A Good Round Number

Over the past three years or so I have posted some 650 new essays to this blog, a few of which I’m proud, many of which have pleased  me, all of which say something true. But it has been a grueling task that pays nothing, and is pretty sparse in rewards of any kind.

I find it is time for a hiatus, some time off to regain a measure of balance, some perspective on the world. Accordingly, this is the last posting for Class War in America for a while. How long that might be I can’t predict. What I do know is that I continue to care deeply about what happens to our beautiful blue planet, and particularly in our own little corner of it.

Best wishes to all, and I hope to be back with you before long.

Published in: on 2015/08/21 at 7:29 pm  Comments (2)  

The Only Two Things That Matter

Originally posted on Class War In America:

There’s one from the manufactured world, and one from the natural world. Both of them will profoundly disrupt everything we do on our beautiful blue planet.

We’ve known about both of these things for a long time, but we either haven’t taken them seriously or we don’t believe they are real. We are not addressing either of them in any meaningful way.

The first is the computer-robotization of everything we do.

You’ve already seen pictures of the robots that make everything from cars to watches to cheeseburgers. In every case, these robots have replaced real live workers, lots of them, and only a few of those workers still work where the robots moved in. The rest may or may not have jobs.

But you may not be as aware that these robots—by which we also mean computers—have also taken over millions of other jobs, even high-salary jobs on Wall Street. Not…

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Published in: on 2015/08/18 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Justice in America

The entire purpose of government is justice. That’s what I think. Government falls under numerous headings, of course, but in every case, an action that does not lead toward justice leads toward injustice.

The level of economic equality, as measured by the Gini Index, provides an approximation of justice.

We are the richest country the world has ever known, yet ours is among the least equal of the 34 OECD countries, which means we are also among the OECD countries with the least justice. Our Gini score has been steadily worsening for half a century. The reason is that the people with the most money and power are trying to make it that way.

A government action
that does not lead toward justice
leads toward injustice.

We’d like it if racism was something in the past. It ain’t so.

Every two or three days violent, racist white cops murder another unarmed black person. Every day, people, especially black and Latino men, begin long prison sentences for something that is treated very differently in the civilized countries. Criminal justice in the US is a growth industry. For-profit prisons that several states set up because they had too many prisoners have sued because the state wasn’t sending them enough prisoners to be profitable.

We spend more on prisons than on education. Sentences long ago passed the point where their duration could be justified. Most of us know that our percentage of imprisoned people is greater than the number imprisoned by the Soviets or by South Africa at the height of their abusive reigns. Many young people are imprisoned for life without parole for relatively minor property crimes, or for being addicted, which should be treated as an illness. A fourth or more of the imprisoned are mentally ill, and many of them get no treatment at all, thus virtually guaranteeing that they will return to prison not long after they are released. Most of us know that an unacceptably large percentage of black males will be jailed at some time in their lives, often unjustly. Even more will find themselves trapped into dealing with the criminal system in some way, often for something inconsequential such as a traffic stop.

Criminal justice in the US is a growth industry.

African-Americans have been telling us all along that racism has never gone away, that it remains rampant, only slightly improved from the violent days of Jim Crow in the Old South. Recent events, especially in the South, have proven their point. The system is very, very sick. White racists are everywhere, including Congress.

Obviously, major changes must be made to the legal system. Fortunately, President Obama is pressing for some of them, but much more than a few changes to the criminal justice system are needed. Major changes in social justice and equality are also needed.

Changes in criminal justice
are secondary to social justice.

For a long time I have believed that changes in criminal justice, while important, are secondary to social justice. Property crimes are without question more common where lack of opportunity kills hope for a better life. Improvements in the criminal justice system cannot make up for the economic inequality that has grown like a societal cancer for half a century. The minimum wage, which millions are forced to endure, has created rising poverty, with no way to escape, even by working two jobs.

Obviously, all these things need immediate attention and reform. Nobody should lose their life because a white cop gets a hair up his ass over skin color. Nobody working full time should be trapped in deep poverty.

The Only Two Things That Matter

There’s one from the manufactured world, and one from the natural world. Both of them will profoundly disrupt everything we do on our beautiful blue planet.

We’ve known about both of these things for a long time, but we either haven’t taken them seriously or we don’t believe they are real. We are not addressing either of them in any meaningful way.

The first is the computer-robotization of everything we do.

You’ve already seen pictures of the robots that make everything from cars to watches to cheeseburgers. In every case, these robots have replaced real live workers, lots of them, and only a few of those workers still work where the robots moved in. The rest may or may not have jobs.

But you may not be as aware that these robots—by which we also mean computers—have also taken over millions of other jobs, even high-salary jobs on Wall Street. Not even top executives are safe, because newer algorithms can make executive analyses. In some cases all the top executives have been replaced by a small staff of seriously computer-wise Indians, who do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost.

Computer-robots
have already taken over
many thousands of jobs.

Check out Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots. Ford will convince you that unless we make some radical changes—namely, creating conditions so the bulk of the population will get some benefit from the money gained by machines owned by billionaires—we face a grim future where no one has work or money except the billionaires. It’s a very serious situation, but it’s not hopeless, as long as we don’t try putting off for a half-century what must be done today. Unfortunately, it may result in a pitched battle against billionaires who can’t imagine surrendering a penny to the rest of us.

The situation with climate change is completely different. It’s already far too late to avoid climate change. Now we can only try to deal with the emergency.

It’s already far to late too avoid climate change.

Climate change has been in the news for so long we’re all tired of hearing about it. It’s boring, and the conservatives whose income would be most affected by our doing something serious enough to actually make a difference can’t bring themselves to understand that their party is over. But it is, and no one will be exempt from paying for the festivities, even those who didn’t get to go.

The subject doesn’t bore scientists; it scares the hell out of them. They understand the consequences of our failure to respond with even a small fraction of what we must do. In fact, they understand that it’s too late, far too late to prevent global warming and climate change. If we were able to stop pumping all carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in an instant, the temperature would continue to rise for decades. It might take Earth 100,000 years to get back to “normal”, as we think of it.

Climate change
scares the hell out of scientists.

We have already set in motion several forces that will continue to worsen for the foreseeable future. Among them are the progressive melting of polar ice, accelerating melting of every glacier on Earth, the melting of ancient permafrost that releases carbon dioxide and methane—which is five times as damaging as carbon dioxide—and the melting of huge masses of ice on Greenland and Antarctica. All of these things are susceptible to a tipping point, after which they cannot be reversed. We may already have passed some of them.

The latest estimates are for three meters of ocean rise in a mere 50 years. That’s the height of a basketball rim.

This summer we’ve had temperatures that challenge human ability to survive. Wet-bulb temperature—which tells us what it feels like—in the eastern Mediterranean, Pakistan, and parts of India have reached as high as 165ºF. Like simmering in a slow cooker. There were thousands of deaths, just like in Europe a few years ago. Every summer will be like that, or worse.

This year we had thousands of deaths
from low-oven temperatures.

California is experiencing record temperatures and record dryness. In San Francisco, even surfers in the usually cold ocean have told us the water is abnormally hot. There is good reason to think that the fourth year of drought is not actually a temporary drought, but a return to the historic arid norm. Read The West Without Water, by Ingram and Malamud-Roam, to learn about the science behind this.

No part of our world will be unaffected, and most effects will be drastic. Ocean acidity is rising rapidly, affecting every living creature in the sea. Oyster harvests are sharply down because the acidity prevents them from making strong shells, and they will probably never recover. Rising ocean temperature has already had drastic effect on coral reefs worldwide. It will take only an ocean rise of a couple of feet to put most of Florida under water, and hundreds of millions of shore dwellers around the world will have to move to higher ground. High tides already come up from city sewers, put streets under water, and slosh over sea walls. Now, imagine what three meters will be like.

No part of our world will be unaffected,
and most effects will be drastic.

These are not things that can be fixed by new technology, or another agriculture miracle. The planet is changing, irrevocably. Now we have to learn how to deal with it, and it’s much more serious than most people seem to think.

This is not a political issue. Climate change deniers in Congress—every one a Republican—are utter fools who have been risking the lives and wellbeing of every living thing on the planet for decades. The worst of them is Senator James Inhofe, a Republican appointee who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, a position where he has been able to kill all reasonable action for years. It’s hard to say which is worse, that such people are beholden to the promise of money from planet-killing activities like coal mining, or that they are too stupid to understand science.

Sorry, Folks. You’ve All Been Replaced by a Robot.

Replacement of workers by technology isn’t new. The original Luddites destroyed the mechanized looms that replaced their labor. But the new looms came anyway. New technology has always won out in the long run.

That has caused crises among those displaced, but never the downfall of society, because when new technology came, it also brought improved productivity and lower unit costs, as well as new kinds of jobs. In the longer run, everyone was better off.

Until now.

Now we have run up against the brick wall that some were warning about long ago. In 1949 the mathematician Norbert Weiner wrote that the shift to machine labor would create an “industrial revolution of unmitigated cruelty”, when human factory workers would “not be worth hiring at any price”. Alas, that time is upon us, and not just for factory workers.

Human workers will not be
worth hiring at any price.

The process of mechanization, especially in recent decades, has accelerated astonishingly, as more and more new robots and computers have been able to do ever more kinds of work. They are learning how to perform the most complex actions that humans can do, and teaching other robots and machines how to do it.

Technology that is brand new may well be obsolete in just a few years, replaced by machines with even more astonishing abilities. Increasing numbers of workers, even highly skilled workers, are made redundant. So many, in fact, that great danger waits in the not-distant future, when robots do almost all of the jobs that formerly required workers. Not just unskilled workers, but highly skilled workers, and even professionals like lawyers, teachers, doctors, and top level managers. Writers. Composers.

Here is the difficulty: This new technology, as always, is owned by the rich. The profit from these machines goes entirely to these same people, who are unlikely to willingly surrender even a small part of the wealth their machines create, not even to taxes. Almost all of the wealth generated will go to a very small cadre of the extremely rich. Virtually nothing will be available for the great majority of the population, who will have no job and no income. Not only will the rich have virtually all the money, they will want to keep it all.

Robots will do the jobs
that highly skilled and
white collar workers did.

Unless something changes, the inevitable outcome will be an increasingly unequal society and ever greater poverty, because the rich already control the political process. The very rich owners of new technology will accumulate ever increasing wealth, and everyone else will lose wealth until they are very poor. More and more, the greatest wealth will become inherited wealth, even further insulated from the rest of us. More and more, society will come to resemble the feudal system of centuries past, with a few extremely rich and the vast majority very poor.

What will be the value of education when it no longer is related to occupation or income? When no one can afford it? I and many others have said that we place far too much emphasis on education as occupational training. When education can no longer be valued as occupational training, will people value it at all? Why spend scarce money on school when it will do you no good financially? The rich already manipulate the ignorant. What will happen when the whole populace is ignorant?

Will people value education at all?

Republicans have been trying to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, and other essential programs for ages. Without a population to pay into them they will get their wish, by default. What will result is obvious: The aged will be thrust into deep poverty. Even minor illnesses will carry people away, as they did in the 19th century, before vaccination and modern medicines were available. Republicans believe only the poor and the black will suffer these fates, but Republican white collar jobs will vanish like all the others.

If we are not to have this radical inequality and mass poverty, we must begin now to find ways for the mechanized bounty to be more equitably shared. But if more than half of the country has no income at all it’s obvious that the money must come from where the money is, the deep pockets of the ultra-rich, whose taxes have been falling for half a century because they control Congress. Corporations too have found ways to avoid their public responsibilities, many paying no tax at all. It’s obvious that neither the rich nor corporations will volunteer to part with even a little bit of their money, even to save their country or their fellow humans. Since they also control the political process, the question becomes, What conditions short of revolution will make it possible for the American people to live a decent life?

American Slavery Today

If you are white, chances are you were clueless about what remains from slave days until the advent of the smart phone. Not so if you are black.

Every two or three days the police brutalize or kill some unarmed black person. There is almost never any consequence for these crimes. How different is that from KKK lynching? Likewise, every few days someone is “found dead” in a jail cell, often after being denied medical care. This has been going on for a long time.

Toni Morrison says about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, “This is required reading”. It should be required reading for whites. Unfortunately, the whites who most need to read it are the kind who read nothing. For blacks, they already know, but Coates is a writer of rare gifts, so it’s still required reading.

If you are a black American, fear never leaves you. Virtually every black man has been stopped by the police, and when that happens, he cannot be certain he will survive. We whites don’t live with that kind of visceral fear.

If you are a black American,
fear never leaves you.

Young African-Americans learn early to tread a path that we privileged whites never hear about. A path and a territory in their own neighborhood that they must avoid at certain times, or all times, on pain of a beating—or death, from the local toughs. The police are worse, because they automatically assume guilt about something, and if that something isn’t readily apparent, well, they can always make something up. We read about it every day, now that cameras are everywhere, and police lies aren’t so easily hidden.

Who a black person really is, what he has done with his life so far—whether he has earned advanced degrees, whether his children are preparing for college, whether his spouse is a certified professional—is irrelevant when he is picked up for some invented excuse. An African-American may be arrested at any time for no reason whatever. African-Americans—men, women, children—are beaten by the police every day, and it doesn’t matter their age or sex, or what they are doing at the moment. Even if they are handcuffed and manacled, they may be hit with clubs, their hair pulled, they may be punched, kicked, crushed, tased, hit with pepper spray… There is no excuse for mistreating even the nastiest person this way. Once they are under control they are under control.

An African-American may be arrested
at any time for no reason whatever.

Even if a detained man is released in the morning, he may have a date with the court. Even if the charges are to be dismissed, as many are, he must interrupt his life to make that date. If he goes to that court date, he might be fired for being absent from his job. If he doesn’t, there will be a bench warrant for his arrest, and often a fine. If he falls into the police dragnet again, he will be arrested for that outstanding warrant, and the process will repeat. Such warrants tend to multiply, along with the fines, which can become unpayable.

It’s hard for us whites to understand how dangerous daily life can be, because we have to really screw up before the cops take an interest in us. Even when they do, the fact that we are white will make them treat us with respect, whereas if there were only the difference of darker skin color, they might kill us.

It’s hard for us whites to understand
how dangerous daily life can be.

We all thought it was better now. It’s not, and African-Americans have been telling us this all along. Southern yahoos run around in their gun-racked pickups, waving flags to accentuate their racism and their ignorance, threatening everyone nearby. They disrupt a small black child’s birthday party, threatening violence against “niggers”. Grown men dump beer on the heads of First Nations children at a baseball game, call out abusive names, and get away with it. 

Can’t we do better?

Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation 152 years ago still hasn’t made full citizens of the sons and daughters of slaves. Nor has it done away with the overseers and their whips. We live in a police state. Nobody is safe, and if you are black it’s still a world of deep fear.

Despite Lincoln, the manacles of slavery have not left us, and it is still as ugly as ever.

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