Righteous Irritation: Your Letters
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New Jobs, New Values
Our economy absolutely needs to be redirected and restructured to stop burning the planet, and to learn to live without cheap fossil fuels. Local economies need to become more self-sufficient, recovering and renewing skills in manufacturing, agriculture and community.
But the jobs we create come with a new set of values; one which reduces the pattern of compulsive consumption which is at the core of the values corporations have overwhelmed us within the last century. Green jobs can make us secure, end alienation from our labor and help us re-connect with our neighbors. But they cannot help us buy new cars, larger houses or air travel vacations.
As a union organizer for 30 years, understanding the depth of our buy in to the "more is better" and the equation of quality of life with more unnecessary possessions has brought me to the conclusion that we need a major shift in our values, and that it can be done, but only after we recognize that "growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
Jerry Silberman, Philadelphia
I am dismayed that I have not heard anything in all these plans about improving public transportation and more environmentally friendly planning for living/working.
As long as we look to individual vehicles as our main source of transportation, we will be ripping trees out of the ground and replacing them with concrete, asphalt, whatever. Trees and green spaces are a big part of this equation, they absorb carbon monoxide and produce oxygen.
Urban sprawl and unitentional communities contribute to unneccessary travel time and expense. Self-contained living/working spaces will enhance our quality of life.
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Now when you think of it, our normal body temperature is 98.6. Now I ask, what effect would it have on us if we walking around with a 2 degree increase: 100.6? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure what the consequences would be now would it.
Good summary , but you've missed one that is working surprisingly well in good times and in downer economic environments, alike. It's the worker-owned and managed co-operative enterprise. These co-ops are thriving in low and high tech fields in Spain and in Italy.
The Empire Strikes Out
Chalmers Johnson is a national treasure. His command of the facts, coupled with his incisive analysis, always makes him a pleasure to read. I dearly hope we are not faced with the choice of empire vs democracy.
Conn Hallinan, analyst Foreign Policy In Focus
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I enjoyed Professor Johnson's article immensely, but I question his statement that "a country can be democratic or it can be imperialistic, but it cannot be both." Perhaps not. But it can do a remarkable job of hoodwinking its citizens into believing it can. The fact that "the white man's burden" had long ago fallen into disrepute did not deter the American public in 2003 from rushing to buy the same snake oil in its attractively-updated package of "Democratizing the Middle East." So, at least on paper, imperialism can in fact co-exist with democracy. That, as it happens, is most of the trouble. Bush or his kindred succesors are dealing with an intellectually lethargic and disturbingly complacent public who manifestly would—since they already have--remain conveniently quiet through any and every piece of whimsy the unitary president cares to indulge—provided it includes the word "Democracy."
As the professor points out, however, imperialism comes with an often oppressive price tag for the mother country. The U.K. after WWII was wise enough to realize it could not sustain, financially nor emotionally, another Sepoy Mutiny or Mau Mau Uprising. The Brits were also cagey enough to discern the opportunity to beat their swords into plowshares—after all, they had the American colossus as their ally and defender. And look what plowshares they've traded for—universal health care, free college tuition, etc.—while we, the superpower's citizens, have a phantasmagorical arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The price of which will be our ultimate undoing, just as the professor says. Someday in the not-terribly-distant future, the Chinese or the Indians or the Maylasians will be the new superpower by virtue of their super-economy. Because they did not tolerate in their midst a vampire army of corporate defense contractors, shamelessly sucking the nation's blood into a sp!
While the rest of us will be sitting here: broke, jobless, on a pile of rusting, useless crap.
This is excellent. The "first principle" is very sound. I wonder if the formulation "all income should be taxed the same" might be misconstrued as a flat tax. The idea needs a telling phrase which retains the idea of a progressive tax scale.
Education For Its Own Sake
Bush is merely trumpeting another myth of the corporatist, globalization-apologist set (and adherents to these mythologies are numerous on all sides of the political spectrum), namely that more education is the answer to declining economic security among those of us who rely on real jobs (that is, not having cushy sinecures in think tanks) to pay the bills.
This argument flies in the face of the evidence. Hasn't Bush noticed that many of those who have lost their jobs (engineers, programmers, IT specialists) do have strong educational credentials and impressive technical skill sets? Unfortunately, education and technical training are no longer silver bullets against unemployment or relegation to the rust heap of unwanted human assets in a globalized job market controlled by organizations maniacally devoted to cost-cutting as if it were a religion.
In fact, the more education you have, the worse off you may be. Many educational backgrounds do not translate into marketable skills (ask anyone with a degree in the humanities) and education in technical fields endows one with a narrow range of expertise and skills that are prone to to fall out of favor faster than anyone employed full time and raising a family can be expected to adapt.
Furthermore, Bush is ignoring the paradox that the more advanced one is a particular field, the fewer options they actually have and the more vulnerable they are to long-term unemployment when they are judged to be no longer viable in their career fields.
Mechanical engineers do not become lawyers or surgeons when they're laid off in mid career and middle-aged programmers don't retrain to become dentists when their jobs are shipped to India. Most employers will not consider people like this for less skilled employment because they reason that they will not be happy in those positions.
The lie is given to Bush's assertions about the link between education and improved economic prospects by the fact that the bulk of employment growth throughout Bush's presidency has been in areas requiring comparatively little education: construction and low-level service jobs (retail, hospitality, health care).
On the plus side for these folks, a retail clerk can easily be retrained to be a waitress, hotel reservations clerk or medical assistant if she loses her job. On the minus side, these are all low-paying, regimented jobs with few or no benefits and are being converted by some employers to part-time or contingent work.
The problem that no one seems to recognize or want to face up to is that employers in this country have been given many strong incentives by both Wall Street and government to treat workers as disposable resources. Corporate managers are being rewarded above all for reducing costs. That makes Wall Street happy. Government, by failing to unlink health insurance from employment and by maintaining the highly regressive nature of the FICA tax have undercut the competitive position of most American workers.
As a result, the fortunes of the workforce and the corporation have been deliberately unlinked. Employers seek to accelerate the attrition of long-term employees through layoffs, off-shoring and reducing new job creation. Thus, large costs such as salaries, benefits and office space can be dramatically reduced.
The savings go directly to the bottom line in the form of profits, which have soared. However, the spoils are being disproportionately directed to mangement and investors and are not being shared equally with what remains of the non-executive workforce despite record increases in productivity.
More and more, tasks requiring significant education and training that were once performed by full-time regular employees (e.g., programming and other IT tasks) are being transferred to a contingent work force to which the employer has no real commitment.
In the face of this situation, how can one sensibly argue that the problem faced by workers is their lack of education or training? Or that providing more education and training are the answers? Education is a good thing in its own right and has intrinsic value. However, its role as a foundation of economic security has been eroded away like a New Orleans levee by a political and business philosophy that has severly devalued human capital and is focused on the care and feeding of plutocrats and their no-account heirs. Like George W. Bush.
Additional note from a grassroots medical finance advocate ... Some families and individuals may be able to count the money they owe medical providers towards a Medicaid "deductible" or "spend down." Once their medical debt or medical payments equals the amount by which their income exceeds the Medicaid income guidelines, they (and/or their children) can become Medicaid eligible.
However, if they convert their medical debt to credit card debt or bank debt it typically no longer counts towards a Medicaid deductible, because it is no longer owed to a medical provider.
Medical providers could provide aggressive and savvy advocacy assistance to patients and their families to secure eligibilty for publicly supported health care programs. This would bring in income on behalf of individuals who will never be able to pay the bill, and it would be good for community relations. Substituting a credit card debt for a medical debt for a low-income, or modest income family with high medical bills may add injury to insult—so to speak.