Broken Century, Broken Reasoning

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This Century Is Broken

by David Brooks

with responses by Jeff McFadden

I believe this to be fair use of an article published in the New York Times on Feb 21st, 2017

I have been reading David Brooks for years. He has a remarkable ability to see and point out the dots without ever connecting them. In this essay he has pointed out several important and real dots. I will provide the connections for you. His original text in black, my responses / annotations in blue.

Most of us came of age in the last half of the 20th century and had our perceptions of “normal” formed in that era. It was, all things considered, an unusually happy period. No world wars, no Great Depressions, fewer civil wars, fewer plagues.

He means, of course, “Most of us my age and race.” Which I am, more or less. A little older I think, but in there.

He is aware, in some vague way, that the rest of you exist, but it’s not a big deal in his world.

It’s looking like we’re not going to get to enjoy one of those times again. The 21st century is looking much nastier and bumpier: rising ethnic nationalism, falling faith in democracy, a dissolving world order.

Yup.

At the bottom of all this, perhaps, is declining economic growth. As Nicholas Eberstadt points out in his powerful essay “Our Miserable 21st Century,” in the current issue of Commentary, between 1948 and 2000 the U.S. economy grew at a per-capita rate of about 2.3 percent a year.

Yup.

But then around 2000, something shifted. Actually it started in 1980. We elected Ronald Reagan and began living according the the policies he – and David – advocate. Up where David lives they didn’t notice it for 20 years, but you could see it on the streets before spring of 1981. In the year 2000 the American system elected George W. Bush in response to his campaign promise to prevent the threat of a balanced budget via huge tax cuts on the rich. After he implemented these cuts even David Brooks could tell that the economy was in serious trouble.  In this century, per-capita growth has been less than 1 percent a year on average, and even since 2009 it’s been only 1.1 percent a year. If the U.S. had been able to maintain postwar 20th-century growth rates into this century, U.S. per-capita G.D.P. would be over 20 percent higher than it is today.

He is reporting empirical facts. It’s been rocky since the Republicans took over. He’s right. If you take the Democratic administrations out of the averages it gets even worse. Most of the growth since 1980 – and essentially all the retained growth this century – came under Democratic Party presidents. Much of that is rooted in two short intervals of Democratic Congresses and President.

There is no denying, though, that Republican tax cuts knocked the feet out from under the economy and it’s never come back. David provides clear evidence.

Slow growth strains everything else — meaning less opportunity, less optimism and more of the sort of zero-sum, grab-what-you-can thinking that Donald Trump specializes in. The slowdown has devastated American workers. Between 1985 and 2000, the total hours of paid work in America increased by 35 percent. Almost all that growth came during the Bill Clinton administration. Over the next 15 years, they increased by only 4 percent. …

Here David continues to list specific outcomes of Republican policies, from shrinking government employment, from hiring freezes and project downsizing. Those halcyon years David sees in the rear view mirror were the years when the nation built the Eisenhower Interstate System, creating jobs in every state in the Union. They were the years of reasonable taxes on the rich, which in turn funded tens of thousands of “pork barrel” projects which created jobs for the people on the bottom of the economic ladder. The sainted Ronald Reagan told the American people that “Government is the problem,” began a long process of cutting taxes on the rich, cutting spending, firing the bottom tier, cutting wages, busting unions, then going back and running through the cycle again.

David Brooks knows that consumer spending drives the economy. He knows that all those people his party and his policies have put out of work were spending money which kept the wheels spinning. He sees all the dots. In different essays on different days he points out different dots. He refuses to connect them. It is the strangest part of reading his work.

David continues with more evidence proving how his party has destroyed the United States economy for the benefit of a tiny few: For every one American man aged 25 to 55 looking for work, there are three who have dropped out of the labor force. If Americans were working at the same rates they were when this century started, over 10 million more people would have jobs. As Eberstadt puts it, “The plain fact is that 21st-century America has witnessed a dreadful collapse of work.”

Um… yeah… David’s party has controlled the House of Representatives for all but 2 years of the century so far. All revenue bills must arise in the House. For all the Bush presidency and 6 years of Obama’s 8, David’s Republican party has absolutely controlled government revenues and spending. David’s party controls an ever increasing number of states. The economy of Kansas is the shining example of unfettered Republican policies. They can’t even keep the schools open.

The Republican Party has absolutely created the economy David is writing about. He forgets his predictions of low taxes and high growth. They got exactly what they demanded. David Brooks doesn’t like how it works.

That means there’s an army of Americans semi-attached to their communities, who struggle to contribute, to realize their capacities and find their dignity. A fifty-year-old American was just entering the work force when Ronald Reagan promised that cutting taxes on “job creators” would create jobs and the wealth would “trickle down.” It never happened. An older working American today has never – never in his or her life – seen much opportunity. Clinging to the scraps they have is the best they can hope for. That or a disability check.  According to Bureau of Labor Statistics time-use studies, these labor force dropouts spend on average 2,000 hours a year watching some screen. That’s about the number of hours that usually go to a full-time job.

Fifty-seven percent of white males who have dropped out get by on some form of government disability check. About half of the men who have dropped out take pain medication on a daily basis. A survey in Ohio found that over one three-month period, 11 percent of Ohioans were prescribed opiates. One in eight American men now has a felony conviction on his record.

Yup. Republicans are Tough On Crime. They have their glorious War on Drugs. It’s easy to get locked up for drunk driving. At least the undeserving poor aren’t working on some taxpayer funded, government – subsidized high speed railway somewhere.

This is no way for our fellow citizens to live. The Eberstadt piece confirms one thought: The central task for many of us now is not to resist Donald Trump. He’ll seal his own fate. It’s to figure out how to replace him — how to respond to the slow growth and social disaffection that gave rise to him with some radically different policy mix.

The hard part is that America has to become more dynamic and more protective — both at the same time. And it’s really hard to create a dynamic economy and society when the governing party views all change to be for the worse. Most of the dynamism in the world economy today is in the renewable energy sector or high speed rail; David’s party denies the need for either. In the past, American reformers could at least count on the fact that they were working with a dynamic society that was always generating the energy required to solve the nation’s woes. In the past the American government believed in science and spent money to solve problems. The United States Government under the Republican Party denies the existence of global warming and stands foursquare for the preservation of existing industries regardless of the relationship to today’s problems. But as Tyler Cowen demonstrates in his compelling new book, “The Complacent Class,” contemporary Americans have lost their mojo. American workers have learned that it’s dangerous out there. For every Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates there are a million guys sitting behind glass windows in convenience stores, so American young people know they’d better go to college, get an MBA, get a nice safe career in finance, and vote for Republicans so immigrants don’t take what little they have.

Cowen shows that in sphere after sphere, Americans have become less adventurous and more static. For example, Americans used to move a lot to seize opportunities and transform their lives. But the rate of Americans who are migrating across state lines has plummeted by 51 percent from the levels of the 1950s and 1960s.

Americans used to be entrepreneurial, but there has been a decline in start-ups as a share of all business activity over the last generation. A handful of mega-corporations control almost all industries. The very small per-unit profit made possible by vast economies of scale make it virtually impossible to earn a livelihood doing anything on an individual human scale. As a result Millennials may be the least entrepreneurial generation in American history. The share of Americans under 30 who own a business has fallen 65 percent since the 1980s.

Americans tell themselves the old job-for-life model is over. But in fact Americans are switching jobs less than a generation ago, not more. The job reallocation rate — which measures employment turnover — is down by more than a quarter since 1990.

There are signs that America is less innovative. Accounting for population growth, Americans create 25 percent fewer major international patents than in 1999. However, virtually all Creationism and Christian Physics textbooks are American in origin. Self-identified Conservatives advocate for more, not less, replacement of hard science with Christian science denial in public schools. Every anti-science movement on earth finds its power and funding in America. There’s even less hunger to hit the open road. In 1983, 69 percent of 17-year-olds had driver’s licenses. Now only half of Americans get a license by age 18. 1983 median family income in the US was $19,647.00 and average new car price was about $6,116.00, or about 1/3 of income. 2014 median family income was $53,013.00, and a new Subaru almost $30,000.00. So a car has gone up from 1/3 an annual income to over half an annual income. Couple that with high college debt and low entry level earnings. Cars are simply unaffordable to many young people.

In different ways Eberstadt and Cowen are describing a country that is decelerating, detaching, losing hope, getting sadder. Economic slowdown, social disaffection and risk aversion reinforce one another.

It is almost as if our economy and country have become, for lack of a better term, very conservative. Fearing change, clinging to the past, and unwilling to put forward any of our wealth to solve our problems.

Of course nothing is foreordained. But where is the social movement that is thinking about the fundamentals of this century’s bad start and envisions an alternate path? Given that “conservative” means “maintaining the status quo” it’s for sure not David Brooks’s party. Who has a compelling plan to boost economic growth? If Trump is not the answer, what is?

Real Democrats are the answer. A functioning government. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lyndon B. Johnson (without his stupid war.) Borrow a leaf from Eisenhower (a Republican President working hand-in-hand with a Democratic Congress) and build the 21st Century Interstate High Speed Railway into every state and every major city.

Peel some cash off the top of the heap and inject it at the bottom. Money doesn’t trickle down, it floats up. Everybody knows that. Hire regular people to do jobs.

Every bad thing David Brooks sees in America is real. He is right about all of it.

The Republican Party has created it all. It appears that they got exactly what they wanted.  As long as they remain in power it is not going to get any better.

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Spending Strike

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This essay was originally titled A Boomer Weapon. The voicing and focus shows that; I don’t want to rewrite the whole thing. To be a Boomer, now, is to be old. It’s easy to feel powerless when you’re old. I wrote this so my cohort would realize we are not entirely powerless.

Since then I have come to realize that it’s a weapon for all of us in The Resistance. We are all powerless, in a way: we’re one paycheck away from destitute, most of us. We’ve got to go to work; we’ve got to keep our jobs. So I renamed it Spending Strike: it’s a power we all have. So please read, and overlook the Boomer focus if you will. Read this as a tool for all of us. There is a very real possibility that if we do not act our republic will be gone for a decade or more. I don’t want to wait.


I’m a boomer. Most of my friends and most of my readers are boomers. We were there for Vietnam and we were there for Watergate. Now there’s work to do again and lots of us are just tired. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Age is real. Recently people were talking General Strike, and that got me thinking.

We boomers eat and spend. That gives us power. And, mortality notwithstanding, there are still a lot of us.

Historically general strikes have been mostly European, and mostly about labor. Workers. Halting production. At the times and places where general strikes have been needed, production was a linchpin of society.

We boomers can’t significantly affect production. In the first place, not that many of us are still employed. But more important, machines produce most of everything. The global economy can produce more of everything than everybody needs, and do it without even having to pay the workers enough to allow all of them to live indoors. Production pretty much runs on automatic. That’s why you can’t turn your head without having somebody badger you to buy something: we produce more than we need and the only way to keep all these balls in the air is if people buy lots of stuff, more than they need, and throw it away quickly. And rent buildings and structures to keep it in.

Boomers’ power is that we are comfortable consumers. Consumption is the weak point in the oligarchy. We can get their attention there. We need to schedule, announce, agree on, and carry out general consumption strikes.

Most of us are, at a minimum, warm and well fed, with a few bucks in our pockets. We have pretty good lives. Lots of us have hobbies and activities that we do. Most activities, we spend money on. Even if we just go to the park, we burn gasoline getting there. And like as not we stop on the way home and buy some little thing.

If, on agreed upon and pre-announced dates we just all stay home and don’t do anything, that will make a difference. They will notice. There are a lot of us. It will probably make a bigger dent than a general strike of labor would in today’s America.

For one thing, labor is weak today, nearly powerless. A handful of billionaires own almost all the jobs. People are afraid, and rightfully so, that if they don’t show up on general strike day they will find themselves unemployable in a labor market with plenty of spare people to take up the slack. And most work is service work anyway. There aren’t many factories to shut down. Nurses may know they’re getting a crummy deal, but they are nurses. Most of them are going to show up and do their jobs. Many other people feel the same.

Billionaires notice money. We boomers may each spend just a few bucks on any given day, but if we all get together on one particular day and keep our money in our pockets it will make a noticeable hole in somebody’s cash flow.

It won’t work if we just put the spending off until the next day. Wherever possible we have to eliminate one day’s spending from the year’s balance. Don’t go drive around, burning gas you bought yesterday and can replace tomorrow. Stay home. Leave the gas in the car. Don’t buy anything online. Don’t eat out. No Starbucks, no McDonald’s. No breakfast with the gang. Cook out of the freezer. To whatever extent possible, do not participate in the economy.

If you make things with wood, don’t cut a board. If you golf, don’t golf. Don’t make anything out of polymer clay. Don’t fire up the 3D printer. Don’t consume the consumables of your hobby. Don’t spend it, it’s money.

Not randomly, and not just once. From time to time, all together. Announce it. Hey Mr. Rich Guy, Look At Your Balance Sheet Tomorrow, We’re Taking The Day Off.

Plan them. Schedule them. General Strike, Consumer Model. We can get their attention, still today, without ever leaving the house.

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All Weather is Global Warming Weather

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One frequently sees a question in the form of, “Was [some weather event] caused by global warming?” The answer is yes.

All the weather on Earth is caused by all the energy on Earth. It has always been that way; it cannot be any other way. Barren frozen rocks spinning through intergalactic space do not have weather.

Global Warming is the name we give to a continuing process whereby the amount of free energy stored in the system we call Earth increases. One of the ways we measure energy is by measuring temperature. If the  average temperature is higher (and it is) we have directly measured the presence of more energy. Since all weather is caused by all available energy, and we have increased the available energy, all weather has more power.

So yes, the weather event you were wondering about was global warming weather. It’s the only weather we have.

Was some specific event “caused by” global warming? Yes. Global warming is not a separate thing laid over some other real world where we usually live. Global warming is where we live. Where we live makes our weather. There is more energy in the system all day every day. Weather is caused by energy. There is more free energy in the world than there used to be. Any specific weather event under discussion was formed, caused, created by all the available energy at the place and time it happened. Once again, global warming is simply a handy name for an increase in the amount of energy stored in, on, and around the earth. Literally every single weather event since the measurable increase began, its magnitude and power, wherever it happened, happened exactly like it did because of global warming. Every time without exception. It is pointless to ask. The more the temperature increases, the more powerful weather events become.

We have always had weather, but never before have we had this weather. We live in global warming weather. It is not rational to try to parse whether some particular weather event was “caused by”  some describable, different, separately measureable thing. If that’s the global warming you’re looking for it’s not there. Global warming is energy imbedded into, on average, every single thing on Earth. That’s how energy works. The dirt outside your door is part of global warning. It is, on average, warmer than the dirt outside that door 150 years ago. Your hair is warmer than your great-great grandfather’s hair. Forget for a moment the “might happens” of global warming and look around you. Weather. Weather is winning. We are not.

This is almost so simple that it can’t be grasped. One definition of energy in physics is “The property which must be transferred to an object in order to do work.” Energy is also referred to as force. The object in question can be anything which has mass. A molecule of air or water is an object.

In turn, the physics definition of work is the motion of matter as a result of applied force (energy). From Wikipedia: “In physics, a force is said to do work if, when acting, there is a displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force.” The “point of application” can be any material object. Molecules. Stuff. Mass. Everything. Air. Water. More energy equals more force. Measuring temperature is, at the actual cause-and-effect level, measuring how fast molecules are moving and how hard they hit stuff, specifically your thermometer. If you run into a wall at 2 mph it’s going to be less violent than if you run into it a 4 mph. A lot less violent. Molecules work the same way. The wind blows harder. More water evaporates. Warmer air automatically is able to contain more water. All these things show up as weather. The details can be hard to measure and difficult to comprehend, but at the root it is blindingly simple: energy moves matter. The more energy there is, the more matter will move, perhaps as measured in rate of motion, perhaps in quantity of moving matter, perhaps both.

It is easy to think that just a degree or two Celsius of average temperature can’t really be that much energy. A degree and a half is a big deal? You can barely feel it if the temperature in your room rises or falls by one degree. How much change can there really be?

As it turns out, a degree and a half average temperature increase in the entire atmosphere, hydrosphere (rivers lakes and oceans), and geosphere (dirt and rocks) is a big deal. It is almost incomprehensible how much raw energy it took to create this measurable change. For starters, all the atomic bombs ever dropped or tested, in the aggregate, did not release enough energy to cause a measurable increase in average temperature worldwide, yet just one atomic bomb, and a crude early version at that, released enough energy to reduce an entire city to rubble and widespread death.  

Only the sun showers enough energy onto the earth to raise the temperature worldwide, to heat all the air, all the land and all that lives upon it, and all the water. And the sun has energy to spare; after it warms our planet, much of that energy bounces back into space. In recent times, though, incomprehensible numbers of carbon (and related) atoms have captured more of that energy and held it here, have kept it from radiating back out into space. More energy. We measure it with thermometers.

Weather today is more powerful than it used to be by a factor greater than all the atomic explosions man has ever triggered. One hurricane can slam more energy into the land than an atomic bomb.

Yes. Global warming caused that particular storm, wherever and whatever it was. There might have been a storm without global warming but it wouldn’t have been that storm, the storm that happened. There is only one earth, only one atmosphere, only one hydrosphere. It all contains more energy. Every weather event reflects that fact. Global warming did, indeed, cause that storm.

 

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Talking and Doing

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Democrats tend to talk about what we want to do. Specifically.  Raise the minimum wage. Protect the environment. Provide jobs for working people. That’s admirable, but it’s not marketing. And it’s not working.

I am not suggesting that we change our beliefs or our goals. I am, however, suggesting that we learn marketing from the people who have won the vast majority of elections in the United States over the last third of a century.

Republicans almost never talk specifically about what they plan to do. That’s why they can’t get their ACA repeal-and-replace* done. They wound up having to talk out loud about what they were actually going to do, and their voters said, No, you don’t, either.

What Republicans actually do is give taxpayer money to their rich friends, and make sure that as little as possible of that money comes from said rich friends. They also work unceasingly to allow their rich friends to take public property for their private gain, and to destroy whatever natural resource they need to destroy in order to maximize their profits. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is window dressing.

They don’t tell the public that. They don’t campaign saying, “Let’s take the public education budget and give it to some rich people.” They don’t say, “Billionaires don’t want to pay taxes, and we don’t want them to.” They talk about Choice in education, and they talk about Job Creators.

Republicans don’t say, “Let’s take Joe Sixpack’s hunting grounds away from him and turn them into strip mines.” They say, “Big government is restricting business’s access to valuable resources for environmental extremists.” Republicans don’t say, “It would be all right if Americans had to wear breathing masks to go outdoors like they do in China as long as a few rich people got even richer,” they say, “Unreasonable, unscientific regulations keep America from competing globally.”

I’m not recommending that we turn into Republicans, but why can’t we say, “Make your daily commute easier,” instead of “Provide job opportunities in communities of color”? We might toss in “Stand firm against urban violence.” “Stop heroin addiction at the source.”  Either way we pass bills to rebuild and expand highways through America’s cities, and we tack on local hiring requirements . We build electric commuter rail. We build a national high speed rail network. We never talk about any of them; we talk about jobs, we talk about solving rush hour traffic jams. We talk about solving long lines at airport security.

There are far better odds that good jobs for American workers of all colors will “Crack down on violence” and “Improve your commute” than there are that giving more money to the rich will create jobs. There is a good chance that good jobs building railroads through rural America will ameliorate the heroin and opioid addiction problem. We don’t have to lie about it, but we do have to sell it for crying out loud. Why do we go say, “Bring black unemployment down to the same levels as white unemployment,” and get slammed down because it’s a Taxpayer Funded Government Giveaway? Sell the sizzle. This isn’t an original idea.

I’m not advocating that we give up one single goal, not one single objective, one single principle, nothing. I’m advocating that we talk in more positive language so we can sell our plans to Joe Sixpack and Arnold J. Drywine.

We need one overarching message that ties together every single thing we want to do. I propose some combination of “Realizing our Founders’ vision” and “Solving real problems for the American People.” Something along these lines.  We need to pound on that message. One message repeated every day; one answer for every question. And we need to pound on jobs and economic growth.

We absolutely must take these issues away from Republicans. The first step is to tie Republicans to the mess the country is in today. The way to do this is to make it clear that Presidents don’t run the country, Congresses and states run the country, them and the private sector. Republicans have owned Congress throughout most of the last two Democratic presidencies. Republicans own almost all of the states. Everybody agrees that the economy isn’t working very well for the middle and working classes. Why do we allow the Republicans to tie that long-term failure to two individual Democratic men, Presidents, when Republicans control almost all the levers of government at all levels and have for longer than many of their voters have been alive?

If government is the problem, and in many ways it is, it is because Republicans are the government, and they can’t govern for shit.

Getting our message in order and selling it is not a quick fix. We need to start now, and stick with it until we get it right. Republicans launched their message (“Government is the problem”) during Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for President in the 1970’s. They have pushed that message, that one message, for almost 40 years. They didn’t take over the country overnight, but they have taken over the country. If Democrats don’t figure out that campaigning is marketing and winning elections comes from selling the best story, Republicans will control the United States forever.

Want a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage? Fine. Quit talking about it. Talk about economic growth and activity. Virtually all economists across the spectrum from left to right agree that over 70 percent of all economic activity comes from consumer spending.  Virtually all agree that the lower a consumer lives on the economic ladder the higher the percentage of his or her income gets spent.

Lets take that a little farther. What creates jobs? Unsatisfied demand creates jobs. If businesses can’t turn out as many widgets as customers want to buy, they have to hire people. Not as many as before, because machinery makes most of the widgets today, but even now it takes people to put labels on the boxes and stack them at the loading dock. If demand increases enough somebody has to make more automated manufacturing machines. And scattered among those machines are a smattering of machine operators.

It is a blatant lie that anyone anywhere creates a job because he has spare money laying around that the tax man didn’t take. People only create jobs when they think they see an opportunity to make some money by hiring somebody. That takes demand. So: let’s “incentivize the job creators” by “increasing purchasing activity” by – you guessed it – increasing the minimum wage, so working people buy more stuff. But we never, never say, “Increase the minimum wage.” We say, “Increase purchasing activity,” and pass the minimum wage increase in Congress while the American people watch football.

We can do this. Surely we’re not this stupid.

*Obamacare / ACA repeal and replace: give control over America’s health back to the usual handful of billionaires who own the health insurance industry in order to maximize their profits at whatever human cost.

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Toward a Working Democratic Message

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The Democratic Party has failed to articulate a reason to support Democratic governance. “We’re not those lunatics” is not enough.

The Democratic Party believes that government can be a force for good. We believe that the government is able to  “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” We have to tell the people this, every day all day. Until they understand this there is no point to say anything else.

This is convenient, because the above quote comes directly from the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. We stand directly in the tradition of the founders of the United States in our belief.

Unfortunately, a sizable portion of the American population has been convinced that the founders never intended any such thing, in spite of the evidence of their own words. This is proof that we Democrats have failed utterly to communicate our ideals and to link them to the roots of American governing and tradition. People who call themselves Conservatives, implying that they stand for American tradition, have convinced many people – enough to win most elections – that the framers wanted a crippled government that was barely able to collect taxes or deliver the mail. They have delivered the government they promised. By and large Americans are not happy with it, but somehow they believe that crippling the government even more will fix it.

This is not the fault of Conservatives. They are selling the exact message they intend to sell. Why they do so is not relevant. It is our fault. We have not sold our message.

When Democrats talk about government we talk about details. We publish white papers and talk about policy. We will do this thing and that thing. We will provide a level playing field for people regardless of their skin color or sexual orientation. We will build this or that. It’s all well and good, but it is an abject failure.

When Republicans talk about government they talk about a big picture. No details. Government is the problem, they say. Government can’t do anything right. Government is a burden on the American people. While they are selling this big picture we talk about gender equality and infrastructure.

Can’t we see? Can’t we admit the obvious? We are dying out here.

Republicans absolutely control 25 states, both the governorship and the legislature. For Democrats that number is 6.

Republicans control the Federal government. Republicans hold the presidency and both houses of Congress.

There is no elected statewide office in the country, from Governor to Natural Resources commissioner to Labor commissioner, in which Democratic control outnumbers Republican control. Not one.

If the Democratic party does not learn to present our message in a way that will make sense to, and give hope to, a majority of Americans, we might as well just turn off the lights and go home.

So what are we doing? We’re squabbling about whether the left, the far left, the center left, Liberals or Progressives, Black or White or Hispanic or some other subgroup has too much power, not enough power, whether we should … ah, you know. We’re squabbling about details.

We’re dying out here. Does anybody care? Does anybody want to fix it?

There are about 330 million Americans. Roughly 219 million of them are qualified to vote. We need to talk to all of them. Every single one. Yes, there are issues common to all of us. We have to talk on that level: what can we do for all Americans, and why should they want us to? We need to offer a vision of government which stands firmly in the tradition of the founders and which flatly denies and refutes the current prevailing view.

Government has a purpose. The United States Government was designed from the beginning to do all these things:

  • Establish Justice
  • Insure Domestic Tranquility
  • Provide for the common defense
  • Promote the general welfare
  • Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity

It says so right there in the Preamble to the Constitution. This can’t possibly be that hard a message to sell. Why won’t we sell it?

When was the last time a Democratic politician told you that promoting the general welfare was as important and legitimate a function of our government as providing for the common defense? When was the last time that any American politician told you that? There is not one single place in our Constitution where providing for the common defense is mentioned alone. In every single case it is coupled with promoting the general welfare. Every single case. These are the twin fundamental functions of our Federal government.

If our government is obliged to provide for the common defense, and I am not aware of any dispute to that, then it is  equally obliged to promote the general welfare. Democrats have failed to make that case.

If the Democratic Party continues to fail to offer a competing message to the Republican message that government does no good and all bad, we are finished. Forever. Call the undertaker.

No details. No white papers. No twelve point plans. No policy wonks. One simple message: Government, the United States government, exists to make people’s lives better. It was designed that way from the beginning. Anybody who tells you different is lying to you. It’s right there in our Constitution, at the very beginning of our Constitution, in no uncertain terms. Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.

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Crooks Like Trump

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For sixteen years I owned half of a telecom contracting company working in the greater Kansas City area, in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.  The lady who became and still is my wife owned the other half.  For most of the twenty years before that I worked as an installer / programmer / repairman for other small local contractors in the same industry. I owned bits and pieces of some of those companies too.

We sold, installed, and maintained business telephone systems and computer networks.  I worked inside every sort of business you can imagine and some you’d maybe rather not think about.  I was the phone man for jails, sheriff’s offices, whorehouses and bookies.  I worked in city halls, county governments, and homeless shelters.  Factories and truck terminals.  Doctors, lawyers, accountants, advertising agencies, insurance companies… if I went on I’d have four thousand words in business types.

I had to be comfortable with big shots, the doctors, lawyers, and business owners, because I sold the systems, sold the service, and provided the service myself.  Gloria kept the books and paid the vendors, collected the payments, kept me stocked with parts and materials as well as coming out when the job required it and helping me run cable into businesses large and small.  She and I have seen parts of America that most of you can barely imagine, the parts behind the doors that are always locked, the doors that say Mechanical.  We have crawled through abandoned heating and ventilating systems in old buildings, putting cable where it seemed impossible.  We know what it looks like inside the walls, above the ceilings, under the floors.  We worked there.  I’ve run cable into scrub areas in surgeries.

That wasn’t all.  We installed equipment in millionaire’s paneled offices.  We installed equipment in mansions for the owners of the businesses we served.  We were under the desks, above the ceilings and behind the walls while businessmen cheated their customers.  I lay under a desk one day and listened to a few women in a medical insurance office discuss how they could beat this customer out of payment even though the policy did, um, indicate the the service in question was covered.

I was a mouse in the rafters.  I was a fly on the wall.  I was a bug under their desk.  Most of the time they couldn’t see me even if I was in the way of their feet.

There is a Telephone Worker’s Code of Conduct.  Really.  Before I went out on my own I worked for the local branch of Ma Bell, back when they were still Ma Bell.  Every year I had to sign this Code of Conduct.  We were under similar restrictions to people in medicine: Respect Patient Privacy.  Respect Customer Confidentiality.  Wasn’t I supposed to tell the cops I was also phone man for a whorehouse?  Nope, in fact I wasn’t.  Communications is, or was back then, privileged.  Everybody had a right to a phone.  If the cops wanted to bust somebody they had to do their own footwork.  We were exempt.

So I’m not going to tell you any names, addresses, or personal information, but I will tell you this: pretend rich guys like Donald Trump were part of the landscape then just as sure as they are now.  And they were putting people like me out of business then just like Donald Trump has all his life.

They strut around, pretend to own the world, but they hate to pay their bills.  They’re always on the edge of broke.  They always spend more than they can come up with when the bill comes due.  The only cash in their pockets is somebody else’s money.

This isn’t everybody.  Most of the business people I knew were good honest people.  They expected to get paid a fair price for their product or service and they expected to do the same thing in return.  There were a high number who couldn’t bring themselves to pay on time.  They understand the time value of money and like to believe that guys who carry ladders and wear tool belts don’t, so they can habitually sucker us out of a ten-to-thirty-day interest-free loan.  We know what they’re doing. If you’re a mom and pop shop like we were you know which ones will do it, every time, because you still take their business.  The interest on the loan is in the bill.  No, it’s not itemized out.

That said, most of them are good for it, over and over, every time.  I had customers I worked for for years.  I had customers who outgrew their phone system, or just plain outlived it, and hired me to put in a second and maybe a third.  Businesses grow; they add phones and computers.  They redecorate; the phone guy comes and moves all the phones and computers.  We knew our customers well for years, and they knew us.  These were long term business relations with, by and large, honorable people.  It was hard, often dirty work and didn’t pay that great, but it was rewarding and satisfying and we made a decent living.

But there were a few Donald Trumps over the years.  Crooks who know the safest people to steal from were people who had less than him.  They – we – couldn’t afford to sue.  When we got cheated – and from time to time we all did – we licked our wounds and went on.

They hire you to do something.  Say for instance they buy a phone system and computer network from you for a little 16 desk branch business they’re setting up.   With cheaters like Trump it always takes an absolute minimum of 90 days to get paid – could you send us a copy of that invoice we can’t find it, blah blah – and when the check comes it’s fourteen dollars short.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes, we’re sure.”

“Could you send me another copy of the invoice?”

<sigh> “Yeah. What’s your fax number?”

“Oh, the fax is broken. You’ll have to mail it to me.” (Do you want your fourteen bucks bad enough to buy a stamp?)

I, of course, installed the fax and maintain it. Under warranty. It’s a telecom device.  It’s not broken.  Just one more lie, all in a day’s work.  It’s not worth arguing about, and yes, my fourteen dollars is worth a half a buck for a stamp.  The math isn’t that complicated.

Meanwhile I’ve been back on two “warranty calls” on the system, still without collecting payment for the job.  Users can’t remember how to use their voice mail and need more training.  Under warranty.  Unpaid.

You know those almost four thousand lawsuits against Trump? About two-thirds of them are from guys like me, contractors he’s stiffed for good work they’ve done.  There are at least ten thousand other contractors out there who only got screwed out of a few hundred or few thousand bucks and said, Phooey, live and learn, and knew suing wouldn’t even be a break even.  Go sell another job, maybe the next guy has some honor.

Oh, and those four bankruptcies?  You know, where he did a great job for himself, his company, his “use of the country’s chapter laws…”  Let’s say this hypothetical 16 desk business I sold him a phone system and network for doesn’t turn a fat profit in 120 days, during which time he still hasn’t paid me.  So he decides, “Screw this, didn’t work.” You know… Trump Steaks.  Trump Vodka. Trump Taj Mahal.  Tried it, didn’t work, let the suckers take the loss. Trump Institute or Trump University (which were, by the way, two different scams.)

So he decides that it wasn’t a money maker, quits paying the bills, slips out all the money he put into this particular corporation, and “uses the country’s laws” to stiff me, and the guy who hung his ceiling, and the guy who laid his rug, and the guy who put up the walls, the guy who sheetrocked and sanded them, the guy who papered them, the guy he rented the space from, and the guy who sold him the desks and chairs, and they guy who installed the cubicles…

Somewhere up in the financial stratosphere the people who loaned him the money to build the experiment are losing their share too.  With a deal like Trump Taj Mahal there are several bucks up there.

If I’m lucky, in six months I’ll get the phone system and the computers back, but that’s not much consolation.  In the first place, it’s been 10 months since I ordered them (remember, he stiffed me for 120 days before he filed bankruptcy).  They are all obsolete.  Phone system software evolves as fast as user-space computer software evolves.  In the second place, it is all used.  It is a crime to sell used equipment and claim that it’s new.  There is very little market for used telecom equipment except for the very bottom feeders, auto salvage yards, scrap metal recyclers, folks like that.  And no, they are not paying new prices.

At least they’ll pay on time.  Guy in a junkyard will probably just write you a check the day you finish, shake your hand and say thanks.  Not a skunk like Trump.

This is the reality.  I worked with fake rich thieves like Donald Trump for forty years, between companies I worked for and companies I owned.  They are a plague on the economy.

I doubt if Donald Trump has anywhere near as much money as he claims to, but of one thing I feel certain: much of what he has he stole from honest working Americans.  That, friends, is Telling It Like It Is.

By the way: the madam at the whorehouse usually wrote me a check as soon as I finished.  If she wasn’t there at the moment, my check would be in the mail in three or four days.  Ask me which of these people was more honorable.

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Pobody’s Nerfect

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Pobody’s nerfect. Nobody is perfect. Those of us who think that a good government can accomplish positive things for society absolutely must make peace with this.

Chica my chihuahua is ideal. She is not, however, perfect. She’s not always a good dog. Usually, but not always. She eats cat shit every chance she gets. We have several cats. She gets lots of chances.

Swap “person” for “dog” and that might be a pretty good description for the very best possible politician.

It’s easy for me to think of Chica as perfect. The world – my world, my life – is a better place with her than it would be without her. But to say she’s perfect is sloppy thinking. What she is, is ideal. No one could do her job better than she does it. Ideal is attainable.

Perfect is not attainable.

Chica perfectly matches my ideal of a companion dog. She’s that kind of perfect. She’s not a robot. We annoy each other from time to time. Cat shit breath is not that pleasant. So if perfect means without flaw, without misbehavior, there is no such thing as a perfect dog. Or human.

We want our politicians to be perfect dogs. We want them to always be good. We want our politicians to not have any bad habits. We want creatures – in this case humans – to never, on any day of their lives, do anything which is annoying, stupid, unhealthy, or just plain wrong, possibly on purpose. In the case of politicians we have an entire industry segment dedicated to watching their personal and professional lives, making collections of their every misstep to display at every opportunity. It is known as Opposition Research. OR. And for every professional there are thousands of volunteers.

“She voted for…”

“Oh yeah? Well He voted against…

“But she said…”

“And he said…” We hammer them with their mistakes for the rest of their lives.

I consider it a good day when I don’t say something stupid.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Those of us who think that a good government can accomplish positive things for society have got to figure this out.

Besides personal perfection we demand policy perfection. We would gladly lose an election to a Nazi over the difference between a minumum wage of twelve dollars an hour or fifteen dollars an hour.

Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters and, I suspect, even Jill supporters although I don’t personally know one to talk with, share a number of objectives. We do not share all our objectives. So we have two choices: we can join together to attain our shared objectives, or we can refuse to cooperate because of the differences.

We all want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. We want our neighbors everywhere in the country to be able to do the same. We want to provide enough free public education that people can get decent jobs when they are finished with school.

We want our fellow Americans to have enough to eat. We want ourselves and others to live in safety and reasonable comfort.

We want all races, all religions, all genders and gender preferences to be treated fairly in work and in life.

We want, wherever possible, to live in peace with other persons and nations.

If we refuse to join together to work toward these objectives we will not see them attained in our lifetimes.

If we proudly refuse to vote for the “lesser of two evils” we will never vote. We will never never reach our goals. Because all people have flaws. If we focus our eyes on their flaws and call them evil, then we can never vote. For anybody. We have two choices: we can swallow our pride and vote for the greater good in spite of obvious flaws, or we can sit home and wait for the Messiah to run.

Because all humans are flawed.

Pobody’s nerfect.

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