Bernie Sanders, Racial Justice and Policing

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My sparring partner on Facebook (Neil Shock) and I have exchanged a little on the subject of the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ protests at a couple of Bernie Sanders’ political events.

Neil directed me to the views of Bernie, on policing and racial justice. I had two separate comments to make. I set ’em out:

“We have communities in this country who feel that the police are going to war on them. You do not correct that imbalance by going to war on the police.

Why is it that almost every American I meet has no concept of the notion of collective policing, as it was originally conceived, namely that policing takes place only with the consent of the community?

If you are one who feels that your community has or should withdraw its consent, then establish a process that re-establishes the notion of consent. Don’t whine. And don’t go to war.

Police are not authorities unto themselves, with whom we need to barter or go to war. They are public employees, who perform only with our consent. And therein lies the solution.

Every single law enforcement agency in this country is beholden to a civilian institution for its funding. And those institutions are run by elected officials.

Make it a condition of voting for a candidate that they will enforce a new social compact with police, who after all are no more and no less than public employees, a new social compact which states that, in return for funds, police must henceforth accept that their rules of engagement and operation are to be drafted and monitored by those elected officials, in conjunction with police and concerned citizens, but no longer by the police on their own.

It really is as simple as that. I call it ‘citizen design of policing’ [citizenpolicing.com]. You can call it whatever you like. And operate it in your locale however you like.

The one thing we do not need to do, when a simple approach like this presents itself, is to meet war with war.”

And:

“Bernie Sanders, bless him, is basically a professorial type, gloriously out of water. Give him a chance to get used to this sort of attention, and his responses might improve.

His groupies, the ones doing all the tutting, are looking ahead to the conversation they think they are going to have, the one where they tell Bernie it’s time to grow up, because this is looking serious now.

A conversation in which I hope Bernie limits himself to two words, the first one beginning with f, and the second one ending with the same letter.

Now I used to be a tacky political operator. And if I was advising Bernie, I’d say, don’t mess about, invite BLM to draft your platform on structural racism. With a very specific program as to how to address it.

Make the pledge: you draft it; it ain’t crazy; I get elected; you’ll be given the remit to implement it. Now, put your money where your mouth is.

I personally have very little time for empty words. I believe in doing (cf. citizen design of policing: citizenpolicing.com).

The only thing is, I simply do not understand why I, a white, sort of progressive, reformed British Conservative, am the one advancing this concept. Where are the US progressives – white, black or polka dot?

I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered since being in this country. There are too many folks having too much fun saying no. And not enough doing the hard, difficult, unseen job of designing the yes.”

As a consequence of my post, a rather interesting discussion began to develop here.

Published in: on August 11, 2015 at 6:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Achievable Aspiration -v- Misplaced Envy

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There was an article in yesterday’s NYTimes, about which I’ve been thinking long and hard these past twelve hours or so. Something about it deeply disturbed me.

Why does anyone think they deserve what someone else has, rather than striving to improve their own lot?

I’m about ready to give up on labels. So, I’m not going to try to classify my politics in this post.

But people are not born equal. We have different gifts, different talents, different flaws. I believe in equality of opportunity. But aiming for equality of outcome is an unnatural ambition, which only leads to resentment.

And so it is that I keep reading this article, looking for efforts to improve systemic housing, educational and economic opportunities for those currently in disadvantage. And all I find are people who want to go live with the rich white folk.

Isn’t this just self-defeating?

I really would prefer we try to design policies and programs that are truly color-blind. That work to re-shape communities at risk. With public subsidy where necessary.

But I keep coming up against people who want nothing more than to identify and isolate black people as black people. Black people as much as white folk.

Maybe I suffer from still being an outsider. But, as that outsider, what I see are both black and white straining to maintain segregation.

If you aim for a society that deliberately treats black and white differently, even if the ambition is well-meaning, you merely create a new form of segregation.

The path to true integration lies in creating rules that apply and opportunities that are available equally to all parties.

Wanting what the other person has, leaving your disadvantaged community to go live with the rich people, may serve as a short-term fix. But it actually perpetuates segregation and disadvantage.

Why not instead join forces with your community, create political and economic muscle in numbers, and work for improvement?

Published in: on August 10, 2015 at 6:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Chapel Hill Killings – Lessons

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I’m sorry, but it is never too early to be discussing lessons. Especially not in the current world of ADD, where folks move on as soon as the headlines disappear. For me, the two primary lessons to learn are: own responsibility and get involved.

What. No rant about Muslim-haters, police cover-up, irresponsible media reporting? No. Well, some about the latter a bit later. But, no. Why? Because you can’t change what you can’t change. What you have to do is own responsibility for what you can change, and get involved to change it.

No-one has, or will ever have, the slightest notion of what goes on or was going on in the head of Craig Stephen Hicks. Almost nothing is served by trying to find out now. Of course it was a hate crime. The man hated. Does it really change one dot, tittle or iota of anything to have a long. unseemly, pointless debate about whether it was parking he hated, or Muslims?

You can not legislate the way people feel, including hatred. What you can do is legislate the way they demonstrate their feelings. And this man had been demonstrating feelings for yonks.

I have only the greatest of compassion for Deah, Yusor and Razan. But their deaths should never have occurred. They should have reported Hicks to the police long before the evening of February 10. This man was banging on the doors of all the neighbors, complaining about parking, with a gun on his hip. That is creating a fracas. Call the police.

It doesn’t matter whether he hated this neighbor more than another. The moment his hatred took a form that was breaking the law, or just causing disruption and fear, the police should have been called. And the awful events of February 10 likely would never have occurred. For sure, the police are reporting that they never received any complaints about Hicks.

By the same token, if Hicks was concerned about parking, he should have spoken with the apartment office or called the police himself. I live in an apartment complex. We are under strict instructions from our office and the police not to have discussions with neighbors about matters of conflict. But instead to call the police and report the matter to the office. Precisely so as to avoid confrontation.

What if you fear the police? Ok. Not a stupid question. I am one in the town neighboring Chapel Hill (Carrboro, NC), along with others, who are trying to implement a process of citizen design of policing, specifically because of concerns, locally and nationally, with the nature of some policing approach.

Ok. But, if you want less of a police presence in your neighborhood, then you have to engage in community self-policing. I read that a community meeting was held to discuss Hicks. What happened? Nothing. Why? Because folks don’t follow through. We need to.

To digress for a moment, the moves in Carrboro, NC have come to a bit of a halt, because the next community meeting with our local police chief is not due until June. I know it is not going to be possible simply to turn up in June and expect people to pick up where we left off from the last community forum. One can not be passive in one’s interest. I know that one or more of us will have to work assiduously for the month before that community forum in June to re-interest folk, get some control of the agenda and the like. Advocacy, change, improvement takes work and vigilance, not just a post or two on Facebook.

I said I’d come back to the media. I specifically want to address the earlier article, talking about Hicks’s obsession with parking. You can’t change people. Can’t make them less weird. But journalists can stop writing self-evident nonsense.

The article itself reads stupidly. Even if Hicks turns out to be the most complicated individual in history, it is incumbent on journalists actually to read what they write. I know a bit about this. My book is currently undergoing what my publisher calls editing for consistency. I call it destroying a work of timeless art. Yes. We are having a parking dispute. But, the point is, he won’t let me write crap.

How on earth can a journalist write that Hicks was a champion for the rights of individuals, when he is also described as lacking any compassion? How can he be a liberal, who turns up on neighbor’s doorsteps, toting a gun?

It’s not good enough to say, well, that is what folks said to the journalist. Just because people talk nonsense does not mean a journalist has to write it. Journalism of this low quality merely causes confusion and misunderstanding.

Of course there is some question as to the mental balance of Hicks himself. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a journalist saying, whoa, either I report that Hicks was a likely schizophrenic, and report the inconsistencies, or I say, I can’t blithely accept these contradictory reports.

Why should a journalist get that involved, I hear you ask? He’s just a journalist. And I respond, he’s a journalist, in a position of some authority, contributing to analysis and understanding. We need all of us to own responsibility for what we say, and do, and what we do not do.

Again, I know a bit about this. My book results from one thing. I saw stuff around me that did not make sense. I investigated. I asked questions. If we all stand by passively, then bad stuff will go on happening. If something does not make sense, the chances are, it does not make sense. Get stuck in, and find out why. And it starts with people like journalists. So, I do not let the writer of this article off the hook that lightly.

There are lessons to be learned from the tragedy of the Chapel Hill killings. The first is that it was a crime. A heinous crime. But a crime. Not a religious war. It was a crime that could have been avoided. And that can be avoided again. Not with grand protests, marches, or new legislation. But by ordinary folk, you and I, taking an interest, giving a damn, owning responsibility and getting involved, in a purposeful way.

#IamDeah #IamYusor #IamRazan

Published in: on February 12, 2015 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

How Do We Encourage US & NC Swing Voters Not To Hate?

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Yup. Started off tendentious. Let’s continue. At the moment, the body politic in the US and North Carolina generally votes right of center. No-one really believes this is because the Republicans are the party of aspiration. It is because they allow their supporters to hate. Democrats, mind you, aren’t the party of aspiration, either. They have become the party that asks swing voters to support issues and people with which those voters are demonstrably uncomfortable. Hence, the current political landscape in the US and North Carolina.

So, how do we win over enough swing voters to regain a natural voting majority for Democrats? I don’t have a gameplan as such. I have some thoughts though:

1) Stop preaching. Start asking. Democrats do not know best just because we are educated and intelligent. We know what is best for folks because we ask them. Enough of which we do not do at the moment. And don’t be asking a fellow progressive. Ask the people who are going to make a difference. The middle-of-the-road, likely working voters, who voted Republican in 2010, 2012 and 2014, at local and state level. Who preferably might have contributed to Obama’s two landslides.

2) Stop telling folks they are wrong just because they don’t vote the way we do. They are different. Not wrong. You win with candy. Not a stick.

3) A lot of folks in the center vote by herd instinct. I’ve lived around. Dallas, Atlanta, Carrboro, Providence, Boston. The mountains of western Carolina. Low income housing in Fort Worth and Carrboro. I’ve found single mothers with three kids on food stamps in the mountains voting Republican because it’s the cultural thing to do there. I’ve found truck drivers in Carrboro who are progressive because that’s what we do here. Find a way to make people comfortable being progressive, and it can become the mob mentality.

4) We excoriate Republicans because they promote prejudice. Wrong. Just find better prejudices. It’s the herd instinct thing. We want to make people feel good about voting our way. In the long-term, you don’t always achieve that by appealing to intellect. Somewhere along the way, you have to appeal to gut, too. I have made the journey from right-wing British Tory to left-of-center Democrat. I don’t hate. Don’t know how to. Always see the other point of view. But I have been surrounded by people who do hate. Foreigners, immigrants, the poor, people of color, people of different religious or gender orientation. But here’s the thing. And it’s important. Beneath the skin of every reasonable conservative beats the heart of a liberal. They actually want to love. Simple as that. It’s a good feeling to reach out and make people happy. And we don’t stress that enough.

5) Now, as a general rule, learned from some years spent in political public relations, on both sides of the political aisle, you don’t lead with morality or feeling when beginning the quest to change people’s minds. That comes later. You have to start with intellectual argument. And you have to use their language. We have to understand where they are coming from. And explain how where we are at offers something better, in terms they can understand. And often that requires some correction on our part with respect to policy and approach.

Let’s start with where I am politically now. I am a fiscal conservative. You can’t do anything if your economy and the public finances are in a mess. And, until something like mutualism really takes a hold globally, the bottom line is that economies derive their drive from folks who are rich. So, stop fighting it.

People do not aspire to be poor. They aspire to be rich and famous. So, stop punishing rich folk. Stop trying dramatically to re-distribute. Make ‘em pay a fair share. And concentrate on equality of access to all the levers, bells and whistles that allow everyone to aspire to the limits of what they are capable.

And I emphasize equality of access, of treatment. Not equality of outcome. We are not all born equal. We aren’t. We are who we are. We all have different levels and types of capability. Accept it. Be proud of it. Glorify it. What we can do is ensure that everyone receives the same treatment, has the same access and the same opportunity. After that, inequality is what it is. Every time anyone attempts to legislate equality of outcome, it ends in tears. Addressing one seeming inequality with another only feeds the hate.

At the same time, there are folk who will never be able to swim in the capitalist sea that we have created. Socialism does not work. Not in practice. So, it is some form of capitalism we are stuck with. But let us, with dignity and respect, create a proper safety net, that fully cares for those who are unable, through no fault of their own, to look after themselves.

That was my political journey. Accepting the second part of the financial and social equation. It is not a political sin to want to build a working welfare state. However, Democrats too often sound as if it is a sin to want a thriving economy based on a realistic business outlook.

You don’t win people over with the morality of Obamacare. You tell ‘em a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. You don’t win over folks to feel comfortable with gays. You win them over to same-sex marriage by telling ‘em that marriage of any kind is a better home for kids than a foster home. You don’t win over people to the citizenship path for undocumented workers by quoting the Statue of Liberty (one of my favorite things to do, I have to admit!). You win ‘em over by talking about 11 million new taxpayers, who want to build new businesses.

Then, you can wax lyrical how all of this helps to make our fellow man and woman happier. Trust me, you want to create a better prejudice than hate, it is the feeling you get when you make a sad person smile.

In 2011, after Republicans regained the US House of Representatives, and made huge gains in statehouses, I wrote a political song, called ‘Song of Solidarity.’ In my promotion I talked about Republicans who had stolen the mantle of patriotism. And how we needed to win it back for working people. Not Democrats. Working people. Democrats stopped being the party of working people a long time ago.

I talked about working folk who fought our wars, to escape poverty back home. I talked about true patriots being the people who ran our companies and our country. Who worked the shopfloors and fixed our roads. Who owned responsibility not just for their immediate dependents, but for the wider family of their friends and neighborhoods. I talked and still talk about shared responsibility.

How it is no good berating the police, when we don’t ask communities to take responsibility for those among them who break the law. How it is just as important for pastors, preachers and activists to educate the young about healthy social interaction, as it is for the rest of us to understand those at risk. Balance. Responsibility. Prudence. Compassion. And common sense. In equal measure. Not one to the exclusion of others.

One final example. I bought my car from a used car dealer, whom I will call Frank. He was a light Republican. Owned the car lot. Started by his father. Going to leave it to his daughter. We got talking. He wanted to support Obama. Really did. But he put it to me like this. Geoff, he said, I’m a good man. I don’t hate. I run a business. I look after my family. Take care of my ailing dad. Go to church. Pop around and help out neighbors who have fallen on hard times. I don’t mind digging a little deeper, and helping folks I’ve never met, if they genuinely need help. But I keep finding myself asking myself, he said, where are those folk’s family and friends?

Frank, good question. In my simple view, going forward, being a more successful Democrat means not only listening, understanding, changing ourselves and reaching out, it not only means being right, and making folks feel good about making other people happy, it also means asking some very tough questions of the people we want to help, the very folks we are asking swing voters no longer to hate.

Not exactly comprehensive. But it’s a start.

Published in: on February 6, 2015 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Same-Sex Marriage, Supreme Court – It’s Equality, Stupid!

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Oh dear. In an article wondering how the new gay rights case before the US Supreme Court will play into John Roberts’s long game, the NYTimes once again has it back to front. They look at outcome and superimpose intent.

I agree Roberts has a long game. The man became Chief Justice when he was 50. He’d be pretty stupid not to have a long game. And no-one accuses Roberts of being stupid. But, contrary to the NY Times, I think his long game is this:

1) To make the Supreme Court more relevant to ordinary Americans. He doesn’t follow polls. But he does believe that the Court should reflect long-term social trends. And reflect, not mold.

2) He is a constitutionalist. In the sense that I understand it. And in the sense which I broadly support. Which means that he believes that it is up to the executive and the legislature to legislate. It is for the court to interpret and apply the constitution, not to be activist.

3) And only the US Constitution. He is a states rightist. If something is within the purview of states, then that is where the impetus should remain.

4) He believes that the primary value contained within the US Constitution and attendant Bill of Rights is that of equality. And that means equality of opportunity, treatment, not equality of outcome. No-one can legislate feeling. No-one can determine how people will react, and therefore how things will turn out. And, as soon as you address one seeming inequality of outcome with a reverse inequality of outcome, then you sow the seeds of new resentment.

Thus it was with Obamacare that Roberts did not suddenly become a liberal overnight. He took the view that Obamacare had been thoroughly debated within the US executive and legislature, and also around all of the states, that there was broad support, and he was not going to allow his Court to stand in the way on a technicality (1, 2 and 3 above).

So it was with DOMA. At the time that his Court ruled against DOMA, he stated words to the effect that it was becoming increasingly clear that states were moving in the direction of not banning same-sex marriage. Some 17 states at that time had moved towards same-sex marriage. From a position when DOMA was made law, when no states were in favor of same-sex marriage. But, there was a way to go before he was convinced the Court needed to make a declaration for the remaining states (1,2 and 3 above).

Now that some 30 states are no longer opposed to same-sex marriage, he feels that it is time to make such a declaration. A declaration which is not about same-sex marriage, but about equality of treatment. Namely, married couples, and especially their children, who have been properly married and adopted in one state, should not be penalized in another. They should receive equal treatment in all states, now that a majority of the states have indicated that they accept the premise requiring equal treatment, namely same-sex marriage (1, 2, 3 and 4 above).

The same is true with campaign financing and affirmative action. I believe that the primary interest of Roberts here is to make his Court less activist (2) and more about equality of treatment (4).

I get the feeling that Roberts feels much the same way as I do about campaign finance. So long as Amendment One remains in force, individuals are entitled to have the state not interfere with their free speech. A political donation is a political statement. Any group of individuals, speaking in a corporate (i.e. as a group) sense, are also entitled to make political statements unhindered by the state. Amendment One guarantees equality of treatment, not equality of outcome. We are not born equal. Some of us are wealthier than others. That’s life. Being permitted the freedom to speak does not entitle one to the ‘freedom’ to pay for a million-dollar political TV ad.

The very fact that this is a long game means that the only person who truly knows what it is is Roberts himself. But, once again, I do believe that the NYTimes is allowing its own political bias willfully to drive its misinterpretation of what I suspect is, at one and the same time, a very simple yet a very subtle long game of Roberts.

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Carrboro, NC Police/Citizen Dialogue – A Starting Point

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I have held several conversations with three Carrboro Alderpeople about citizen design of policing in Carrboro, NC. I have reported those conversations widely, to act as a starting point for a process of citizen design, both for Carrboro, and, perhaps, for other communities in the US.

Published in: on January 10, 2015 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

US Corporations Do Have Rights

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I’m not turning into Karl Rove. Honest. But I do not understand why progressive writers I otherwise deeply respect, like #BobGeary of #TheIndependent (‘Supreme Court rulings reinforce workplace discrimination‘), have such an obsession against corporate America.

To be honest, I sense it has nothing to do with constitution, law or rights, and an awful lot to do with the fact that these folks do not like Republicans. And most large corporations are run by Republicans.

Look. I don’t much care for Republicans, either. But that does not mean that they do not have rights. And it does not mean that corporations do not have rights, too.

And I’m not talking about corporate personhood. Frankly, I have never understood the arguments trying to pretend that a corporation is a person. Of course, it isn’t. But a corporation still has rights. Because the primary Constitutional Amendment in question guarantees rights generically, not just to people.

Take a moment actually to read the text of the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Leaving aside the point about ‘Congress’ (various rulings have determined that the Amendment now applies to state legislation also), the prohibition on laws interfering with the free exercise of religion and speech does not restrict itself to individuals.

Indeed, we could have a whole separate discussion about the language later on which defines the right of people peaceably to assemble. Clearly, assemblies of people are recognized as having rights, especially when they exist to redress grievances.

Now. Progressive writers says corporations do not have the right to free speech. I say that they do. Regardless of how you define them. Because the First Amendment says so.

You might argue that a corporation cannot speak. Of course it can. It is merely a peaceable assembly of people. It makes decisions. It reports them. It issues press statements. I don’t ‘speak’ in a newspaper. Someone writes down my words.

Bob says that a corporation cannot have a political view. Of course it can. What do you think the #DemocraticParty is? Or the #NAACP? Or my very favorite grocery co-op, #WeaverStreetMarket?

Bob says that a corporation cannot have a religious view. Of course it can. What do you think the #CatholicChurch is?

Progressive writers say that political donations should be regulated. I agree. I think political spending in the US is an obscenity. But it can’t be regulated by statute. Because the First Amendment prohibits legislation interfering with political donations.

Why? Because I take the view that, in this day and age, a political donation is an expression of free speech.

Let’s deal with the low-hanging fruit first. If you have a physical disability, if you have an uncontrollable fear of public expression, can it be said that you truly have the right to speak freely?

What if the only means of expressing a political opinion is for you to donate to a cause which speaks on your behalf? Is legislation interfering with or regulating that donation not an interference with your right to free speech?

If it is, then you can’t distinguish between disabled and able-bodied. That would be discrimination. And that means any political donation is an expression of free speech.

The next point is a tad more obtuse, but I think still good. It’s the acorn in the forest argument. Back in the days which Antonin Scalia likes to inhabit, you made your speech from the back of a haywain. It didn’t require, and very often did not receive, broadcast.

In this day and age, you only truly ‘speak’ with any effect if your message is disseminated in some fashion. Which requires platform and money. If folks choose to use that platform to get their speech across, isn’t regulation of the money required for that platform an interference prohibited under the First Amendment?

If you don’t like the corporations which hold political views, religious views and make political donations you don’t like, then don’t work for them, don’t buy their products.

If they are publicly-owned corporations, with Boards of Directors and Annual Meetings, then turn up to the Meetings, vote for the Board, or even stand yourself. I do this the whole time with Weaver Street Market. As. Er. Some of you may have noticed.

But please, can we stop with this fallacious, time-consuming and sterile obsession that corporations do not have rights.? They do. If you don’t like it, step around them.

And Bob. #ThomasJefferson would not be writing dissents on the current #SupremeCourt, in my opinion. Jefferson was a rich landowner, who did not like paying taxes and who drafted a #DeclarationOfIndependence which did not ban slavery. Thomas Jefferson, at best, would today be Anthony M. Kennedy.

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 9:11 am  Leave a Comment  

The Hunt for Margaret Thatcher’s Assassin

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In November 1988, I was an ambitious young lawyer and politician in a sleepy well-heeled bedroom community to the west of London, England. Then, my boss, mentor and close friend turned up dead in a local woodland glade. No explanation. No suicide note.

The circumstances did not add up. But no-one seemed to want to find the answers. Using my forensic skills as a lawyer, I began my own investigation. Asking the right questions. In what quickly became the wrong places.

I discovered that I had stumbled on a high-level intelligence operation gone wrong. Join me as I dodge bullets, face down the CIA and British Intelligence, and play cat and mouse games all around the world with an operative of Israeli Intelligence, all in my frantic efforts to get to the truth, before the assassins get to me.

Using my natural gift for story-telling, I have written a book – a spellbinding tale of adventure, suspense and drama. An ordinary guy caught in extraordinary circumstances. On a quest for truth.

A quest which leads all the way to former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her successors. And to what may become the political scandal of the century, on both sides of the Atlantic.

And to a frightening truth about my deceased friend …

Published in: on May 12, 2014 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  

The Middle Class Is Dead

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As we approach President Obama’s Second Inauguration, why do I have this overwhelming feeling that the Middle Class is dead? In both the UK and the US. And that the major political parties in both countries are complicit?

It’s a feeling which has been nagging at me for some time now. But it began to crystallize this past week when I read a series of newspaper articles:

* We are told that the US economy is almost back to its ‘historic’ regular annual growth of 3%, with stocks about to break through to a new record. Yet, unemployment among we mere minions remains high.

* At the grocery co-op where I have now worked for seven years (silent scream), sales reach new heights, week-by-week, and talk of three new stores electrifies the air – but my annual pay raise remains a pittance.

* All around us, we are told that the union-created US Middle Class is dying. But the 1% continue to thrive.

* Daily we read of the billions of dollars in settlements that banks are having to pay in penalties for their various malfeasances leading up to, through and after the Great Banking Crash of 2008. Yet, bank stock prices shudder only a ripple. Huge bonuses are back. Dodd-Frank has no teeth. And no-one cares.

* I regularly read the culture sections of The New York Times, and various fashion and lifestyle magazines, just to see what are the trends. And what I see is fashion extolling the virtues of glamour – in the middle of a recession which still bites for ordinary working folk. Luxury cars. Property in the Hamptons, going for gazillions. Who is this aimed at? Because, for sure, it isn’t intended for me and my mates.

Then, my eye alights on a piece written by Adam Davidson in the NYTimes. Adam almost always comes up with cultural and economic analyses that start out spot-on, and then completely lose themselves in spot-off.

On this occasion, he is wondering what is causing the change in consumer buying habits. He has noticed that the predilection of the Middle Class in the Seventies and Eighties to buy in cheap and in bulk (Sam’s Club, Costco) is dwindling. To be replaced by a tendency to buy more expensive, more consumer-friendly and more specialized. He cites local and organic produce and Tide-Pods.

Right. We’re on my territory now. He has my attention. But then his reasoning goes all to heck. Adam claims that the reason is that the Middle Class, due to the recession, are still having to work long hours, and do not have time to buy in bulk any more. Nor to separate their own portions of food and detergent. So, it is worth the extra pennies to have someone else prepare the portions. And, at the same time, no-one can afford to be ill. So, we eat healthier.

Hmm.

No, Adam. Sorry mate. I know. I see it every day. I work in a store that specializes in organic and Do-It-Someone-Else portions. The folks doing the latter are not Middle Class. They are a step up. Not quite 1%. More 3-4%. Annual salaries of $200,000 – $400,000. In jobs which service the 1%. Primarily computer or web-related.

They don’t buy this stuff because they are overworked. They buy this stuff because they are nouveau riche ponces. And they are showing off. To themselves. And because they can.

Bulk-buying is dying because these new, hmm, what shall we call them, I know, Middle Upper Class. Or MUC (Muck). The new MUC wouldn’t be seen dead in Costco. Let alone Sam’s Club.

The folks who buy cheap are ordinary working folks. Because it’s all they can afford. And they don’t buy bulk, because they don’t have that much cash at any one time.

Well. Seeing as we’ve just got past the Twelve Days of Christmas, I’ll say this observation led to a personal epiphany. I’ll spare you the yelling, screaming and staining of the living room walls. And leap straight to the thoughts that followed.

And bear in mind I’m still thinking as I write. As Daniel Day-Lewis said in ‘Lincoln’ (may that terrible and contrived disaster win only Razzies) – “I’m too lazy to stop writing”:

The 1% drive the economies of the US and the UK. I’m not talking trickle-down. So keep your hair on. Bugger all trickles down. That’s the point. But what it is that the 1% does, accounts for most of the dollar amount in the economy. Frankly, in economic terms, Great Britain has been reduced to the City of London, surrounded by a rather quaint tourist attraction called ‘England.’

The same is true (at least for the moment) with the emerging economies in the rest of the world. BRIC, and the countries close behind them – Bangladesh, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, et al.

These are the folks buying the $1.2 million Bugatti hatchbacks, for the wifeys to take the kids to the faux grocery store. These are the people shopping at Bal Harbor. Buying villas in the Caribbean. And driving the fashion world’s obsession with old-style glitter and glamour.

Now, these folks need services. And those (everything from computer services to fashion to airline pilots) are provided by the new MUC. These guys and gals can’t swim with the sharks. They can’t donate millions. Or buy jetliners. But they can ape the lifestyle.

So, they buy the expensive brand fashion copies from Saks Fifth. They do Porsche, not Bugatti. And they want all that personal service that makes them feel grand.

Enter the old Middle Class. We poor buggers who are still struggling to pay off student loans. Teachers losing their jobs through budget cuts. Doctors getting hit by Medicare belt-tightening. College graduates mowing lawns to pay the bills. And some, who have accepted this might be a permanent change. And are going self-employed. Dreaming up niches to serve the new MUC. But at a much lower pay grade. Personal physical and motivational training is a favorite.

After that, what’s left? Well, the working folks. The working class. But, I hear you say, what of aspiration? What of all this talk by political parties on both sides of the Atlantic about wanting to support folks in their aspiration to work hard, play fair, pay in, get out, climb up, better life for kids, landing on Mars?

Bollocks. Not going to happen any more. And the pols don’t want it, either.

In the US, the myth is that the Middle Class there was created by the unions. Not so much in the UK. But the end result on both sides of the pond was the same. Out of the bipolar societies that existed prior to the Industrial Revolution (rich, poor, and some grasshoppers), grew a Middle Class, which was needed to provide middle management to run industries. White collar. Skilled blue collar. And the services to support them. Family GP. Family lawyer. Family banker – yes, they used to exist. Etc.

The essence of the survival of the Middle Class was the recognition that they aspired to a lifestyle working folk could not afford, ever. But they couldn’t pay for it up front in cash, as did the rich. And so developed the whole concept of pay in now-get out later services. Especially for public services, like education, pensions and now, health.

But those days are over. Forget how we got here, or why. But the 1-4% don’t need pay-in. And they don’t want to pay the taxes to give it to others. But, I hear you say, surely they want to keep the Middle Class happy, because they represent market and labor? Not no more.

The 1-4% can find both elsewhere in the world. Industry is dying in the US. It was declared rigor mortis some time ago in the UK. The 1-4% no longer need overpaid, underworked white collar or skilled blue collar.

But surely the pay-in schemes still exist? Nope. They are under daily attack from budget cuts, at both national and local level. I owe an apology to FB mate, Chris Telesca, with whom I fenced the other day about Obamacare. After which I read that, under Obamacare, insurance premiums for the self-employed and middle-level payees (the classic Middle Class) are about to go up by double digit percentages. And this wasn’t foreseen – or worse still, deliberate?

Without a doubt, the next step in ‘fiscal prudence’ will be the re-introduction of means testing. Which will almost certainly reduce the provision of pay-in services only to the very needy. In turn, bringing the old Middle Class down to the level of other working folk. Which leads me now to re-label the old Middle Class as the new Upper Working Class.

What of the unions? The folks who created and surely would now protect the US Middle Class? Well. As goes manufacturing industry, so go the unions. And unions in the US are becoming ever more irrelevant. But don’t the Democrats rely on them during Presidential Elections? Nope. Not any more. Two successful election efforts by Barack Obama put paid to that myth.

But hang on, what about all those political parties (cf. British Tory rebrand) yelling about Jobs, Family and Education for the Middle Class? Oh yes. You can have a college education. But unless you intend to sell out to MUC (at which point law firms, investment bankers et al will happily pay off your loan as a golden ‘hey there’), then you’re stuck in penury for most of the rest of your working life.

Jobs? Why would any government spend money from the dwindling public piggy bank to create uncompetitive jobs? When they can get election cash from the 1% in return for tax breaks to allow the 1% to export jobs to Myanmar?

Family? Ha. Take a good long look at how benefit reform is helping Middle Class families in the UK. For sure (and I applaud it), there may be better and more sensible coverage for the disadvantaged, without the welfare trap. But the Middle Class are getting razed.

Their ‘benefits’ are being taken away, one-by-one. Child benefit has already gone. And in the past few months, a new scheme began, under which every single employee is having to fork out a monthly amount for their own private pay-in pension plan, to supplement the state pension.

Expect this formula to become the template for benefit ‘reform’ in the US.

Ah ha. I hear you say. But what about the Democrats? They’ll fight for the Middle Class. They will continue to work to keep in place a system that allows social mobility from working to Middle Class. No, they won’t.

First, the money isn’t there. Secondly, the votes aren’t there. We just had the most polarized Presidential and Congressional Elections since 1864. All the talk was of the 1% buying the result. Well, that didn’t happen. But what did happen was that, against the flow, Romney got 47% of the vote. And Congress remained Republican – and Tea Party. This wasn’t the work of the 1%. This was the work of the 3-4%, silently, but determinedly, voting to maintain their newfound lifestyle.

The new MUC, risen from working folks and the old Middle Class, safe in their gated communities, educated but not worldly-wise, nouveau riche but not noblesse oblige. Guilty. Self-contained. Selfish. They don’t want to share. They don’t like giving back. They don’t like taxes. And they don’t give a fig for maintaining the Middle Class, or offering a leg-up for the working folks. And here’s the rub. They will only become more potent as a voting base.

I don’t care about Dems saying that Hispanics and Asians are natural Dem voters. No, they aren’t. Everything about their culture will have them working their asses off to see their offspring aspire to MUC. If you want to know what America might look like with third generation Hispanics and Asians, try Singapore, South Korea or Texas.

The Dems are going to be fighting hard to maintain any voting base they can find. And there is the dagger in the heart of the Middle Class. Why would Dems want to support and extend a new reality that has folks aspire to leave the working ranks and join the Republican MUC?

It is my view that you will see Dems increasingly working towards keeping their voters as a client base. As the British Labour Party did in the Seventies and Eighties. Oh. It will be wrapped up all pretty in language about re-discovering our purpose. Putting working folks first. But what will transpire is a Democratic Party focusing its advocacy on directing the reduced public purse towards those same working folk, and away from the Upper Working Class.

If you allow a situation where the UWC can no longer receive benefit or the leg-up needed to meet aspiration, they slip back down the salary scale, to find themselves shopping at Dollar General, with every other working person. And that’s where the Dems of the future will want to keep them.

So. Even though we may have a short-lived hiccup of Republican hand-wringing. Which we already have had in the UK. But Dave Cameron chose hugging a hoodie over wringing his hands. We will move to a bi-polar political situation where a right-wing, tax-hating Republican Party (or British Conservative Party) will regularly face off against a newly-energized, worker-loving/trapping social Democratic Party (or British Labour Party of old). And the Middle Class will be a footnote in the history books.

So. What to do? For myself. I learn from Occupy. Or my lesson with Occupy. Forget the system. Don’t waste time trying to bring it down. Who cares? Become self-sufficient, and live outside of the system as much as possible. Oh. And hope that your self-penned pop song does viral …

Published in: on January 18, 2013 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  

Afghani Body Parts Scandal — When Life (and Death) Imitate Your Remote Control


Do we really care that US soldiers paraded in front of cameras with body parts of slain Afghans? Or do we affect our over-inflated anger, disbelief and horror for much the same reason? To see how many ‘Likes’ we can elicit, before the world changes its channel?

Politicians talk of a loss of honor. But the honor was lost when those same politicians voted for a war, in the certain belief that they, and their sons and daughters, would never have to fight it.

When and where did it all go wrong? When we first realized it was not enough to survive? When we determined we wanted also to acquire? Even that which was unnecessary? And especially if it belonged to someone else?

When we knew that we needed strength to accumulate? And more specifically, that we needed to be stronger than our neighbor, in order to possess what was his?

When brute strength gave way to politics. Supplanted by diplomacy. Aided once more by military power. Supported by lies. Spread by media. Which then wilted in the face of the online revolution. When all could be achieved at ten times the pace. And more particularly, needed to be achieved at that pace, lest the electorate’s attention be lost.

Whom do we blame? The soldiers, who fight a fight we’re too cowardly to fight? The office-holders, who serve because we’re too busy to vote? The corporations who buy the elected, with the money we spend on their goods?

Or do we point the finger at ourselves? We, who decry the massacre, yet trawl the web to find the pictures? We, who demand gas for our cars, yet protest the wars which secure the crude oil? We, who stand idly by while state legislators gut our education system, so that the young men serving in Afghanistan never have the chance to learn about My Lai?

After all, isn’t that why we have computers? To keep the pain of the world at arm’s length? Heaven forbid we should have to witness the horrors required to bring us the goodies. We’d much rather just have fun poked at them in a Jon Stewart skit. Treat life as if it’s just one gigantic video game.

We’ve been telling ourselves for 40 years now that we can do what we want, to whom we want, how we want, without any concern for the repercussions, because our kids will pay the price for us. Why should we be surprised that our kids are now taking their cue from us – all over primetime?

When we are truly ready to lower our expectations, to stop mindless consuming and to halt waste. To live only on what we need. And to accept responsibility for the consequences of what we do and say.

When we finally wake up and come to the realization that our very existence does not depend on a continuous diet of virtual sensory stimulation. Then and only then may we begin to build a society where massacres do not occur. Do not go viral. And do not get forgotten the moment we hit the remote control …

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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