Friday, October 23, 2009

One in a Million

When the Late Sam Walton set out to provide quality goods at the lowest-possible prices to rural and small-town America, he may have set in motion a stunning demonstration of the law of unintended consequences. While Mr. Walton found ways of lowering the prices of tens of thousands of clothing and household items, he led the nation in exporting American manufacturing jobs overseas. The unintended consequence was that the American dream, as realized over two centuries of American generations, slowly sailed away from American shores as well.

Sam Walton Was Only one American citizen in a million. While Mr. Walton and other captains of American capitalism shipped the American dream off into the sunset, the 999,999 other Americans failed to notice the loss—just as much as Mr. Walton and peers presumably did. As the prices of goods fell, the other 99.99% of Americans began putting more of these cheap goods onto their credit cards and in other forms of cheap credit. America has gone through lean times before, and the reasonable expectation was that the good times would return again, with good-paying jobs, with job security, with pensions and home-ownership and a second car in every garage and—

But This Time, It’s Different. This time, though we have seen some huge spurts in job growth, such as in the high-tech industries, the overwhelming number of new jobs have been in service. These jobs have included the stereotypical tasks of flipping burgers at the fast-food place and manning the burgeoning army of twenty-four/seven convenience stores. And they’ve also included manning the customer-service phone banks of America’s leading companies.

These Are Low-Paying Jobs, not the kind that Americans are used to, as far as paying for the American dream is concerned. They provide an excellent avenue to the American dream for new-comers from lesser-developed nations, but they won’t pay the bills on sub-prime mortgages and home-equity loans.

The Fast-Food Jobs, at least down here in Texas, are gladly taken by members of minority populations. One enterprising fast-food purveyor in my neighborhood somehow got the idea of importing Mexican citizens, white-collar workers such as accountants south of the border, to come staff his restaurants in order to learn English. The fast-food pay here isn’t bad in relation to comparable pay in Mexico, and the opportunity to get paid for becoming bilingual has substantial value in the Mexican financial world, while the American franchiser gets a ready supply of top-quality workers at entry-level pay.

The Convenience Store Jobs (at least on The Simpsons, if not in  reality) provide opportunity for immigrants from India and Pakistan and surrounding areas. Taxi cabs are driven by the same international mix, as well as by slavic immigrants from former-Soviet bloc nations. Africa and the Carribean and all of Central America are represented in America's Service-Job World, as well.

And Those Call-center Jobs are shipped to India, to Indonesia, and to the Philippines.

All in All, the American Middle-Income Worker and below is.....screwed. He can’t afford to work for the low-paying jobs—and so he directs much of his anger at those who can.

No Wonder America Is Awash in angry “tea party” protests. Americans—especially all of the lower-income and middle-income Americans busy working two or more jobs, just to stay afloat—are too busy to think about what it might really be all about. They're just over-worked, under-paid, with nothing set aside for the future, and the cost of healthcare and higher education climbing higher and higher. As the new saying goes, “Outrage Is Easy.” It’s the hard thinking that takes time and energy—time and energy that most Americans don’t have available to themselves these days.

Something Is Happening Here, and we don’t know what it is. Do we, Mr. Walton?

The Irresponsibility and “Moral Hazard” of cheap credit and home-equity loans to middle-income American tax payers is well-known. This kind of irresponsibility is easily spotted, and easily criticized. (Over the past decade of this new century, Congress has put measures into law to target these irresponsible spendthrifts specifically: even as it has become easier and easier for banks and credit-card companies to tack on fees and to raise interest rates at will, it has become harder and harder for individuals to afford to pay for......bankruptcy.)

How Did it Happen? How did it come about that many of America’s most-conservative citizens got themselves into so much debt, with such lousy job prospects, no pensions, and the steep decline of their 401(k)’s?

The Answer Is Easy: While 99.99% of Americans were spending like there was no tomorrow, that other 1% of Americans earning tens of millions of dollars a year were making sure that the dream—the American dream that the other 99.99% were counting on—was shipped overseas.

One Nation, Indivisible. Even when the odds are 999,999 to one.


(with apologies to Bob Dylan and the Buffalo Springfield)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where the Democrats Went Wrong

If It Weren’t for the Mistake of trying to compromise with Republicans before the time was right, the Democrats would not be in the lamentable position that they find themselves in today.

If They Had Simply Started with a Universal Healthcare Plan—such as “Medicare for All”—then at worst case, the Republicans in Congress would have forced a compromise in the form that we’re arguing over today: the so-called “Public Option.”

Instead, the Republicans Were Met Halfway
before the deliberations even began. The Democrats, generously considerate fools as always, started out at the halfway line. And now we’re all stuck with a collection of congressional plans, none of which makes nearly so much sense as the ultimate—universal healthcare—eventually will achieve. Thus, in the short term, we’re most-likely going to end up with a mess.

Can Congress Fix the Mess That It’s About to Make? Of course, it can. This is the United States of America, and making things work is what we do best.

But Sometimes, It Just Takes Time. Slavery and racial integration and universal education and global defense during two world wars—to say nothing of the 44¢ stamped letter (where the private competitors FedEx and UPS charge more than $6.00 and $12.00, respectively, for the same service)—are some stunning examples of what we Americans do when we put our philosophical differences aside and reach for the brass ring.

The Insurance Companies Have Stepped Forward, confessing that they can’t provide healthcare for all Americans while keeping their hundreds of billions of dollars in profits, under the proposed “Baucus Plan.”

It Was Honorable of the  Insurance Industry to step forward and admit this. Now it is up to Congress to get the job done.

Like National Defense, Paid for out of American Taxes, national healthcare can only be managed on a universal basis. Not one of us knows in advance how much healthcare he or she will use in the course of a lifetime. That’s why we all need insurance. That’s also why none of us (except for the very wealthy, such as the CEOs of America’s insurance companies) can possibly set aside enough money to protect the defense or health of ourselves and our families. Only the national government can budget to do this.

The Proper Role of Government is to provide for its citizens what they cannot reasonably provide for themselves. Defense is one such provision. Postal delivery to every address in America is another. Disaster relief. Pensions when the insurance companies fail. Banks and auto industries when those fail. What’s left?

Healthcare Is What's Left. Most of us can’t possibly afford the fullest range of medical care—which often goes into the millions of dollars—on our own. Over the past century or so, the health-insurance industry has shown that it can’t afford to insure our health fully, either. And now this industry has stepped forward to throw in the towel.

That Leaves the Federal Government—of the people, by the people, and for the people. Once universal healthcare is on the budget along with military defense and Social Security and other programs deemed essential to the public welfare—Only then will America begin to behave responsibly in regard to all our national programs.

Only Then Will We Fiscal Conservatives get the kind of control on government spending that is necessary for keeping America great.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Shining City on Hill Has Bright, New Star

John Winthrop and Ronald Reagan Would Be Proud. A bright, new star has landed atop their shining “city on the hill”:
....[F]or we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our god in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of god and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us....*
The First Eight Years of the Current Century saw a huge stain darken the beacon of human rights, hope, and courage that the United States of America has come to represent for the world over the course of our great nation’s history. Fear, renamed “Terror,” took hold of the dominant leadership of the nation.

Much of the Rest of the World Lost its “shining star” of hope and courage for most of the 21st century.

Those in Power in the Federal Government During That Time,
whether for reasons of fear or of ideology, brayed forth their disdain on the rest of the world.

This Attitude—that Other Countries and other cultures might be dismissed out of hand, merely on the virtue of their disagreement with one or more of America’s policies or opinions—has been a shameful experience for the rest of us to endure.

Meanwhile, Those on That Fearful Side of the Political Fence remain oblivious to what they have done, with America’s reputation for courage and liberty and peace and leadership, as a “beacon of liberty” throughout the planet.

The Developed World Has Been Appalled. Those of us at home who believe unequivocally in the American ideals of “the land of the free and the home of the brave” have felt humiliated. And our real and legitimate enemies–North Korea and Iran–have raised their shields. Many Muslim people around the world have witnessed our disdain, and have experienced death first-hand, as a result of our misdirected cowardice.

No Reasonable, Fair-Minded Citizen Can Justify
what was done by America out of fear.

But Today, a Striking Acknowledgment of the passing of that dark eclipse came unbidden, as out of nowhere.

In Giving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, the selection committee provided a less than adequate explanation for their selection. And almost without question, President Obama has accomplished little that is constructive, too little to earn such a major award on the merits.

Given the Prestige of this Noble Award, and the short list of Obama achievements to which it may have been attached, one can only assume that the award is given for the American accomplishment of the election of a biracial president and for the return, clearly evoked by the new president, of the bright and shining star—of that “shining city on the hill”—of the leading nation of the world, the one true “superpower,” wherein reside the hopes of people everywhere, that though this beacon was briefly dimmed, it was not extinguished. America once again takes its place as the repository of the world’s highest and noblest ambition, the leader of the free world.

We Americans Respect Those Who Differ from Us. We respect those whose opinions and faiths and beliefs differ from ours. But none of those others–whether Israeli or Palestinian, Iraqi or Afghan, Persian or Korean or Russian or Venezuelan or Cuban–can be inherently our enemies. For we, the people of the United States of America–and we alone among the world’s nations–are all people. Americans are Korean and Vietnamese and Muslim and Jew and Hindu and Christian and Buddhist and atheist. We are Georgian and Colombian and Brazilian and Ethiopian and Nigerian, and everything else.

America Does Not Attack, but Only Defends. We believe that we are all God’s children, we are all neighbors in God’s sight, no matter how we define or decline to accept God’s existence, God’s presence, God’s nature. It is not for us–as Americans–to judge how others behave or how others believe, but only to let the Lord judge.

In the Example of the Obama Presidency,
we Americans return once again to the path described by John Winthrop in that same famous 1630 New England lecture:
[T]o follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.....[We] must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities for the supply of others’ necessities, we must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality, we must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body, so shall we keep the unity of spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways.”*

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Announced Today
in President Obama’s honor does not necessarily represent the dwelling of the Lord among us and nor does it represent the Lord’s blessing on us. Still, it is a singular honor. We, the people of the United States, under the new leadership of our government of the people, by the people, and for the people, have returned to light the ways of peace and freedom and democracy and capitalist opportunity.

On Inauguration Day, 2009, a New Era
began for America. An era that returned us to our former leadership role in the world. We relit that darkened light. Under the articulate leadership of President Barack Obama, America has reclaimed its position as that great beacon, in President Reagan’s misquotation of John Winthrop’s early speech, as “the shining city on the hill.”

Congratulations, to Barack Obama and all the people of the United States of America. And to those who disdain America’s escape from that brief, yet too-long era of Terror, please accept our enthusiastic regrets.

* For our source of Governor Winthrop’s sermon, on which President Reagan’s descriptive statement was based, see the following link: John Winthrop's City upon a Hill, 1630.  (Spelling has been modernized above.)