Death in the Sea, Life in the Fishtank

Most of the great fisheries of the world face disaster these days. Huge Asian trawlers drag the bottom, destroying everything. The fish they can’t use they throw back, dead, along with sea mammals such as dolphins. Sea creatures large and small frequently die when they are caught up in lost nets and lines. The harvest of fish all over the globe is declining from overfishing and environmental decline.

The increasing acidification of the seas gives shellfish thin and weak shells. Same with crabs and lobsters. Coral thousands of years old is dying and turning white as the water warms. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is dead. Bigger fish have dangerous levels of mercury and lead in their flesh. Fish in the Pacific are showing up with cancerous tumors, a consequence of the radioactivity still leaking from Japan’s Fukushima reactors destroyed by earthquake. Fish for sushi increasingly have tapeworms and other undesirable creatures growing in their flesh.

The picture is not good, and greater consumption of fish has been recommended in the recent past in place of our unhealthy overconsumption of beef.

But fish farming using up to date technology offers the US a golden opportunity to provide first-class food locally raised in tanks.

Fish farming earned a bad reputation from filthy Asian methods, in which the fish lived in disgustingly dirty river water, and were fed all sorts of things, including human feces. These farms are packed one next to another, with very little water current and no attempt at cleaning the water.

But Norway has shown us how to raise excellent, healthy, and very tasty fish. Whole Foods has sold Norwegian farm-grown salmon, which is excellent, for several years. There is no reason the same techniques should not be used by American seafood farmers. Fish farming is an ideal industry for worker ownership because initial costs are relatively low, and can be sited in many places. But the industry needs help getting established.

Fish farming could be established in areas of the country, like the South, that have had persistent conditions of poverty and unemployment. The government could assist these efforts at relatively low cost. Minor, in fact, compared to most government investments. Petroleum, for example, has had unnecessary subsidy costing billions for many decades. The infrastructure for fish farming is far less expensive than most city buildings, more along the line of metal farm outbuildings.

That’s not the only thing needed, of course. Besides the solid infrastructure for farming of fish and other seafood, an industry to provide food for these fish is needed, as well as systems of transportation to market. Live fish could be sent to local markets in far greater quantity than at present.

Saltwater fish could be raised in interior areas, with some changes, mostly the provision of sea water. (I assume that sea water has ingredients that are necessary and not found in ordinary salt.) Since these modern methods purify the water, only small quantities of sea water would need to be regularly replaced. The middle of the country could have healthy and nutritious fresh saltwater fish without the high cost of long-distance shipping.

Likewise, freshwater fish could be raised in seacoast areas as well, areas that typically have ocean fish, but much less freshwater fish. When both are more evenly distributed, transportation costs will fall, and superior saltwater and freshwater fish could be supplied to everyone at a reasonable price.

With a bit of American ingenuity, I’m sure there are a number of other industries that could be similarly established as worker-owned entities that provide their products to local markets with low transportations costs. The floor is now open for nominations.

The Self-Destructive Folly of Trump’s Hatreds

Trump campaigned on a policy of hate, and nearly every picture we see of him shows a contorted face of hatred. He hates virtually every human group that is not white, male, and rich.

He said that all Mexicans are rapists and criminals. All Muslims are terrorists. All blacks are lazy. Women should stay home and raise children. And so on. All the standard prejudices of our times, none of which is true.

The tragedy is that poorly educated whites, those already convinced that they are naturally superior, accepted what he said in spite of its obviously self-contradictory nature, as Trump lied and lied and lied. Even now, some 70% of what he says consists of lies. Lies and contradictions.

He made hatred acceptable. Shortly after his inauguration there were dozens of acts of violence against individual persons and groups he has as much as said it was OK to kill. And some did kill.

Hatred is not a good foundation on which to build a country. Germany can vouch for that.

But the lesson is lost on Republicans. If it weren’t, Trump and his billionaire toadies bent on destroying the promise of our country would have been tossed out by now. Instead, Congress passes one bill after another designed to punish people, always the poor, people of color, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and women. The very people who should be protected the same way everyone else is. And Trump, in the absence of understanding what he is supposed to be doing, has signed endless executive orders designed only to hurt people.

Republicans are always against the poor because they believe poverty is always the result of “bad choices”. But here’s something: Five million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000. Lost to the changing nature of work, and shipped offshore to very poor countries with very low wages. Many of the US Americans who lost their jobs have not been able to find another, and are in great financial difficulty, with very little income. Now, Republicans, since these people worked faithfully and well for decades, who is it who made these “bad choices”? The unemployed workers who can find no work at any pay? More likely it’s the Republicans in Congress who have acted in favor of wealthy capitalists, while the fortunes of the faithful employees who came to work every day went down and down.

There are many things that Congress could have done to improve conditions for workers. The work week could have been shortened, which would have provided work for more people. The minimum wage could have been raised to the point where no one working full time would need three jobs. A minimum income law could have been passed, so the people who could find no work at least had food and shelter, and we wouldn’t find them living under the bridge in tents. National health care could have been established, health care like every modern nation has except ours. Ways could have been found to assist companies that make goods here. Laws could have been passed to prevent corporations from hiding their profit.

All these possibilities were ignored, and many laws were passed to boost the income of the very wealthy, so that the very wealthy could become yet more wealthy at the expense of the poor. Income that cannot even be spent, it is so great.

What we have ended up with is a bunch of very rich people dictating what the rest of us are supposed to feel and believe about our lack of equality. And they think only rich white males are worth bothering with. All the rest—the poor, the people of color, the Jews, the Muslims, the ill and infirm, the aged, the children, the women—they are expected to fend for themselves, because we all know they are lazy and will not work. That’s why minimum wage doesn’t matter, why we don’t need medical care, why only schools for the rich are important, why immigration must be ended, why Muslims and Mexicans must be deported, on and on.

The Republican agenda is to create the limits that support these beliefs, to keep the poor so poor that they cannot rise. The tragedy is that Trump convinced so many poor whites that they were superior, and should therefore vote for him. They did vote for him, and immediately launched acts of hatred against his approved villains. What they didn’t understand, though, was that Trump and the Republicans thought that they were no more worthy than the official list of villains. They soon began to feel the sting of his betrayal.

This is not the way to run a country in which equality is the benchmark by which we will be judged. Equality of opportunity, no matter who your parents are, what color or religion you are, no matter what you do for a living. Our foundational principles are falling away at an alarming rate. Obviously, Trump and the Republicans think this is what should happen.

Two New Tools For Cops

Have you ever seen a video of a cop trying to handcuff a big guy who is face down and really doesn’t want to be cuffed? The crook wants his palms down so he can push up and fight, the cop wants his arm down, palm up, so he can’t. The cop gets his arm down, the guy gets it back up. The cop gets it down and tries to get a cuff on him. The guy doesn’t allow it, and so on and on. Eventually he gets a cuff on, and then there’s the other side.

This goes on for quite some time, often accompanied by several Taser shocks, until finally, at long last, the guy is cuffed behind his back, and the arrest can proceed. The cop is furious and exhausted.

Unfortunately, the guy sometimes gets shot or strangled in the process.

Here’s an idea for redesigned cuffs for wrists and ankles that largely does away with all the wrestling. The ankle cuffs may become the preferred ones.

Both upper and lower cuffs are constructed the same way. Both are constructed of tough but flexible material such as plastic or nylon. Their operation is similar to standard handcuffs: they may be tightened by squeezing the ratchets, but may only be released with a key.

These cuffs are different from standard cuffs in that they are connected by a tough tape whose end is attached to one cuff, passing through a bracket in the second, and ending at a handle that is used to pull the cuffs together. The tape is then locked to the second cuff with a ratchet device that is only unlocked with a key.

The tape between the handcuffs may be about four feet long, ending in a strong handle. The ankle cuff tape may be six feet or so, ending with the same handle. The ankle cuffs may prove more useful against a resisting prisoner because the ankles are in a weaker position when face down. In fact, if an ankle is raised, the leg is in its weakest position and is easily cuffed. The long tape puts the prisoner out of reach of the arresting officers once it’s on.

In either case, once the cuffs are tightened and pulled together the prisoner is easily controlled. The prisoner can be released and the arresting officers can back away. With ankle cuffs, the prisoner can roll over and sit up, but if he attempts to stand a quick jerk on the tape will seat him again. He can only get relief by accepting hand cuffs, so that the ankles can be released.

With the handcuffs on, the prisoner can easily be jerked into submission if need be with the handle at the end of the tape. It isn’t necessary to put hands on the prisoner except to prevent him from purposely injuring his head on the police car.

The cuffs construction, with a long tape connecting them, will easily overcome most of the resistance a prisoner might muster, and the safety of the arresting officers is more easily maintained.

Published in: on 2016/09/08 at 12:12 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Why Aren’t We Talking About the Work Week?

Job flight to poor countries isn’t the only reason so many of our citizens can’t find work. The major reason, aside from greed, is modernization, which has been ongoing since Luddites broke up the new weaving machines with sledgehammers in 1811. Today it’s crucial.

Studies of the longterm unemployed poor find their numbers steadily increasing, along with homelessness, partly because their jobs shipped out, but also because computers and robots do so much of the work today that millions of jobs no longer exist. It’s not just the poor who are affected. Even top corporate officers can lose out.

If you look at the neighborhood corners in most cities you will find small stores every block or two. These were mom and pop stores, mostly empty now. Back in the day, these stores had two employee-owners, mom and pop, and they often lived upstairs, or in rooms at the back.

The store might be open 10 hours a day, six days a week. Customers came in and said what they wanted, mom or pop got it, weighed it, put it in paper and tied up the package with string. When corporate stores came along mid-century the work week dropped to 40 hours, although the stores were open longer than the mom and pop stores, and packages tied with string went away. Mom and pop could not match the hours those stores were open.

Many of the jobs that made a modern store efficient at midcentury have been replaced by software. A store employing 100 people might now need, say, 75, and the other 25 jobs vaporized.

In essence, counting those already unemployed, the de facto work week has dropped to 20 hours. But instead of Congress recognizing that and modernizing, the 40-hour week drags on, exacerbating unemployment. Almost no one is talking about the de facto 20-hour work week. It’s de facto because the total work hours needed divided by the number of people needing work comes to 20 hours or so. That’s just my guess, but it agrees with what John Maynard Keynes predicted would happen back in the 1930s.

It would be unwise to fight job flight by disallowing job migration to poor countries. There are ways to lure jobs back to the US, with new Government terms that would be attractive. Among these might be requiring certain products to be modernized, much the way organic foods are certified. Manufactured goods might be required to have enhanced safety and raw material requirements. (Remember the Chinese baby formula that killed babies?) Such requirements would result in safer and healthier products for US Americans, and would boost employment in the US.

Moving corporate headquarters to Ireland or some other place for tax purposes should result in a requirement that all such foreign corporations pay a duty for their products sold in the US, as well as infrastructure fees. National health care insurance would provide a major advantage to US businesses that compete with places that have national care. Corporations with overseas headquarters should not be allowed to use US national health care. Foreign corporations are already disallowed from exercising political influence in the US. But they do, and ending this lobbying would eliminate a big source of corruption and reduce purchase of legislation by the super-rich.

But the best thing we could do is to make the work week 20 hours. If we did, we would automatically have full employment. In fact we would have greater than full employment, because some people who have been so discouraged they dropped out of the labor market would return. How would we make 20 hours the official work week? Easy, we would require every hour above 20 to be paid at 150% of the employee’s wage, and the same for a secondary job.

To understand how this works, imagine what would happen if we established a longer work week. If the present 40-hour week were increased to 60 hours, each two employees would do the work of three people. That third person, now unemployed, would increase unemployment by 50%. The 20-hour work week takes us the opposite direction; that’s why it makes sense.

A problem immediately arises when the work week is shortened: what should the wage be? We need to preserve some sort of living wage, but can’t suddenly double what people make so they can work half as much. It’s not a new problem. Before the 40-hour week there was the 60-hour week, yet somehow we got the 40-hour week. The 20-hour week is also doable. Failure to adopt it will lead to even more inequality and poverty.

A partial solution comes from the realization that a satisfactory life isn’t entirely dependent on how many dollars we bring home. There is a growing realization that super-sized McMansions, pricey cars, and all the other elements of conspicuous consumption don’t really improve our lives. In addition, we don’t typically make use of our local community. For example, our local “Next Door” internet group regularly features a request to borrow something they will use only once, or wanting to give away something useful.

We already have many ways to assist with housing costs, including cooperative housing, city-financed homes, veteran benefits, and more. National health insurance would cut health costs in half, which is like a 7% raise in pay. Municipal transportation is improving, which has already made a second car unnecessary for many. Self-driving taxis may soon make any car unnecessary. Various other community efforts can potentially reduce other common costs.

A satisfying life is what’s important, and great wealth is literally irrelevant to that. But right now it is the very wealthy who control government, and they do it for their own endlessly increasing wealth, totally useless greed that has the effect of reducing everybody else’s wealth. This should not be the purpose of government in a democracy.

Dying For Lack of Opportunity

The death rate for white males in their middle years has skyrocketed because of suicide and drug overdose. These are people who have been denied the American dream. Their jobs disappeared, along with their house, their medical care, and their retirement. Their very lives.

People who have faced such depressing conditions become depressed, naturally. The longer it goes on, the more likely they will become dependent on alcohol or the other dangerous drugs that are so readily available everywhere. The longer they are depressed, the more likely it is they will kill themselves.

When these conditions affect the black population, self-righteous whites put on their church pins and tell them to man up. Get a job. They are not saying those things now, because the ones affected are white. There are no jobs of any kind in lots of places, other than a few part-time minimum wage gigs. Nothing you can live on.

Where did the jobs go? Many were shipped overseas by corporate bosses, where desperate people are forced to work under conditions that would be illegal here, and for pennies on the dollar.

But the other condition, which nobody is talking about, is the absorption of jobs by new robots and computers that aren’t paid a wage. We can’t even see this huge dilemma, because its onset has been insidious over decades, and it’s ubiquitous.

What began as a novelty is now the norm. Take the job of inventory of stock. Today’s young adults were not around to know that there were businesses whose sole purpose was to take inventory for companies that hired them. They came to work after a store was closed for the day, and a large crew counted everything in the store and wrote it down on paper. Later, the managers tallied these counts and presented their report to the store.

All those jobs are gone. Inventory today is continuous and invisible. Each new item is scanned into the computer, and each sold item is automatically deducted from the inventory count. If an item becomes depleted, the computer tells when to order more, or does it automatically. There’s no such thing as an independent inventory, and computers perform dozens of other business services that used to require employees.

Likewise, robots have taken over large parts of manufacturing in every realm. Even things like certain types of surgery are on the verge of being performed by robots, which are much faster than human surgeons.

This modernization came on over a long period, and the evidence is scattered, so it’s not easily seen with casual observation. But it’s everywhere.

Perhaps skilled laborers are the most heavily affected by this modernization, but in actuality, new machines are absorbing jobs at every level from unskilled labor to CEO, and some of the displaced from every kind of work end up on the street, helpless before the new reality.

This, I believe, is one of the reasons that homelessness is not being solved. Every year there are additional people forced from their homes and their former lives into the streets, into tents.

My belief is that there are two things we could do to help solve the condition. First, shorten the official work week to 30 hours or less, which would mean more people working. This is not a radical change. There were regular reductions of the 72-hour work week before we reached 40 hours. Second, require all employers to pay a living wage for 30 hours of work. High enough earnings to supply everything necessary. Living wage does not hurt business because employees must spend what they earn to survive, which is fed directly into the local economy.

The federal government could greatly help the nation’s people by passing several wise laws, such as improved Social Security and initiation of national health care, like every other nation did long ago. Note, however, that this modernization would make the insurance industry largely redundant. It’s also unlikely to happen any time soon because conservatives have labelled it “Socialism”, which they associate with Karl Marx and the USSR, whereas the proper model is the modern nations of Europe and Asia.

Until the cause of white decline is recognized, accepted, and conditions changed, we can expect more of the same: substance abuse, overdose, and suicide. It won’t go away by itself.

A Robot Will Replace You

In San Francisco a tent city lines the sidewalks under a central highway overpass. There are well over a hundred tents.

tents1  tents2

Who are the people populating these edges of society? Why don’t they just get a job?

An interview with one of them appeared in the SF Chronicle recently. Turns out he’s a middle-aged energy engineer who was in college with Mayor Ed Lee, and is well remembered and liked by Ed and by people at his former employers’ places. He lives in a tent now. And he says he knows several others with such talents now living in similar situations, accomplished, educated people whom society no longer needs.

Some tent dwellers are our best citizens.

I personally know young adults who graduated from college a few years ago, with high grades and marketable skills. You probably do too. They and many others like them are living with their parents, often in the same room they had in high school. They probably have been looking for work for several years. They may have found a bit of temporary work, sometimes in their own field, more often not. If it weren’t for their parents, they would be homeless, because they have no income.

After the crash at the end of the Bush years, large numbers of productive people in their fifties were suddenly without work, and before long without the homes they had expected to retire in. Soon they found their savings gone, their health insurance gone, their careers gone, “retirement” approaching, and they were living in a relative’s basement. All of them had been valued, productive workers.

These are not people from the margins, druggies who made bad choices. These are some of our best citizens. They are victims of the robot revolution. They don’t attract much attention now, but will soon become too numerous and obvious to ignore.

We are not prepared.

Martin Ford documents this trend in The Rise of the Robots. By “robots” he means the machines and computers whose inexorable growth and continual improvement has allowed them to replace increasing numbers of human workers of all sorts, leaving the workers with no place to go. This will change everything we know about the working world, and we are not prepared.

These “robots” have already reached the corner office of corporate headquarters. At least half of the work of top corporate management can already be done cheaper by computers and midlevel analysts in India, particularly since our corporate officers are grossly overpaid. Neither the CEO nor anyone else in a big company is protected. Anyone could be out of work and become unemployable. You have probably read computer-generated sports articles, and never suspected that the sports writer no longer has a job.

How will we accommodate as many as 100 million people for whom there is no work? We have no choice. We must re-define the working world, and soon.

John Maynard Keynes predicted in the 1930s that within a century technology would make possible a world of much less work and far more leisure. That time has arrived, but we have done nothing to prepare for it. All of the benefits of new technology now go to the rich. Mere bragging rights for them, but catastrophe for the victims. Our failure to recognize that Keynes’ prediction has arrived is creating intractable unemployment and poverty for millions of good people.

Forty hours is over and we don’t know what to do.

To change the working world, we will have to battle these billionaires of the far right. They don’t care that their computers put people on the street. They live in a bubble, and think everyone is lazy. Their entire motivation is profit. Their greed will only be overcome by insisting that everyone deserves a decent life.

When we as a nation finally wake up to this new reality, we will realize that the era of the 40-hour work week is long gone, and we don’t know what to do about it. Major social adjustments will be necessary to preserve the dignity of the millions of people who are unable to find work, while providing them with a way to live decently. To do that, we will have to find a better way to distribute the blessings of the modern age.

The Republican mindset claims that all of the unemployed are addicted black people who are too lazy to get a job, and would rather luxuriate on overgenerous government assistance. This ludicrous and blatantly racist claim has been around a long time, and has repeatedly been proven false. But reality means nothing to Republicans these days. 

They are unable to explain the productive fifty-somethings who live in the basement, or a tent. Or the former executive who took early retirement when he was forced out, and now lives in a modest condo. Or the sons and daughters who graduated, yet find themselves living in their old bedroom, sleeping in their single bed beneath the old pennants and posters.