Thursday, September 30, 2010

You kids get off my lawn!

Matt Taibbi, in his latest Rolling Stone article on the Tea Party, makes a poignant observation. Paraphrasing, he said that in the Tea Party there is such a yearning for a simpler, more honest time that is forever lost that it almost breaks the heart. Someone, in a private correspondence, said that what we’re seeing is the last throes of white male dominance in this country. Times, they are a-changing.

Put into that perspective, it’s easy to understand. I’m old eniough to start yearning for the simpler, more honest which the old generation used to yearn for the simpler, more honest which THAT old generation used to yearn for the simpler, more honest days. It’s part of the cultural fabric now, seeing change rushing toward us like an oncoming train and wishing for our childhoods, when truths were clearer and people were less harsh and more of a community.

Not all the wishing and protesting in the world is going to bring it back, though. Not unless we face some sort of Mad Max technology-destroying apocalypse, that is. We’ve entered a world we’ve made without the vision of the consequences--isn’t that the way it always is? We celebrated the ubiquity of cars way back when, but smog and global warming wasn’t a concern. We love labor-saving machines but regret the lost employment. We like our cheap goods but pay lip service to regretting the poverty in which we place workers. We love the internet but complain about how isolated we’ve become.

Like most old cranks, I don’t like where we’re going. The ages-long era of privacy is over. We never predicted that when information technology got to this point that it would bite us in the ass. We didn’t see that when all the world’s information was at our fingertips, our personal and private information would be there too. Just as, when little bitty cameras were invented, we never predicted that our every move could be recorded and put on the web for all to see.

I saw this morning where a college student killed himself because his roommate set up a webcam in their dorm room and caught him having sex with another man, then broadcast it on the internet. Then I read--this same day--that many apps in the Google Android app store collect your information and sell it to others. Sure, they tell you they will in the 30-page license agreements for the software, but who has the patience and expertise in legalese to plow through all the garbage they put up to purposely drive you away from learning their purposes?

We are starting to shrug now. Loss of privacy is just another price we pay for constant connectivity. We’re finding out that we can live with everyone knowing what we do. What would be nice is if this had a positive effect, like turning everyone tolerant of the common activities they now think are deviant (i.e. gay). What is more likely is, as our culture becomes angrier, hastier, and more prone to attack pre-emptively, this knowledge will turn into bludgeons. The generation enraged over the rise of a black man to the Presidency is teaching the younger generation that rage is the path to coercion and dominance. We’re teaching the next generation that hate is the answer.

I wish for the wistful days when kids could play outside forever and we didn’t worry about strangers; for the days when communities held pot lucks; for the days when you could sit outside without listening to people scream at each other, and for the days when you could leave your door open during the day and not worry about random intruders. But raging against your own common good is not the answer. Screaming that the world isn’t the way it used to be isn’t going to accomplish anything positive. The answer is to fix the current model, not trade it in for an Edsel. Trying to force a 19th-century decentralizing political system onto a 21st-century technological giant is a recipe for the death of a country.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I'm sure that if you're a lefty, you've demanded that the rich pay higher taxes than the middle class. If you've tried to get that past a libertarian, they probably have countered with arguments about equality and fairness that mask the true issue (they want to be as rich as possible, even if only vicariously through their heroes). Somehow, you knew there was an argument against that. You knew you had the moral upper ground, but perhaps were stymied by the arguments about generating jobs, keeping what they rightfully earn, and such. Perhaps you found yourself caught between wanting to be a good lefty and trying to be understanding of the capitalist ideal, and you couldn't find your argument. Here it is.

There are no figures or citations in this because, if challenged, I can find them; and chances are, the righties would pull out some industry-funded astroturfed study from a no-name university that supports everything they say. So let's just stick with the plain, moral facts: American-style capitalism is in the process of destroying this country, and it is morally right for us to expect them to pay the tab for their decades of misdeeds.

Look. Things were bad in the 70s, and we were losing out to overseas cars, overseas steel, and other products. The Japanese were undercutting us. Our companies here had never had to worry about efficiency before, and it was a concept that rocked them to their core. While paying lip service to the idea of adopting Japanese ideas and efficiency to make our home-grown companies competitive, they attacked employees. They slashed benefits, slashed wages, slashed employees, and finally, when American workers refused to work for less money than it takes to live on in America, the manufacturers up and left. Little by little, at first, they picked up their companies and moved to places like Mexico. Then they discovered just how profitable it was to manufacture in the Third World, so they started building plants in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, and American Saipan, among others. They paid wages that wouldn't buy you a hamburger in this country, then charged Americans higher prices for the privilege.

So far, you're agreeing that happened, but you're wondering why this is a moral, and not a business, issue. Here's the deal. Those companies had social contracts. What? I hear you cry. A social contract isn't legally binding! Well, yes it is. As many a tort has shown us, a non-verbal contract can be just as binding as a signed contract. And here's the contract: the companies agreed, when they built their plants, that they would support entire communities, and the communities, in turn, agreed to provide all the necessities that made a company viable in America. The community agreed to provide a workforce that was able, willing, and ready to work; they would provide safe neighborhoods for the company to operate in; they would provide streets, lighting, sanitation, police, firehouses, and cleanliness. The community would also provide all the local ancillary needs a company might have that you'd never think of, like pharmacies, groceries, doctors, dentists, lawyers, banks. Now here's the kicker: we kept our part of the bargain. We invited businesses in to our community because they promised us livelihoods in exchange for their presence. It was a symbiotic relationship, and it worked.

Then they were suddenly lost. They couldn't cope with modernization (at first) or efficiency. They were losing money on outdated, rusty supply and delivery systems that had never been challenged because there was no need. America was its own ecosystem. Then those companies abandoned America for profits. For those of you who might argue that a business has no responsibility other than to its shareholders or owners, you are wrong. When a business establishes itself in a community, indeed is the primary support for a community, you've accepted responsibility for that community. And they abdicated it. Left it, abandoned it, threw it down the well. Companies discovered that, overseas, desperately poor people were willing to work for pennies (or sometimes nothing, in the case of Chinese slave labor), and with dollar signs in their eyes, they breached their social contract.

Now look at what we have. The disparity between rich and poor has increased dramatically since 1980. Entire neighborhoods and towns, almost entire states, have fallen into decay, poverty, crime, and violence. Little businesses that those companies supported died. The taxes those companies would have paid to maintain the streets, lights, police, and so on, were gone. The companies asked communities to build them an infrastructure, and the communities gladly responded. Then the companies up and left, so suddenly that many communities had no chance to recover. They offered little to no assistance for the now-unemployed, and they didn't even clean up their own toxic messes when they left, leaving yet more liabilities that they expected others to clean up. They promised capitalism, but capitalism involves reinvestment of the profits (the capital) into the company and its community.

They broke the contract, and argued that it was the American Way. They abandoned capitalism for sheer greed, but asked the government to protect their profits. The madness of the Reagan and Bush and Bush II years (and, yes, the Clinton years) somehow bought into this supply-side malarkey. They even abandoned the supposed ideals of supply-side (trickle-down) economics, in which a company makes more revenue by not being taxed heavily and reinvests that into their companies, their workers, their communities. Instead, they kicked capitalism to the curb for good old feudalism. We paid the price.

So screw them. We are now on the verge of seeing the country crumble. Hundreds of billions of dollars will have to be spent to get this country back to the state it was in, and I don't think that's going to happen unless these companies—which are still in America—are compelled to clean up their vast ruin via taxes and other assessments. They abandoned loyal workers who gave their entire lives, they bankrupted pensions, and they never looked back. They broke the promise they made, and that broken promise has cost America countless lives, a healthy and prosperous future, safe neighborhoods, broken families, and a chance at better lives. They broke a contract, and the consequences run in the trillions of dollars. We have every right, nay, a moral imperative, to make them pay for the damage they've done. In a court of law, my feeling is they'd be put into receiverships. Instead, we give them tax breaks.

I'm trying to remember if I've ever defended a company's right to keep all its profits. I might've, in an insane time in an economics class. If I did, you'll never hear it from me again. All those companies, the appliance makers and car makers and TV makers who kept their business operations here but moved their manufacturing operations to desperate countries willing to work in fiefdom-like conditions, all of them, they owe us. They sustained this country and turned their backs on us when it we needed them most. And now they argue they deserve even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy.

Screw them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why the Quran book burning can be stopped

In short, and very quickly: because it is a terrorist act.

Terrorism is violent acts done to intimidate people, particularly an identifiable group of people, into submission to a political entity. Al Qaeda is political: they want Westerners out of their countries. (We'll leave aside the argument that they are turning every country into "their" country.) The IRA was political. The Palestinians are political. And this Terry Jones is political. He's not doing this for God: he's doing this to protest the community center near Ground Zero. He's doing this to intimidate Muslims. He's doing this to spread fear.

He's using violence to deprive Muslims of their equal enjoyment of American freedoms. That is terrorism.