Thursday, November 22, 2012

Live Bitter For Less

 "They pay low wages, then the taxpayers pick up the tab for food stamps and Medicaid. They need to take care of their people. They need to be responsible to their workers."   *
Vanessa Ferreira

The way we shop today comes with a hefty price tag. Gone are the days when locally owned, independent retailers played on a level playing field. I can recall numerous independent stores that used to populate downtown New Albany. Business for those shop owners may not have been as easy as one might think in retrospect. I didn't know any of the store owners, so I can't speak from first-hand knowledge about their financial situations. I do know that they began to wither and fade away as strip shopping centers and the malls began to assert their dominance of the American way of commerce. And I know that coincident with that displacement of local retailers by national chains, several things happened: small towns across the United States became mostly hollow shells, barely resembling their former bustling pasts, American-made goods were displaced by cheaper foreign-made products, community-focus became unfocused as more and more daily tasks were undertaken not downtown or in a neighborhood store, but out the road.

The arrival of Walmart is problematic in any community. It comes as a wave to a listing boat. Now well into the third or fourth decade of big box stores, small towns are filled with under-served customers. So, as the Walmart arrives many of the up-to-that-point survivors witness the disappearance of their remaining customer base. More business goes out the road.

Walmart's dominant size affords it a domineering role in the nation's commerce. Small manufacturers are not able to satisfy the endless appetite of the chain. So, to fill the mega-retailer's shelves production is shifted to near-slave wage production mills in China. American jobs don't go out the road, but across the sea, and meaningful environmental regulation goes out the window. This becomes a cost we all (those of us who derive our breaths, and our drinking water from the common atmosphere) must bear. And why do we bear this cost? Low, low prices of course.

Ms. Ferreira's words quoted above point out that we're all Walmart now. As Sam Walton's six heirs enjoy the sweet of low prices, we enjoy the bitter of helping the chain keep those prices low. As the hyper hypnosis of hype settles in to the nation's consciousness, and we marvel at the power of Black Friday as the steroid of choice for our economy, we should heed Ms. Ferreira's assessment, "They (Walmart) need to be responsible to their workers." I would add, so we don't have to be.

Since we are all responsible for keeping the giant afloat, I say, let's unionize the crew and let, as Henry Miller might have called it, the cosmodemonic seller pay its own bills.

A responsible retailer of Walmart's heft may not be able to undue all of the ill-effects it has loosed on the country, and unionization may not be the most direct step in that direction, but at least it's a start.

And at Walmart stores around the nation on Black Friday the giant will be challenged by union organizers and protesters supporting the union cause. A responsible step we can all take is to step away from Walmart and support those who are supporting our workers at Walmart.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Am I Still Dreaming, Or Is This Karl Rove's Night Job?

Also too*, he'll probably wash that man right out of his hair. *Permission granted by Charlie Pierce to quote the Queen of the Tundra.

Monday, November 5, 2012


We always risk making our leaders into blank canvases on which we paint our hopes. As the presidential race nears its end, I hope and I believe Barack Obama will be re-elected.

Humans have a neural reset which prevents us from feeling pain after the source of that pain has been withdrawn. The alternative would be unbearable. Emotionally, we heal from loss even though we remember, with sadness sometimes, or diminishing bitterness other times, the source of our emotional pain. Truly, time heals all wounds. And so, here we are today, some of us have turned against Obama because he didn't clean up all the mess left behind by the previous administration. Have we forgotten how close to total collapse the American, and probably the world, economy were when President Obama took office? Seven hundred thousand jobs were disappearing each month when he came into office. Today we have experienced 32 months of positive job growth. But the pain of the initial collapse of the economy is a distant memory for many of us, although painfully present for many more. It's like the house was on fire, now the panic is gone, but the formidable cleanup goes on and on. Perhaps, some of us confuse our impatience for his failure.

His progress has been stymied by the likes of the odious Mitch McConnell, Kentucky's senior senator, who famously said his number one objective was to insure that president Obama is kneecapped and made a one-term president. Forget the suffering of millions of Americans as you plot filibuster after filibuster, Senator, just ensure that your political position is protected and your paymasters are rewarded for their investments in you.  

A retelling of the saga of how we got to where we are is not necessary. People have made up their minds by now. This election is in the books now, even though we have yet to get to the final page.

Instead, let's look at the blank canvas of 2012-2016.

President Obama will have in his second term an opportunity-rich environment. I hope he uses this canvas to paint a picture of America where money is not seen as speech, so we can wring the corrupting influence of money and lobbyists from our system. Then we might end the ridiculous spectacle of politicians grubbing for donations like so many hogs in a pen.

I'd like to see an America where the constitution clearly defines that a person is a person, and a corporation is a legal arrangement filed in a courthouse in Delaware. The absurd fiction that corporations are people ignores the slight advantage corporations have over humans--immortality.  Unless we rein in this superiority of corporations over humans we risk undermining democracy. In the future we could see cabinet level positions for Coca Cola or Halliburton, oh that's right, we already had Halliburton in the government.

The President, in his second term, can work toward a sustainable economy where the health of the environment is not traded for trinkets in the marketplace. He can look toward
"green jobs" as the truest stimulus package, one in which we honestly assess the terrible, eroded, shameful, condition of our infrastructure and put American citizens to work in American factories and firms to rebuild American cities, roads, rails, bridges, sewer systems, electric grids, water pipe networks, parks, schools, and the list goes on and on. And, when we finish bringing these elements of the commons back up to reasonable standards we'll find that such a pursuit is the gift that keeps on giving, because we'll have to start all over again and continue the maintenance, but that will be for a later generation of Americans. As the old saw goes, there's no such thing as a free lunch. The miracle of the Reagan Revolution is that so many people willingly let others eat our lunch, whether outsourcing corporations, blind-eye environmental regulators, or people in the present eating the lunch of future generations. It's time to realize we get nothing for nothing. The rich have taken a tax holiday and now it's over.

In his second term the President can broaden and refine The Affordable Care Act. The best refinement would be to allow all citizens to buy into Medicare as it competes on a level playing field with commercially-offered health plans.

I hope the President's second term is a period of peace and international cooperation.

He only has four years to paint this canvas. If he paints thoughtfully, and with concern for the future of the planet, he can go down in history as a great practitioner of the art of politics.   

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Witless The Mittness With Which He Carries On

It became apparent during the early moments of this year's first presidential debate that Willard Romney would lie like a rug to become President of the United States. Untethered from that which we recognize as the truth, Romney has floated away from those of us bound to reality. At most any fair or festival some unfortunate, or perhaps aeronautically inclined, child will lose his helium balloon, and then we see the gas bag float effortlessly away from us. It is a prisoner of the winds, tied no more to terra firma until its lighter-than-air contents fail it, and it descends inert, lifeless and tethered once again to a shrub or a fence. Reality.

Unless Romney scrambles Lincoln's assessment of fooling all of the people some of the time , into "you can fool just enough of the strategically situated people to get 270 electoral votes", he will find himself, come Wednesday, like the spent balloon, ingloriously grounded.

That fate, I hope, comes to pass for Romney.

Theoretically, he could have run his campaign differently. It is theory because quite possibly Romney is such a product of his skewed, privilege-borne, vision of America and Americans that no other words, save lies, could have come from him. And he has birthed some whoppers. His insistence that Obamacare cuts $716 billion from Medicare is untrue, but it also offers a tip of the hat in the direction of Bush II in that it also plays a fear card, so Medicare recipients can be made afraid of losing life-saving benefits. Leave aside the fact that the$716 billion in Obama's plan cuts billions of over payments to providers of Medicare services, and elimination of subsidies to Medicare Advantage providers, like Humana, for senior citizen gym memberships and the like. Leave aside also that Medicare operates its massive bureaucracy on about three percent of overhead expenses while privately provided health coverage had to be mandated, through Obamacare, to limit its overhead costs to 20%.  On Romney's delusional first day in office he plans to scrap Obamacare.

When the day that will never come, comes in Romney's mind, and in the mind of his fervid followers, he will also throw out other parts of Obamacare while surgically avoiding those parts of the plan, such as allowing young people to remain on their parents' health plan until age 26, that might appeal to his targeted voters. He would dismantle the plan by eliminating the mandates of the plan. His market-driven solution to health coverage would result in millions being left out of the nation's health plan. He doesn't want health coverage for citizens, he wants an applause line at rallies, he wants a bait and switch move.

Romney attacks the president for a failed attempt at green energy through the start up company Solyndra. This company went bankrupt, and Romney said half of all the federally assisted investments in green energy went belly up. In fact, about six per cent of federally supported green start ups failed. As a principal in a vulture capital firm, Bain, Romney should know that a failure rate on start ups south of ten percent is pretty good. In this case, though, a lie works better for his purposes. The lie better appeals to his extremist right wing backers in the carbon fuel industries to whom he would cater if elected.

While abortion is, of course, an emotionally freighted topic Romney could not bring himself to put distance between himself and his support of Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. He didn't ask to have his endorsement ad for Mourdok taken down because he didn't want to possibly risk alienating the ardent foes of abortion with a hint of moderation on the point. He further risks any appeal to women voters by failing to support equal pay rules, such as the Lilly Ledbetter law. Women are rightly sensitive about wanting equal pay for equal work, and they fear such a plight befalling their daughters.

On the issue of Medicare the Romney campaign reveals much about the candidate's view of the American populace. In Romney's view the nation is a pool of Darwinian or perhaps Randian isolates on their own journey through life with little concern of other isolates making the same journey. John Sununu made a bombastic defense of the Ryan Medicare plan by reassuring voters that the cuts/reforms to Medicare would not, " affect those age 55 or older." So there you have it, the Romney philosophy is "if you've got yours why have any concern for those who don't?" Wouldn't that mentality have worked wonders during the northeastern hurricane, Sandy?

The increasingly violent weather the world is experiencing has convinced scientists that the earth's climate is indeed changing. The northeastern hurricane was made worse by the higher sea levels. Romney's earlier reaction to the threat of global warming/climate change mouthed at the Republican convention mirrored the esteemed Limbaugh wing of scientific thought when the candidate snarkily opined that President Obama  wanted to lower the level of the ocean and help heal the climatic woes. While of course that's a good laugh line among the de-intelligentsia, in the wake of hurricane Sandy, it's not quite so funny these days. And yet the avoidance of  the issue of climate change was painfully obvious from both the Romney and Obama camps throughout the campaign.

Romney has disdain for nearly half of the nation as shown in the taped event where he speaks of 47% of the population as slackers and writes them off as lesser signs in the equation of our nation. Perhaps this is due to his availing himself of tax laws for which the rest of us don't qualify. Maybe that is why we can't understand that he simply wants to grease the skids for the vaunted job creators while putting in place policies to fund tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the middle class. Harry Reid charged that Romney paid no taxes for a number of years. Romney vehemently denied the fact, but recently, proof of Romney's tax-avoidance has surfaced.

The recollection of Romney's illusory truths could be a full time pursuit,and this is a pursuit no one need be worried with after early November. Fortunately for the nation, I believe enough of the electorate will see through the empty suit to realize that although Willard is a good salesman, he won't be closing this deal.

(Obama 310 or more electoral votes, or room to spare)