Sep 17, 2016
With the exception of Donald J. Trump, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the weakest candidate for president we have seen in our lifetime. She is an inept campaigner, cold as the proverbial well-digger’s knee, and widely mistrusted and disliked. She carries baggage that would floor anyone even moderately capable of being ashamed of themselves: her emails, the Libyan debacle, Bill, quarter-million-dollar speeches, habitual warmongering. And finally, it seems apparent she is not well. Should she have to drop out before the election, and should her running mate take her place at the top of the ticket, he has neither name recognition nor much of a track record in politics, and would seem to be unelectable given a choice between a celebrity and someone no one has ever heard of. Biden? Perhaps, but how can they justify a candidate who hasn't even campaigned?
This week in The New Yorker, John Cassidy asks, “The Big Question About Donald Trump’s Rise in the Polls.” In the piece, Cassidy mentions several recent polls which show Trump fast approaching Hillary’s numbers and, in one terrifying case, overtaking them. Cassidy’s Big Question is essentially, “Can he maintain this new momentum and carry himself into the White House?”
But we can’t have Donald Trump in the White House. So my Big Question is, “Does someone need to shoot him?” Or poison him, or strangle him, or toss him off a high bridge?
Now, before the Secret Service gets all bent out of shape, recall Trump has made more than one lightly veiled allusion to the desirability of someone offing his opponent. So tit for tat.
Of course, I don’t believe anyone needs to shoot Donald Trump. Or should. Any halfway competent opponent would have made mincemeat of this lightweight long since. And he’s no Hitler, as I have said elsewhere in this blog. However, in the White House, he is a menace to us all, to our pocketbooks, our health, our domestic tranquility, and to our lives. With his testy and dummkopf finger on the button, he could easily bring on the End Times.
At the very least he will preside over four years of political chaos in which the modest gains of the Obama years will disappear; Supreme Court justices even loonier than Clarence Thomas will be appointed; Black Lives will Matter not at all, never mind brown ones or, for that matter, any white ones not intimately associated with the inner sanctum. The world economy will stagger under his ignorant fumbling; our alliances will unravel; our climate will deteriorate further; and income inequality will soar.
If this sorry excuse for an American faces the Chief Justice on January 20th and mouths the oath of office, the office will never be the same and, in a way, perhaps, America will have fulfilled its destiny, after all.
Sep 10, 2016
“I like life. It’s something to do.” —Ronnie Shakes
Finding something to do has become a problem for many of us.
Almost eight million people had nothing to do in August, and that is only counting the unemployed who were looking for work. One point seven million more had given up looking. Another 6.1 million, involuntarily employed part-time, did not have enough to do.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this one: 37.2 percent of Americans who might be working (the so-called labor force) are not. No doubt some are the stay-at-home helpmates of CEOs or the offspring of seven-term senators. Still, that figure has been steadily increasing since its low of around 33 percent 20 years ago. (Source for all the above: Bureau of Labor Statistics (.pdf).)
The situation is certain to become worse, and rapidly, owing to several factors. The Big Two are globalization and mechanization. Globalization will continue to move low- and medium-skilled jobs overseas and, increasingly, highly skilled jobs as well. Mechanization of manufacturing and service sector jobs is about to skyrocket, owing to the increasing speed and capacity of computers and the maturation of robotics.
Additionally, merger mania, with its emphasis on downsizing and layoffs; an aging population that stays on the job longer while still receiving retirement benefits that must be paid for through current F.I.C.A. contributions; and substandard health and education infrastructures that are driving down our standing in relation to both our allies and our antagonists are three more stressors on the labor force in addition to the Big Two.
It is arguable that a machine ought to do any job of which it is capable, freeing up the human for higher-level pursuits. That may be true, but between globalization and mechanization, it is all happening too fast, as the labor force participation rate so graphically reveals. And as for programs to retrain the out-of-work, they are few, underfunded, and of questionable value. You may attempt to train a 50-year-old laid-off coal miner to program in Python, but your success rate is not going to be anything to write home about.
On the other end of the work force, our children are not being trained today for tomorrow’s jobs. A K-12 school system in New Hampshire with which I am familiar has no computer science courses, or any plan to offer them. If there is one area of employment in which we may reasonably expect humans will be involved in 50 years it is in configuring, programming, managing, and repairing these beasts that will have by then relieved us of all sorts of work we do today. Not to prepare our children for that will, one day, be looked on as an unforgivable sin of omission.
What are people going to do? What should we be doing to ensure they have meaningful and remunerative work and, even more importantly, are ready to perform it? Probably a great deal more than we are doing now, or even talking about doing now.
I wrote a piece here entitled “Make America Work Again” in May. There I noted that over half of working Americans do not make enough to live on. But at least they are working. Increasing numbers of us are not, however, and our polarized and paralyzed political system holds out little hope for effective action at this time.
If any of us are to continue to have something to do, we must do something. And now.
Aug 20, 2016
If you shop at Amazon.com, be sure to do it through their Smile program. Why? Because Smile donates one-half of one percent of sales to the 501c3 charity of your choice (that’s 50 cents of every $100 purchase). This gives you an absolutely cost-free, hassle-free opportunity to help some struggling organization you care about, and if you’re not buying through Smile and don’t begin to after reading this, you are essentially admitting you don’t give a damn about anything. And if that is the case, shame on you!
It’s as easy as pie to join Smile and once in, your shopping and buying experience at Amazon doesn’t change one bit (except you go to smile.amazon.com instead of plain old amazon.com), and you never really have to think about it again. Your purchases just keep on giving.
I have a charity that I have been running since 2012, called bookaworld. Its mission is to place a Library of the world’s most important, educational, and entertaining books into the hands of every child in the world. It costs us about $100 per recipient right now, and if, after you’ve read a bit about it, you’d like your Smile account to benefit bookaworld, sign up with Smile at this link:
(And if you do sign up and want a quarterly accounting of our receipts, send me your email.)
If you want to benefit some other registered 501c3 organization, sign up with this link:
But sign up! And before you make even ONE MORE PURCHASE.
Or shame on you!
Jul 23, 2016
As we pause between the clumsy dud of a Republican convention last week and what will probably be a clumsy dud of a Democratic convention next week, let us contemplate what we will face on the day after the 102 endless days between Hillary’s investiture on July 28 and Election Day.
Someone on that parlous day will be President-Elect and, barring human or divine intervention, it will be either Donald J. Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As Bertie Wooster would, and probably did, say: The mind boggles.
I said my piece regarding Mr. Trump in Look Who’s (Maybe) Coming on April 28. Here, I will only remind you of Trump’s failures, as a husband (three wives), a businessman (four corporate bankruptcies), a writer (someone else scribbled all that nonsense), and a speaker (just listen). That Trump has never held elective office and now aspires to lead the free world by, presumably, the seat of his pants, speaks to his overweening arrogance, ambition, and asininity.
And then there is Hillary, who will probably win, because who can imagine we have produced sufficient Yahoos over the past few generations to actually propel this hateful and know-nothing narcissist into the Oval Office.
Hillary promises business as usual, which has got us where we are today and she will be frogmarching us for four years further down the now familiar path toward the destruction of our species. Her puppet masters have long been outed, and the corporatocracy will not count their pennies as they finance the necessary destruction of her loose cannon of an opponent. (Happily, the Yahoos are broke.)
With Hillary, we can look forward to increased income inequality, further degradation of the climate, employment anxiety for additional millions, and many more executive branch military adventures. Hillary never saw a war she didn’t like and is even today no doubt champing at the bit to start a few more splendid little conflicts here and there. After all, what’s good for Lockheed-Martin . . . .
Having taken the pledge (see my November 2014 entry), I have no stake in the coming debacle. No candidate has come forward with real solutions to the existential problems we face, so I will be sitting out this election, and almost certainly any others in the limited time remaining to me. I invite you to join me on the sidelines.
To paraphrase George Carlin, if you don't vote, you have every reason to complain about what those who did stuck you with.
May 30, 2016
We are in the midst of an employment crisis in this country. Too few people are employed and too many who are earn less—sometimes far less—than enough to live on.
Nearly eight million people were on the unemployment rolls in April.  Only 62.7% of Americans of working age are employed or looking for work, the lowest percentage since 1978,  and this does not include the nearly 600,000 who have given up looking for work.
Additionally, around three million people who are working earn at or below the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 at the federal level since 2009.  Living wage calculators at MIT  and the Economic Policy Institute  both indicate that $7.25 is less than one-third of a living wage for an adult with one dependent child living in Vermont or New Hampshire. Millions of other workers earn more than the minimum wage but much less than these calculated “living wages.” Almost half of all American workers earn less than the inadequate $15 per hour currently called for by various activists and politicians. 
Finally, around six million working people are involuntarily employed part-time and also probably earning well below a living wage. 
People need to work, and when they don’t, or when they work for less than a living wage, those of us who do work and earn a living wage are unfairly called upon to pick up the hefty slack, while employers reap the benefits, often, as in the case of the Walmart heirs, becoming multibillionaires in the process.
A recent study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC/Berkeley  determined that a mere four social welfare programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Medicaid cost $152 billion a year between 2009 and 2011. That is almost half a trillion dollars in only three years. Over half that assistance went to working families. And there are dozens of other taxpayer-funded federal, state, and local programs in addition to these.
How long would a business that only paid a third of its electric bill or half the cost of its raw materials remain open, or deserve to? And yet Walmart, only the largest employer to pay their workers less than a living wage, goes on growing year after year. Forbes magazine reported in 2014 that Walmart alone cost taxpayers about $6.2 billion a year in public assistance. 
We need to forge a new social contract with ourselves, setting out our rights and responsibilities. The two most important elements on the rights column would be an adequate education and a job that paid a living wage. Every U.S. citizen and legal resident should be guaranteed both. And in the responsibilities column?: Perform your job to the best of your ability and be a good citizen.
Then we can dismantle all these expensive, inefficient, ineffective, and humiliating “safety net” programs and let people enjoy the independence of which we are (almost) all capable. Those few who can’t work could be cared for. Those who can work and won’t, well, good luck to them.
When almost everyone is working and receiving a living wage, almost everyone will be paying into our shared tax pool instead of siphoning funds out of it. Tax revenue up; social “welfare” expenses down; lower taxes for all of us to pay.
Before any “political revolution,” we need a social revolution, one that acknowledges that although we are a liberty-loving, rambunctious, and ingenious people perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves, we are too easily tempted to let someone else take care of us if the opportunity is available.
We would all be much better off if our system encouraged, enabled, and, yes, expected us to exercise our natural independence rather than the contrary.
What individual of any political persuasion could offer a valid argument against such common sense? The left-leaning inclination to expand the safety net and the right-leaning inclination to limit such support to business and the one percenters, are both equally misguided. There is dignity in work, and there is equity when everyone, worker and business alike, pulls their own weight.
Our employment model needs to be based on the unique individualism, love of liberty, and instinct for self-reliance which has always characterized our people. It also needs to stop enabling so many of us—employer and employee alike—to be dependent on the rest of us.
But don’t take my word for it:
“This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States (1858-1919)
“It seems to me . . . that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country . . . and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of decent living.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States (1882-1945)
“The best social program is a good job.”
William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S. (b. 1946)
Apr 28, 2016
Adolph Hitler was the worst thing that ever happened to the world. And in the 2014 German seriocomic film, Look Who’s Back, he returns to the modern world and sets about happening to it again.
Halfway through the film, Hitler reminds the young man who is making a documentary about him of two important facts. One, he announced everything he was going to do in his book, Mein Kampf, published eight years before he came to power. And two, he came to power in a free election.
Here in 2016 U.S.A., we are presented with a candidate who has told us everything he is about and much of what he intends to do in easy-to-understand language, universally available for review by googling “things Trump has said. ”
In a few months we will have an opportunity to elect him in what will be a slightly less-than-free election, considering the stumbling blocks that have been erected to restrain many voters who normally vote Democratic from exercising their franchise. Nonetheless, it will have about it the patina of a free election.
The German people had no reason not to understand what they were getting. They knew who he was, they wanted who he was, and they got him.
I am not comparing Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler. Hitler was an evil genius. Trump is a cents-off demagogue who has happened upon an audacious sales pitch precisely attuned to the ear of a xeno- and homophobic, misogynistic, poorly educated, and plain fed-up constituency that just may elect him in November.
If they do—if we do—no one can tell us that, like the Germans, we didn’t know what we were getting.
And make no mistake, we produced that constituency ourselves over the past 35 years. So we have no grounds to excuse ourselves for the train wreck that may be coming.
Mar 19, 2016
If you think a black president poleaxed the U.S. Senate into sullen and resentful inaction, wait until you see what a woman does to them.
Feb 11, 2016
Political revolution? As we bask in the short interval between Bernie’s New Hampshire rout of the Democratic establishment this week and the unknowable future in Nevada, South Carolina, and beyond, perhaps we can pause a moment to contemplate the possibility.
I have written in this space of my reservations regarding Bernie’s agenda, particularly his flagship issue of income inequality. His plan for a $15-per-hour minimum wage in a few years is hopelessly inadequate.
However, it is inarguable that he has hit the nail on the head regarding the ills America faces. And, incredibly, the electorate is responding to his message. Incredible, because most candidates never shut up about how exceptional and wonderful and perfect America is compared to the rest of the dreary, ill-informed, and dysfunctional world. Newsweek, too, had a piece following the NH primary which noted how very unusual this campaign round is in that regard.
I have also written in this space, “We will take our country back by ballot or by bullet. I cannot see any third alternative, and bullets are notoriously unpredictable. People are making noises about third parties, but nothing significant has been launched that I know of. Now is the time.”
This was way back in October 2011, when there was no hint of a Sanders candidacy. I wrote quite a lot about third parties back then because I could not imagine the coming of a candidate from either major party (could you?) who would espouse systemic reform to the extent that Bernie has.
So perhaps we do have a political revolution in the making. We certainly have as much of one as I am likely to see in my few remaining years. The establishment, as we have seen, will stop at very little to put the kibosh on that revolution, as they must. Establishments don’t make revolutions, people do.
So thank you, Bernie, for the frisson of hope you gave us this week. If the ball keeps rolling, well and good. If it falters, if the misrepresentations, belittlement, threats, and prognostications of doom from the establishment pundits, pols, and plutocrats combine to sufficiently intimidate and frighten the sovereign voters of this great nation, well, no one will be surprised.
But we’ll always have New Hampshire.
Jan 31, 2016
I rate the books I read (I usually finish about 64 a year). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended. Here are my 26 Four-Star (and one rare Five-Star) books from 2015 (the most since 2011). This was the year I discovered Mary McGarry Morris, a great teller of tales. Bold-faced items are standouts:
Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis
The blazing world, Siri Hustvedt
Closing time, Joe Queenan
Just mercy, Bryan Stevenson
History of the rain, Niall Williams
And so it goes, Charles J. Shields
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
How to build a girl, Caitlin Moran
The collected short fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman
How it all began, Penelope Lively
Preparation for the next life, Atticus Lish
An army at dawn, Rick Atkinson
England and other stories, Graham Swift
The trees, Conrad Richter
Songs in ordinary time, Mary McGarry Morris
Euphoria, Lily King
American rust, Philipp Meyer
Vanished, Mary McGarry Morris
Bunker Hill, Nathaniel Philbrick
A dangerous woman, Mary McGarry Morris
Pride and prejudice, Jane Austen (A rare five stars)
A hole in the universe, Mary McGarry Morris
Honeydew, Edith Pearlman
10:04, Ben Lerner
The god delusion, Richard Dawkins
Mislaid, Nell Zink
Persuasion, Jane Austen
Jan 01, 2016
We all are angry. We all are vindictive. We all are envious.
None of us of sound mind and body is free of the inclination, all too often, to feel and express the most deplorable, dispiriting, and destructive of human emotions. And the fact that we all are also capable of compassion and the many varieties of love does not compensate for that fact, unless we consciously reject the destructive in favor of the life-affirming attitudes and emotions.
It is especially important that we do this in the political arena. The Republican field in the 2016 presidential race is filled with individuals who are adept at arousing our least admirable and most destructive emotions. The more adept they are, the higher they rank in the polls, with Donald Trump—part demagogue, part buffoon—today leading the pack.
These people, whichever of them becomes the party’s nominee, would have us renege on the social contract we have with ourselves.
They would increase the income inequality that already today is marked by the largest gap in history and a disappearing middle class.
They would consign to the capitalist system large swaths of public life—education, retirement, infrastructure—that depend upon cooperation and not competition or the profit motive to succeed.
They would marginalize and criminalize large sectors of our population while protecting the privileges and power of a tiny band of the super-rich.
They would enter upon dangerous military adventures that have already siphoned trillions from our coffers in pursuit of losing battles and in support of corrupt dictatorships that tyrannize and murder their own people.
Unfortunately, on the Democratic side, though the picture is not so dire, neither can it be considered very hopeful. Hillary Clinton is the epitome of a “business as usual” candidate, and only at our great peril can we carry on as we have for the past 35 years. And even Bernie Sanders, with his “political revolution” fails to adequately address questions of militarism, domestic unrest, environmental catastrophe, and—surprisingly since this is his defining issue—income inequality (see my Open Letter to Bernie Sanders in September 2015).
We must set aside our anger, our vindictiveness, our envy, and our fears. We are better than this. We are stronger than this. We are a caring, liberty-loving, rambunctious, ingenious, and generous people. And our happiness depends on promoting the happiness of others. The fact that we have not attended to this business for a generation or two is responsible for the sorry state we find ourselves in at this start of a new year.
Dec 06, 2015
It’s gratifying when you find a genius who agrees with you. Here’s what Einstein once said:
Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men—above all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends.
Einstein doesn’t just mean you need to keep your boss happy. If, for instance, your fellow citizens are ill-housed, un- or underemployed, impoverished, unhealthy, and uneducated, you can bet your life your happiness will be diminished if not ultimately destroyed.
Your happiness is diminished when your paycheck is plundered to provide a niggardly subsistence to those unable to provide for themselves. This includes the three million people who earn at or below the minimum wage (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics), not to mention the millions more who earn less than a living wage.
The current federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour since July 2009) is considerably less than half a living wage by most accounts (see, e.g., the living wage calculators at MIT and the Economic Policy Institute).
Your happiness is diminished by the increase in all sorts of crime and corruption that thrive in times when the absence of “smiles and well-being” is so apparent among so many. We are living in an angry world, where in the U.S. a mass shooting happens on average more than once a day; where millions risk death to flee places that should be considered their home and sanctuary; where existence is threatened for other millions by rising ocean levels and capricious weather patterns; where a vicious fundamentalism has replaced strong-man tyrannies and spread its venom throughout the world.
Your happiness is diminished by the cost of dealing with all this unhappiness, in domestic surveillance, enforcement, and imprisonment; and in international conflicts that siphon trillions from our treasury.
In Darwinian terms, ensuring the other guy’s “smiles and well-being” is a survival mechanism, not some feel-good, altruistic effort, and this is Einstein’s point: Our survival depends on the other person’s survival; our happiness on their happiness.
No candidate for president has proposed policies or programs that are not, finally and essentially, business as usual, or worse, or much worse. No candidate has proclaimed that we must rewrite our social contract with ourselves, to acknowledge the truth of Einstein’s observation and to pursue its goals with dispatch. Not even Bernie.
And for that reason, I despair of the short-term future for our nation, and of the long-term future for our planet.
Nov 14, 2015
You reap what you sow.
Western Europe and the United States have, for several hundred years, enslaved, colonized, and ravaged peoples around the world. We have overthrown legitimate governments and established and supported brutal tyrannies in the name of stability and to support unbridled capitalistic pursuits. While our enviable democracies have enabled a level of peace and plenty which made of us the beacon of hope for the rest of the world, we have taken every opportunity to withhold a share of our good fortune. And in being willing to go to any lengths to protect and enhance our own interests, we have created monsters of much of the rest of the world.
What happened in Paris last night; in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, in 2001; in Madrid in 2004; in London in 2005; is going to happen continually and forever. Unless we change.
We know what we have to do, to undo what we have done. It will be a long and bumpy road. If we don’t decide to take it, however, we know the cost, as we already have begun to see our enviable democracies under attack, both from within and without.
Our only avenue to continued peace, liberty, and plenty is to bring peace, liberty, and plenty to the world.
Sep 30, 2015
Thanks to a cool new tool called Genius, you can now talk back to me with comments, arguments, guffaws, whatever. Simply block any word, phrase, sentence, or group of sentences. An odd-looking icon (what is that, anyway?) will appear above the blocked copy. Click it and an annotation section will open up on the right side of your screen. Once you annotate something, it thereafter displays with a yellow background. Click anything with a yellow background, and its associated annotations open up.
You may be sure I will keep an eye open for annotations and will respond to any that are not abusive, profane, or stupid. It would be even better if Genius could send me an email alert whenever a new annotation is created.
Copyright © 2008 All Together Now.