke the criticism.

The same is true of the other issues listed. Gun rights are a great second example. Every proposal from Democrats is found by Fox to somehow be ineffective in truly reducing the risk of mass shootings or of crime intended buyers obtaining guns. OK, so if you do indeed have any concern for the risks associated with guns, how about coming up with a proposal that DOES? If you really study, objectively, and conclude that only mental health improvements can help–then make that case, comprehensively in a convincing manner, and propose what enhancements in mental health are recommended, why, what cost, how to develop and offer them. Suggest how we then measure to see what are the outcomes of Fox recommended solutions.

Fox focus is on items which will galvanize or has galvanized (under Trump) around America discontent. One must ask, what would have happened if Trump had made it clear that immigrants contribute and we want to try hard to improve our ability to accept immigrants? What a difference that would have been and would have made! To what extent was the negative view of immigrants deep seated, or perhaps vulnerable to better information and better compensating policies? We’ll never know, but here Fox had and has an opportunity to represent the Conservative agenda and not succumb to nothing but empty criticism.

Hey, as to 2022 and 2024, remember, Fox, the key issue in most elections is the economy, and this is already a growing healthy economy, no matter Biden inherited the start of a Covid recovery. And, it does appear Biden policies will grow the economy rapidly, according to Conservative voices, such as the Wall Street Journal, notwithstanding such as Larry Kudlow opining on Fox. If this economy serves the working American well, Fox and Republicans will have a very hard time in 2022 and 2024, no matter how much they try to do nothing but beat on the list of 10+ items above.

Best advice to Fox–wanta do something good, something valuable, something that might also position you for leadership in the decade and beyond?

If so, start focusing on solutions for the problems above. Drop the venom.

Biden vs Republicans on Covid Relief

February 18, 2021

The monnth’s this week is dominated by the struggle over the next Covid relief stimulus.

It’s $1.9 Trillion from Biden vs $600 Billion from the Republicans. A $1.3 Trillion gap.

Here’s what the Republicans oppose:

• $220 Billion more for unemployment insurance
• $245 Billion more for direct payments to individuals
• $350 Billion additional aid to states
• $145 Billion more for schools
• $15 Billion more for small business
• $30 Billion more for rental assistance
• $5 Billion more for homeless
• $20 Billion more for veterans’ health
• $20 Billion more for public transit
• $20 Billion more for American Indian tribes
• $10 Billion more for cyber defense programs

For most of us, there is no reasonable way to judge this gap between Democrats and Republicans. There are too many categories, too many localities involved, with different levels of need. Too many details of distribution to understand.

We can easily imagine that rental assistance is needed for workers losing their jobs, and that states need help with all the support they are trying to provide. In fact, all of the areas Republicans wish to deny are in need. But how great is the need for each? And how do we know the money will be disbursed carefully, to avoid the waste that occurred in the Trump Covid stimulus, due to poor management and fraud?

We can’t know the answers. So, how can we judge where to place our support—for the Democrats and $1.9 Trillion, or for the Republicans and $600 Billion? Does it turn on whether one has a strong sympathy for something in the gap—such as wanting more help for schools? Or perhaps resistance to something there—such as aid to states? Will public opinion will revolve around individual sensitivity to one segment of the gap—if people even look?

For my brother and for many conservatives, opinion will turn on the impact on our national debt. It’s out of control, but not only because of the pandemic. It has been increasing for years. The Trump administration’s tax cut, objected to by most economists, added more than $2 Trillion in debt. Covid has already added $3.7 Trillion. So now our national debt has topped $27 Trillion. And, of course, the pandemic has shrunk the economy and ability to repay. Our 2020 GDP was $21 Trillion.

Debt is indeed a problem. When interest rates rise again, servicing the debt will constrain us. That means risk to health care for our aging population and also for the entire safety net for those in need. Education, infrastructure, even military and (all) other needs may be constrained.

Yet, Covid driven needs must be addressed. Janet Yellen argues for a big relief package. Trump wanted a big one. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan think tank, argues for a big stimulus. They point out that the stimulus will speed recovery and thus reduce the debt/gdp ratio over time. No relief would have the opposite effect.

This illustrates a key fact. The absolute level of debt is irrelevant. The debt/gdp ratio is the key determinant of overall economic health in regard to debt. There are two ways to improve that ratio: By reducing the rate of increase in debt (no more Covid relief, for example); or, by increasing the growth rate of the economy. And, to add to the complexity of the debate, these two are interrelated. Sometimes spending more and adding to the debt grows the economy. Sometimes not.

The key question is how much debt can we tolerate? The World Bank says that when the debt exceeds 77% of gdp, growth of the economy may be slowed. When growth is slowed, the ratio increases, so this is an important factor to consider.

But if this were the only key number, a lot of countries are in trouble. Here are a few comparisons:
USA 1.3
Japan 2.6
UK 1.1
France 1.2
Germany .7
Greece 2.1
Canada 1.1
Russia .2

Greece is in trouble, but Japan has survived above 2:1 for many years. This illustrates the fact that even this ratio, taken alone, cannot provide a definite limit.

Most economists think the future gdp growth rate of an advanced economy like ours will be around 3%, not more than 4%. So, to keep our debt to gdp ratio constant, we need to limit increases in debt to a similar percentage, and our debt trajectory is far above 3-4% annual growth.

Is this all just too complex to digest? Maybe. In our highly partisan time, most of us will simply trust our leaders: “Believe what your Party leaders say they believe.”

I vote for a big stimulus because (a) it is desperately needed; and (b) it will be spent and will grow the economy. The alternative is worse—for the people and for the future debt/gdp ratio.

But I don’t mind if President Biden chooses to compromise with Republicans–for the sake of unity and for the sake of debt limitation and space for infrastructure and other critical expenditures ahead. When the pandemic is behind us, Congress needs to set a limit to the maximum annual rate of debt growth and/or to the ratio of debt to GDP.

Buy American!

January 27, 2021

Buy American

President Biden has just announced he will require “Buy American.” 

There is a better solution, but he has no choice.

In the aftermath of Trump’s popular demand for “made in America,” and “America First,” it would be political suicide to President Biden and the Democratic Party to deny the reality of this popular sentiment. A big segment of Americans believes this is the way to go. 

These Americans do not understand the complexities of globalization or the implications of nativism. We seem to be lost in a xenophobic haze. 

Globalization is a good thing. Americans can save money on their purchases by buying foreign products—a lot of money. Most of our imports of consumer goods come from developing countries where the cost of labor is only a fraction of US labor costs. That’s why so many Trump supporters shop at WalMart, where up to 75% of all products were coming from China in recent years.

If major consumer cost savings accrue from globalization, then why doesn’t President Biden endorse globalization? Two reasons: First, the political reality is that a big swath of Americans don’t understand the relative costs of labor and the result in product prices. After all, they were buying all those Chinese products when Trump said he had a better solution and bought his promises. Maybe Trump supporters forgot their savings on consumption and focused only on the jobs reality in the US. They believed his outrageous claims that the US can be competitive again in manufacturing. That’s not true. We cannot turn back our economy to times when we were able to make a shirt for the price made in China or Bangladesh today. Virtually no economists bought his plan to restore American manufacturing. 

Does President Biden fail to understand the above? Not likely. He’s simply politically astute. If Trump supporters bought the Kool-Aid, they’re not ready for American cooperation with the Chinese. Few Trump supporters believed the truth that Trump’s trade wars cost the US billions. Nothing was gained and much lost, but the popular Trump supporter sentiment was positive.  But Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate are very thin, and President Biden needs the added power of popular support for key legislative proposals. 

Globalization was a huge benefit to American consumers and to large corporations. It was also a huge benefit to workers in developing countries. Millions rose from poverty in China across the 80s and 90s by moving from farms to factories and sending money home to their families. We should feel good about that, as citizens of the world.

But after decades of uncontrolled globalization, it became increasingly clear that some American workers had indeed lost their jobs to foreign manufacturers. Steel, textiles, furniture, toys, bicycles, and many other products moved to developing countries in Asia or South America. In my own home state of North Carolina, thousands of middle-aged manual workers were laid off. There was nothing available to replace those good jobs. Factories closed. But, as globalization rushed ahead, none of these strategies were employed. Call centers moved to India or The Philippines, where English is taught. US manufacturers opened plants abroad or contracted with foreign companies for manufacturing. This went on for years without any government policies to remedy the impact on pockets of American workers.

There is a strategy which could profitably accommodate the benefits of globalization net of the costs. Careful assessment of the predictable job losses by product and by geography could initiate a plan to either forego that particular product going abroad or provide for alternative employment for those expected to lose jobs. That could take the form of alternative job training, relocation and employment counseling, and unemployment insurance. If the overall benefit to the economy and the citizenry is found to be net positive, such a policy would be justified.

So, Biden is forced to declare Buy American. This choice is justified politically, but not economically (and not morally). What will be the challenges? First, costs of previously imported products will go up. WalMart shoppers will be dismayed with the prices. Second, American manufacturers will aggressively seek product cost reductions. These can only come from two sources—labor and capital. Not much can be saved on labor, considering American labor costs. Producers will seek to invest in technology such as robots. This will come at the expense of laying off workers.

There is a healthy academic debate about the impact of technology on jobs, some claiming losses and some claiming gains—jobs lost in one area are offset by new jobs in another area. If there are indeed new jobs created to replace those lost, there seems agreement that many of the new jobs will be lower paid jobs such as service workers such as cleaners and caring for older citizens, uber drivers, clerical workers, fast food workers, etc. Better paying jobs in manufacturing those robots or programming them will require significant levels of re-training.  

We’re talking about a transition which will take years. There will be much pain and disruption along the way. Many of our uneducated who are in their 50s will not be able to make the change. Much will be needed from the government in effective support of the transition. And no matter how thoughtful and well-intended the Biden administration may be along the way, Conservatives will resist providing the necessary support. And, we are at a low point in terms of confidence in government on either side of the aisle.

Disenfranchised!

January 24, 2021

A big word is being used by media and politicians, to described the feelings of those who rioted at the US Capital on January 6. What does it mean?

“To disenfranchise is defined as to take away someone’s right to vote or to deprive someone of power, rights and privileges.”

We have disenfranchised millions of Americans, predominantly working class non-college citizens. They were not denied their right to vote, but they were perhaps denied two things: They were denied the attempt to overturn a fair election on the basis of alleged fraud which was rejected in some 60 court appeals and by the 50 states and the Electoral College; but, they were indeed denied other elements of personal power, rights, and privileges.

Let’s lay the false allegations of a fraudulent election at the feet of the outgoing President. Had he acknowledged the election to be fair, anytime prior to January 6, after all his court challenges were exhausted, it is likely his followers would have dropped that cause of their disenfranchisement.

But everyone now knows that much of the disenfranchisement among our working class has been growing for decades. It has grown into a combustible cocktail of anger which erupts periodically across the US. Storefronts are broken into and buildings are set on fire.

Bill Maher said, “maybe they just hate windows.” But it’s much more than that. Breaking windows is just the expression of frustration against “the establishment.” Most of them would acknowledge they never intended to simply wreak havoc on our small businesses, it’s just that those are the storefronts on the streets where they march and experience the frenzy of group excited frustration with all that has been denied them.

Let me double back to the unproven assertion I have argued for years in a variety of ways, simply this: For the majority of our disenfranchised, the root cause is lack of opportunity. That means that I don’t have decent job choices, decent wage opportunity, cannot get training or education for myself or my family, can’t afford good health care, can’t afford good housing, and never seem to have enough to even be sure of food. I have nothing for emergencies, even as simple as car repair. I can’t get to work without my car because maybe I live far out of the city in which I work because rents are too high close to my work. I am disenfranchised, and my friends are too, and we are angry. Very angry.

The very basic frustration arising from lack of opportunity has morphed and hardened into a level of hatred for those imagined to be responsible. It has galvanized around other frustrations, such as objections to gun rights being threatened or abortions being allowed. But it is hard to imagine that most extremists (right or left) simply developed their anger and commitment based on hating people of color, hating globalization, or simply being pro-choice or pro-life, or any of the other (and many) non-economic elements of the protests.

Maybe some do not identify their frustrations with their economic woes. But I argue that the vast majority of our disenfranchised, the protestors and those not yet protesting but perhaps vulnerable to future protests or even future violence, are coming from a fundamental frustration with lack of opportunity.

How is it that almost 50 years of government since the 70s has not delivered a fair shake to our working class? US inequality is the highest among developed countries. US poverty remains near the levels of 50 years ago. Our federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t been raised since 2009. That’s $15,080 per year. That means trying to find an apartment costing $500 per month. There aren’t any of those in San Francisco. My previous blog post lists a number of added negatives brought on by the pandemic.

So, why have both Democrats and Republicans failed to deliver improvements to our working class? America is unique in its ethos of independence. We are not big on community and the collective good. We call that socialism. We believe everyone can make it if they try, no matter their gender, religion, race, or color. Almost no matter their handicaps. We discount the value of good parents and friends, and especially the value of government in helping us achieve. While there have been some notable periods of greater fairness (after WW II and with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, a neoliberal economic policy took hold in the late 70s and has sustained. Unmanaged globalization didn’t help. Since then, no President of either Party has made a strong commitment to fixing it, and weak attempts have been easily rebuffed by Conservatives, decrying “the welfare state.” In fact, our contribution to social welfare is less than that of any other developed country, after taxes. In fact, advanced countries with much higher social welfare operate very successfully for all–e.g., Denmark or Norway.

What can be done? Here’s the top of my list:

  • Pandemic relief to individuals and small businesses
  • Raise the minimum wage
  • Commit to reducing poverty, inequality and opportunity–set quarterly goals and reporting measures, publicize them
  • Establish a Commission charged with finding solutions to improved opportunity for our working class, members from bi-partisan politics, local governments, universities and small and large businesses, as well as academia. Require reports quarterly, share findings publicly, no matter how negative
  • Government not to create solutions, but to establish incentives, such as tax credits, to reward businesses and communities which create solutions resulting in more living wage jobs

How many riots like January 6 must we experience before we see the nearness of real mayhem? Is a revolution the only way for us to make a little sacrifice and do right by our working class?

Inequality–Our Biggest Problem

Jan 14, 2021

Donald Trump rode to his populist Presidency by seizing upon the frustrations of mostly white male blue collar workers. His own life was far from that–inheriting $40 million from his wealthy father, (mis) managing a real estate empire from luxurious offices and chauffeur driven limousines. He’d probably never been to a farm or factory, and was not a church goer. But, as he began his campaign, he discovered the frustration of this large constituency which had not been addressed by policies in previous administrations across the past 50 years. Not since the 70s had the working class enjoyed a fair shake in regard to jobs, opportunity, and wages. He suddenly became a Christian and began to promise return of jobs lost to China, plus protection from immigrants, increased security, gun rights, and opposition to abortion–popular with this group.

I have argued for years that inequality should be our greatest concern. It’s not so much that the ranks and wealth of the top 10% have been skyrocketing. They have, but turns out the working class is not so disturbed by that. The concern of the bottom 50% is that they cannot enjoy a decent life in the meantime. Unable to afford a safe and decent home. Not enough job opportunities. Wages insufficient for family health care, good education for the kids, even food. These seemingly indisputable rights of life in America have been denied the working class for almost 50 years. Democrats and Republicans are to blame. Frustrations were increasing.

These workers have been vocal–as at Trump’s rallies. They can also be violent, as at the Capital on January 6. Republicans argue that their grievances are legitimate. The “grievance” that the election was “stolen” is NOT legitimate. However, their basic needs being overlooked repeatedly by the governments of both Democrats and Republicans are indeed fully legitimate. No wonder they have lost confidence in our institutions and are attracted to a populist who offered both fake culprits and fake solutions, and who promised to “empty the swamp” in Washington.

Can anyone deny that the protests of blue collar males has little to do with their incomes, their opportunity, the lackluster services or help from the government? If not these, as primary and entirely legitimate grievances, then what? Does anyone really imagine they are behaving this way because they hate immigrants, they hate foreign countries, or solely because they were told by their President that the election was stolen?

Their plight never gets better. And, whenever a downturn comes, be it the economic downturn of 2007, the Covid downturn of 2020, or the advancing impact of climate change, the poor suffer more. The top 10% continue to prosper, but the working class struggle pay the bills for basics–housing, food, education, health.

According to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), the collective wealth of America’s 651 billionaires has jumped by over $1 trillion since roughly the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to a total of $4 trillion at market close on Monday, December 7, 2020.

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans have not fared well during the pandemic:

  • Nearly 14.9 million have fallen ill with the virus and 284,000 have died from it. [Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center]
  • Collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 2.3% from mid-March to mid-October, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
  • Nearly 67 million lost work between Mar. 21 and Oct. 7, 2020. [S. Department of Labor]
  • 20 million were collecting unemployment on Nov. 14, 2020. [S. Department of Labor]
  • 98,000 businesses have permanently closed. [Yelp/CNBC]
  • 12 million workers have lost employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic as of August 26, 2020. [Economic Policy Institute]
  • Nearly 26 million adults reported their household not having enough food in the past week between Nov. 11-23. From Oct. 28 to Nov. 7, between 7 and 11 million children lived in a household where kids did not eat enough because the household could not afford it. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP)]
  • 4 million adults—1 in 6 renters—reported in November being behind in their rent. [CBPP]

Trump did nothing for this group. But the problem of neglecting them predates Trump by decades. It began to explode under Trump. The neglect, the suffering, and the cocktail of Trump rhetoric lit a bonfire which will not be quenched by voting Trump out.

If there is any positive to four years with Trump, it is this: He awakened the disenfranchised, and they’re angry and vocal. Maybe our newest government will be forced to seriously address their legitimate needs. We are all to blame for negligence–spending money on tax breaks for the wealthy, increased military, and numerous pork projects, while a new breed of terror is rising up from inside our country–demanding solutions, with some prepared to use violence to achieve their ends.

Source: Inequality.org, dec 7 2020

What’s Missing

Jan 13, 2021

The Republicans are now making a big deal out of what they describe as the righteous indignation, totally justified, that a big segment of the 74 million who voted for Trump feel the election was stolen.

Stolen, and they want it either restored to Trump, or at the very least, a convincing process engaged to study, analyze, and verify the election results. That’s what they want.

What’s missing?

Three things are missing. First, the 50 States each studied and analyzed their election returns, several of the “battleground” states re-counting and taking other measures to study any questionable ballots in regards to signatures and other factors. They all reported that they were entirely satisfied with their results. They all reported that even if the very small number of discrepancies were further studied, they could assure that the changes from such a small number would never be sufficient to change the outcome of the election in their states. Subsequently, some 60 lawsuits were turned down by judges in state and federal courts across the country, including our Supreme Court–finding absolutely no merit to the only anecdotal evidence offered.

Furthermore, the Federal Election Commission reported that they had done their own preparations thoroughly and that this was the most secure election in American history.

So, there was no one,. no official body, no court, no state Attorney General or Secretary of State, who found evidence that a court considered valid to show the election was stolen.

So, no one.

But the third reason is the clincher: Who was it who created the illusion that the election was stolen, in the face of all this evidence to the contrary? President Trump did that. President Trump from the day of the election and daily after that, in speech after speech, rally after rally, tweet after tweet, incited his base with the belief that the election had been stolen.

That’s what’s missing. That’s what the Republicans do not mention when they are trying to gain sympathy for millions of disenfranchised Americans who believe the election was stolen.

Since the perpetrator of the lie is not going to recant his claim, and the genie is out of the bottle now. there is little that can be done to assuage the frustration of those millions who bought the lie.

Biden’s team is certainly studying a review of the election as a possibility, but it’s not that simple now. Given the level of passion Trump has incited, who can devise, who can imagine, a process that would really be sufficient to resolve that falsehood? It’s next to impossible.

Can anyone imagine a process that would convince Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz?