Tuesday, June 1, 2021

My Corona Diary (Take XXXII): The Hamster Wheel Needs You Again

<No Future (Hamster Wheel Style)
The Reckoner>

<i.>
Who didn't see this one coming? Now that the empty suits and the talking heads have convinced themselves that the demon of COVID-19 has been vanquished for good, and "the new normal" -- whatever the f#ck that means, however you define it -- is on its way back, it's time to cut off the unemployed, and shove them right back into the same old, same old, soul-sucking, spirit-crunching, sad sack shit McJob meat grinder that will eat you alive, one skimpy paycheck at a time. 

The hamster wheel needs you again, runs the argument among the two dozen states racing to yank the only lifeline that's kept many from eviction, homelessness, and total ruin. Sorry, but it's time to starve you into submission. We know you don't want really these dead end restaurant and retail jobs. Tough shit! The hamster wheel needs you again. Now get your ass back on it, and start running! Harder, faster! Harder, faster!

These impulses aren't exactly new. Funnily enough, we heard many of the same (rightist-fueled) plaints last year, as we noted in one of our previous diary entries, as you can see: https://ramennoodlenation.blogspot.com/2020/05/my-corona-diary-take-iii-pandemic.html

Leading the charge to cut off the extra $300 federal supplement are Trump poodles like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who justified the rationale thusly: "“We reinstituted the job search requirement and now discontinued the added federal money, and the reason is simple: we’ve got almost half a million job openings in the state of Florida." 

Of course, he doesn't mention that most of those half a million openings are McJobs, which seem to be the only ones America knows how to create in abundance anymore. It doesn't help that the mainstream media constantly harps about the goodies that employers are rolling out to win jobless workers back, like 401(k) matches, and 10 to 20 percent raises -- as if those gestures alone would make up for all the crap that McJob shit workers often have to eat, without the cherry on top, to help go it down.

What the mainstream media reports don't mention is that the schedules are often part-time, with no health insurance, no way to build savings, and no stability, all for the joys of being treated little better than a widget, to be discarded at will, if conditions prove attractive enough. It's no accident that "flexibility" is such a persistent mantra for big and small businesses alike. 

I've seen how this mantra works in practice at places like Matthew's, our local grocery store, where it's not unusual for management to bounce people around at its whim. As many cashiers have told me, it's not unusual to close at midnight on Monday, but then have to come in, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to open at 6:00 a.m. Tuesday. It's the worst of both worlds: on call status without on call pay, one of many dubious innovations that wound up baked into the system, as inequality grew wider and wider during the 1990s.

So where are the jobless funds going, if all those lazy ungrateful bastards would rather stay home and watch "Oprah," or some Investigation Discovery murder porn special? I'm not sure, but I'll give you a hint. 

It's not the army of part-timers I've seen walking in all kinds of weather to their shifts at Matthew's. If they're running away with the bank, I'm not seeing it, because they sure as hell aren't driving there. If you can't afford your own transportation, what else are you lacking? Plenty, I imagine. More than you could ever know.




<ii.>
In one sense, we should have seen this coming. America has always cultivated an ambiguous relationship with its unemployed, seesawing between romantic celebration (The Grapes of Wrath, "The Waltons"), ambivalent speculation (see any mainstream media op-ed page), and outright scorn (cue any Republican Governor, like DeSantis, above). 

At various times, our responses have wavered from exceptionalist bile (Alabama restaurant owner Jason Such: "There's no doubt about that. People just got lazy"), to pointed pragmatism (Alabama Arise policy analyst Dev Wakeley: "If you're looking at child care costs for one preschooler, you'd be paying literally your entire paycheck just to have somebody watch your child while you're at work. Expecting people to do that is just not based in reality").

What few appreciated, as the various stimulus measures, unemployment aid boosts, PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) measures rolled out, is the breather that they finally gave those feeling stuck on the hamster wheel, as the Eater and Flashpoint stories make clear (see below).

The Flashpoint article, in particular, cites quite a few interesting stories of workers like Terry, the former Lowe's stocker who wouldn't have found a better job without the enhanced aid. As he noted, PPP loans helped keep a family member's medical business alive, "and then all of a sudden came roaring back with demand." 

I've experienced similar moments. To some degree, I've been able to scale back my own various piecework efforts, and focus on projects that might provide a way out of that sordid, drain circling world. Both Squawker and I are getting more involved in self-publishing, including 'zines. I remember the excitement we both felt a couple months ago, at seeing $70 worth of orders come in for one of our projects, off of one review!

That's not going to help you build a boat, obviously, but it's heady stuff, anyway. Once you see what's possible, it makes you work harder to achieve it. Why would I want to dedicate so many pieces of my time and energy, so some megabully can grow ever more overweening, and all powerful? As time passes, I'm finding it harder to duck the question, let alone come up with a decent answer.

Even without the extra aid, however, the pandemic has prompted restaurant workers like Tara, in Washington, DC, to realize where their red lines lie. “I refuse to take [a job] that’s the minimum serving wage. I need a place that’s at least minimum wage plus tips,” Tara told Eater. “We are so sick and tired of [restaurant owners] assuming we want a handout. We want to work, but we also want to be treated like human beings. We haven’t been for way too long.”

If nothing else, read the Eater and Flashpoint pieces, which speak eloquently of the worst sorts of abuses: companies that post weekly schedules on a day's notice. Restaurants that overstaff, to water down their waitstaff's collective earning power. Workers forbidden to sit down during an entire shift.

Hence, the realization that hits workers like Diane: "I'm not lazy and avoiding work. I used these resources and time to cultivate a better life for myself. It's built a strong case for higher wages and universal income and I have no sympathy for employers who can't afford to provide better."

And therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare says. The megabullies that can't wait to reassert total supremacy over our lives aren't upset that the various added benefits, loans and stimulus checks didn't work. It's because they worked a little too well

It's the same realization that's powered various grass roots revolutions of the past, from '77 punk, to the dawn of pre-bling-bling hip, along with the political equivalents, from the Black Lives Matter protests, to the $15 minimum wage campaign, the rise of Bernie Sanders, and beyond. Everybody has their own decisions to make about what kind of resistance works best for them. 

But resist, we can, and resist, we must. If they really expect us to return to the hamster wheel, then let them hear us kicking and screaming, raising hell every inch of the way. Because it couldn't have happened to a "better" bunch of guys. --The Reckoner





"Don't be told what you want,
Don't be told what you need...

There's no future, no future,
No future for you..."

<"God Save The Queen">
>The Sex Pistols<


Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before They Yank The Rug Out, Yet Again...)


Eater: 
Why Restaurant Workers Say They’re Not Returning to Work - Eater

Rolling Stone:
GOP Governors Compete To Make Life Worse For The Unemployed
:
https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/republican-governors-federal-unemployment-benefits-1173976/


The Flashpoint:

Yahoo.com
Economists: Rebounding Economy, 
Not Unemployment Benefits, Causing Staff Shortages
:
https://www.yahoo.com/now/economists-rebounding-economy-not-unemployment-123400159.html

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Squawker Reflects: Never Getting A Good Job Destroys A Life

<"And So It Begins...
Carnival Of Bills"/
The Reckoner>


If you never make any real money, your whole development and maturity is affected.  I look at the middle class women with their paid off homes, expansive families and gardening hobbies, new cars and never-ending road trips, and realize I am not even seen as mature in my lacking of those things. In my middle age, I live like a regressed twentysomething stuck in a small apartment, tooling around

In some ways, the pattern was set in my twenties, when the Reckoner and I tried to start over in Chicago, only to flee after three years, after the City of Big Shoulders beat the crap out of us both. He stayed home and worked on his magazine writing, while I went off to a horrible job, essentially babysitting troubled teenagers. 

They called us "family teachers," but looking back, I'm not sure what anybody learned from the experience. Most of my memories of that job are the endless tedium of trying to make sure they ate properly, keep them from running away successfully, or trying to killing us, or kill themselves, which happened constantly.

My other memories are of the tiredness I felt, and the never-ending anxiety of dealing with bosses who always threatened to write you up. I remember coming across a pile of them involving me, that they never put in place. 

One of the abandoned writeups focused on my hygiene and my appearance, even though they knew I often struggled to afford decent food, let alone the shiny professional wardrobes that they apparently could buy for themselves, without blinking an eye. Oh, wait, I forgot. Most of my supervisors still lived with their parents, who bought them those things. Never mind.

Another one talked about the bald spots on my head, that I couldn't cover up, because of the thyroid problems that I'd begun to have. I wasn't able to do anything about them then, because I lacked insurance. In Illinois, if you didn't have it, doctors wouldn't see you, period. (Medicine as a business -- you gotta love it!) The girls made me fun of me, calling me "baldy head." 

I was getting deathly ill, feeling I was like dying on my feet. I was in and out of the hospital, and spent every hour sleeping at home. There was no energy left for anything else. I was covered in sores, all over my body, and felt like the Grim Reaper was about to snatch me away. 

My lungs seized up every other minute, to the point where I'd throw up every morning. I'd hide it at my work by crawling upstairs to the bathroom, tapping my secret stash of inhalers to get through yet another never-ending shift. I really wasn't sure, from day to day, if I'd ever see tomorrow. 

I got back at them when I left, though. That was after about a year of weekend night shifts, which I wasn't given a choice about working. Take them, or you wouldn't be working there anymore. Well, what the hell could we do? By then, we both wanted to flee back to Michigan, but there weren't any decent jobs there, either. We felt stuck, abandoned by a system that had left us high and dry.

The only silver lining came when I applied for disability, and finally got it, after spending six months on SSI first. I could finally quit my horrible job, leave those horrible kids and horrible supervisors behind, and we both could focus on our next goal: getting the hell out of Chicago, once and for all.

I remember when the moment came, which the Reckoner and I laugh about, to this day. I called Friday afternoon to tell them. No, I explained, I wouldn't be coming in. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. No, I wasn't giving two weeks' notice. My health wasn't allowing me to work anymore, so the point was moot. 

No, I didn't want to say goodbye to the kids, nor anybody else. Why bother? Sure, I'd gotten along with a few people, but I wasn't leaving with any fond memories of it all. I couldn't think of any good times, because there weren't any. Even now, I wished I'd just up and left. I couldn't handle it anymore, and I didn't want to try.

We both talk about those negative experiences all the time, and how they affected us so deeply, and so badly. (For the Reckoner's work life, see the "Jobs To Nowhere" series on this blog.)

"You know what the problem was all along?" the Reckoner asked.

"What's that?" 

"Both of us just let way too much crap go when we were younger. It's that whole 'sunk cost' thing -- you're already up to your knees or your chest or your eyeballs in the BS you're dealing with," he said. "So you struggle a bit longer, hoping see it through, and work it out. Only it never happens that way."

I could only nod in agreement. "I still think about that a lot, too," I said. "Imagine if I'd had a decent job that paid decent money. Both of us could have accomplished a lot more. Who knows what would have happened? I often felt bad for you, because you worked so much, I didn't feel like I had you."

The Reckoner flashed a wry smile. "Well, even though I enjoyed the last job, I never felt like I had any time off. Because when I did, I spent most of it recovering from work," he laughed.

I knew the feeling well. How many times in the past did I find myself thinking, Imagine if I'd had a real job, one that paid me real money. Imagine how that would feel: not having to scrounge, not having to scrap for everything I got, not having to worry about essentials like health insurance and prescription co-pays, not to mention a real life, in a real place to live (an apartment that's not a boarding house or a crackerbox).

It's a feeling that never crosses your mind, until you find yourself falling down that rabbit hole. A little bit of care goes a long way, but if nobody ever provides it, that's where you end up. And it takes forever to dig yourself out. Take heed, and proceed accordingly. --The Squawker



Work Work Work Work...


...Die

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Squawker Returns: "The Poor...Is Separated From His Neighbor"

<"The Dividing Line":
The Reckoner>

Wealth maketh many friends; 
but the poor is separated from his neighbor.
Proverbs 19:4 

"It's the story of my life, paralyzed in the headlights
Looking out from the inside, same old story of my life
Vice Squad ("The Story Of My Life")

Want to know how your friends, or even your enemies, are really doing? Just look for them on Facebook. If they're flush with cash, they'll let you know. If they're struggling, you won't find them. Like ghosts, they drop out of sight, ducking any attempt to capture them on film or video. 

That's the conclusion I've reached after seeing what happened to a friend of mine, who retired from the administrative job that she'd held for 30 years. We used to see each other at one of the churches we'd periodically visit for food, whenever our own resources ran out. Judging by her Facebook posts, she really seemed to have it all.

There she was, trotting off to Chicago for ball games. There she was, hosting large parties of 50-plus people at the height of COVID, without a mask in sight. I always took her for a Republican, but that told me, loud and clear. There she was, going out with this friend or that one, to places that the Reckoner and I couldn't afford. Where'd she get all the money for that stuff?

These days, I don't know, because she dropped off the social media radar about eight months ago. I barely see her on Facebook anymore, and when I do, it's usually terse updates from her book groups. I wondered what was going on, until I heard what happened through the grapevine. She lost her retirement when the corporate bully changed its mind, and walked her benefits back. What looked like a great sendoff evaporated overnight.

If she's not on Facebook, I understand why. Seeing people out visiting all their friends and having fun can be difficult as hell, especially during a pandemic. How'd they afford that trip to Tennessee? Look how much fun they're having with their families and friends. I was struggling with this stuff even before COVID, seeing people caught up in a whirlwind of gatherings -- graduations, parties, weddings -- that take MONEY to pull off. Gas needs to be bought, hotels booked, meals taken out. How do these people afford all that?

Poor you has paid your bills for the month and there's only enough money to buy a Burrito, yeah, there's your "fun" for the month, aren't you thrilled? Post that burrito with those lettuce and tomato slices on social media! Time passes by and the memories everyone else makes are lost to you.

Poverty hurts relationships. You can't afford to visit people and your relationships ebb with time. The Reckoner and I haven't been able to afford a trip to our old hometown since we left over a decade ago. (He did make it back a couple times to play there, but I don't count them, since I didn't get to go along.) 

Now that we finally have a working van, and some discretionary money, what happens? We can't go far, because the anxiety of using public bathrooms and spaces, plus the stress of playing human dodgeball, is too nerve-wracking to think about.

It's a continuation of my pre-COVID struggles, when I went without seeing some relatives for too long, and those relationships withered, as well. I became a stranger. Would they have loved me if I had money? It eats like gall within my soul. A rich, spoiled Baby Boomer mother, too embarrassed to even have you around. Years of being made to feel like pond scum, because, for some reason, others in your family were loved enough to get good jobs and a chance and a place to belong. Not you and yours, though.

Who wants to be around people who always have their hands out and never have any money? Who wants a friend who can't even afford a Greyhound to come and see you? Even if you hide your desperation, it shows. People hate when you are poor. It makes you boring. You can't go out to eat, or go on trips, you are always in need. You are the "mooch". Your clothes don't fit right, you get too fat, they are tight, you lose a little bit of weight, your dress keeps sliding off your shoulder, it sucks.

Normal people make goals. But goals cost money, too. And there's that elephant in the room, COVID-19, getting in our way again. The Reckoner and I haven't made it back to the gym since all this madness started, but for now, we're just letting the bank deduct our $30 memberships per month, until we figure it's cool to return.

People suggest solutions for you to fix your shitty life, and "get it together" instead of being a disabled "loser". All of it costs money. The stimulus checks have interrupted that groove a little bit, at least. Before COVID, we'd pay our rent, medical bills and the little bit of food that would run out in a week. Even then, it took tons of cooking from scratch to stretch our budget. 

Once we paid the cable, electric, Internet, insurance and rent, by the 15th of the month, we'd barely have $50 between us, and we might still have to shell out seven bucks for a prescription co-pay here, or 10 bucks, to buy some hearing aid batteries there.

You'd feel like you were circling a never-ending drain, as you wondered, what's gonna happen the rest of the month? Oh, wait, maybe we have a few more books or records we can sell. Let's try that again. But why doesn't anything sell on eBay like it used to? Maybe because everybody else has the same idea, I guess

Being disabled means you burn with shame, and despair inside at what has "become of your life" and wake up every morning in tears. What else is there to do, but sit at home, and live vicariously through "Better Call Saul" and "Fargo," and reality TV shows? You do the housework, dying a little bit with each wipe, remembering all the richer ladies you made the mistake of showing your apartment, who went off twittering among themselves about how little you owned.

I thought of my friend when the Reckoner and I were running errands around town today, and we happened to drive past a food pantry. I craned my neck to look more closely. It's all the usual stuff, lots of milk and potatoes, sugar and carbs by the truckload, because they really think that's all we want to eat.

I swear I'm not going back to food pantries, either, because I'm allergic to most of the stuff they hand out, or it doesn't fit a diet that's turning partially vegetarian, so i can avoid the horror of kidney stones. 

Also, I'm not a Christian anymore, and I'm not comfortable with what the established churches are pushing. It's the same reason I don't go to my friend's book groups anymore, because it's gotten too awkward for me to dodge the whole issue. It's the same reason, I'm sure, my friend has vanished from Facebook.

But that Bible quote says it all, doesn't it? Money drives a wedge between us, and it's not hard to figure out why. I wonder how many people are having conversations like mine, and if my friend is joining them. Or if she's finally figured out the red thread running through it all. --The Squawker

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Tyler Perry Has It Right: Ownership Is Everything

 

<The Reckoner>


<i.>
Let's face it. If we've learned anything from our run-ins with the digital marketplace, it's taught us the price of everything, and the value of nothing. It's one of the biggest, darkest flaws running through the gig economy, which is as corporatized and commodified as...well, the Web in general, these days. 

Here's how the basic business model works, if you're not familiar with it. (I'm making this proposition for argument's sake. With so many people resorting to sites like Mechanical Turk for survival, you'd have to visit another planet to find someone who isn't familiar with gig work, in some way. Then again, there are people who've never used Facebook, signed up for cable TV, or used a cellphone, right?) You sign up, which may or may not involve some sort of audition, demo, or test. 

You may also undergo an interview, though that's only happened to me a couple of times, usually for a writing-related opportunity. (I usually turn them down if they want me to essentially do something complicated from scratch, for free, especially if it might take a few hours of my time.) 

Depending on how your initial screening goes, you'll get in right away, or go on a waiting list, if the site's popular enough. Then you can get right to work, for rock bottom rates that run all over the map. In my experience, $5-40 per item is the range, with the median landing at $10-20.

The pros? As much work as you want. No need to invoice anybody, nor wait for someone to send you a check (as the middleman, the site takes care of it). No need to worry about somebody spacing out on those finer details. Generally speaking, the work won't strain your brain, so once you get into a certain rhythm, it's theoretically possible to raise whatever per hour rate you've set as your benchmark.

The cons? Plenty, baby, plenty. You'll work like a pack mule for next to no money, and those rock bottom rates rarely unless the entity involved needs to clear a lot of excess work off its platform. Actually, your rates usually go south, because if see you doing too well, they'll cut your pay. If it's a writing-based site, you may get multiple, rewrite requests that eat up more of your time that you could spend seeking out better paying work, or credits that might advance your career.

The mechanical, repetitive nature of the work will also grind you down. There's no room for creativity, so your talent won't shine on a 500-word clickbait atrocity like "How To Put Pants On A Dog." Like porn, it's all about the act itself., no more, no less. If you churn out this type of word gruel long enough, you'll eventually start questioning your sanity and well-being. 

You won't feel any emotional involvement in something like, "The Pros And Cons Of Paint Strainers," even if it doesn't get unceremoniously scrubbed, years later, off whatever platform pitched pennies at you to bang it out. You won't ever find yourself saying, Hey, I did that, because it was never yours. 

Conditions change without warning, which leaves you scrambling when the work (or your rock bottom pay) drops off. Sites disappear without abruptly, too, once the promise of that quick clickbait revenue evaporates. All that piecework you did for pennies? It's gone forever, but you signed an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), remember? 

That means you can't retrieve or circulate all that digital sweatshop labor, so forget about raising your profile. You can't contact anybody through the site, because they might do the unthinkable, like pay something close to what your time and talents deserve.

Your name typically doesn't appear on your work, further eroding its value as a calling card. The only difference between a piecework site and an express kidnapping gang is that you've spared the bad guys the work of dragging you to the bank to drain your ATM, because you've essentially signed a piece of paper allowing them to do it as often as they want.


<ii.>
This constant insistence on NDAs, and on hiving off disputes to arbitration (another widely abused corporate practice), represents one of the most absurd aspects of how the Piecework Industrial Complex does business. The future value of a mini-masterpiece like "How To Change A Lightbulb In A Hamburg Hotel Room," is negligible, at best. We can all agree on that, I think. 

But if that's the case, why does greedygigwork.com insist that you sign it over to them, forever and forever, in perpetuity, blah-blah-blah, by any and all means, blah-blah-blah, including those yet to be created, discovered or patented (as the relevant boilerplate demands)? What's the point, if nobody's going to read it, even 15 minutes from now?

I think it's time for a new paradigm. Tyler Perry made the case succinctly when he joined "wealthy celebrities like Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg in the Hollywood billionaires' club," as PureWow reported in September 2020. He earned a place on the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans list, no small feat for an African-American who started off as an obscure playwright.

All that changed for Perry with his first film, Diary Of A Mad Black Woman (2005), which grossed $50 million worldwide, and enabled him to take creative control of his projects. His back catalog includes 22 films, two dozen plays, and 1,200 TV show episodes, as PureWow reported. He also owns a 330-acre studio lot in Atlanta, that serves as the hub of his creative empire.

Perry explained his philosophy thusly. "My father was a subcontractor, and he would get paid on Fridays and be so happy that he had made $800, but I would watch the man that owned the house sell it and make $80,000," Perry said, in part. "So I always wanted to be the guy that owned the house. I own the lights. I own the sets. So that's where the difference is. Because I own everything, my returns are higher. Ownership is everything."


<iii.>
Makes sense, right? Let that phrase sink in once more: "Ownership is everything." It allows you to control your destiny, to coin a phrase from pro football, where the same rules apply. Do you want to be the team that get home field advantage by winning all its playoff games? Or would you rather hang on the division-tipping outcome of the wild card game, and watch the two 8-8 teams duke it out? The answer is obvious.

Or maybe not so obvious, judging by how many people still flock to these sites, like Etsy, who reported $451.5 million in total revenue for the third quarter of 2020, right about the time Tyler Perry achieved his billionaire status. Think how far even 10 percent of that money could go, if we put it into our DIY communities, and supported each other's efforts, and developed our own networks, instead of allowing some giant corporate entity to hoover it out of our pockets, forever and ever.

Steve Chou, of mywifequiteherjob.com lays out the case against Etsy, and other sites like it, well in his post (see link below). Granted, he's not a disinterested party, but still, he makes some strong points. Like many auction sites, the sheer number of sellers means you'll probably never earn more than a fair side income, at best. And that's before we get to the overall chunk of income that you'll hand over to these folks. (In Etsy's case, plan on dedicating eight to 23 percent to them, Chou estimates.)

Given all the headaches involved, like the plethora of fees, and ever-changing policies, "you have to ask yourself whether you want to be doing all of this work for a site that you do not even own," Chou writes.

But, honestly, it's not a question of, "Should you use this site, or that one?" That's a distraction from the main issue. How do we ensure creative control over our businesses and livelihoods? How do we reach a point of owning as much of ourselves as possible, so that we aren't constantly at the mercy of mindless, unforgiving megabully, who'll toss their grandma (and all their blood relations) under the nearest bus, if that's what it takes to stay profitable?

How can we establish an alternative infrastructure that's durable and long-lasting, so that others don't have to grovel like their predecessors did, and leave the next generation to reinvent the wheel all over again? How well we answer those questions will determine what really is possible. Because, remember: ownership is everything. --The Reckoner


<The Reckoner>

Links To Go
Etsy Reports Third Quarter 2020 Financial Results
:
https://investors.etsy.com/press-releases/press-release-details/2020/Etsy-Inc.-Reports-Third-Quarter-2020-Financial-Results/default.aspx

My Wife Quit Her Job
Why Selling On An Etsy Store Is A Bad Idea
Compared To Running Your Own Shop:
https://mywifequitherjob.com/etsy-stores/

My Corona Diary (Take XXXI ): The Funeral Home Won't Leave My Bones Alone

 

<"Well, I Got My Invite..."
The Reckoner>

There's a reason why unsolicited anything gives good business a bad name. Why do A&R men and editors shudder at the idea of unsolicited submissions? Because 95% of them suck, leaving the halfway decent four percent, and the killer one percent. That's what Sturgeon's Law tells us.

Why do unsolicited phone calls seem so irksome as we're trying to enjoy a favorite book, dish or TV show? Because it's usually a robocall, or a live irritant (the telemarketer) striving to wring some money out of his unwilling victim (you) for some dubious enterprise or other. "Supporting the police" seems like the hottest one at the moment, which hasn't stopped me from banging the phone down on every on one of them. 

Why do unsolicited sales pitches knot our stomachs? Because they're the product of a mindset that runs: "If I throw enough at the wall, something will stick, I'll make my weekly or monthly nut, and I won't get sacked." This mindset explains the unfamiliar insurance agent I once encountered during a midsummer party at our complex. He breezily explained that he'd come in hopes of growing his agency, a mere four counties away from ours. "Surely," I said, "you have more than a customer or two in your hometown?" He smiled wanly and changed the subject. The look of the desperate is never a pretty sight.

Now comes the latest unsolicited (read: unwelcome) burst of attention. This time, it's a questionnaire from Acme Funeral Home, as we'll call the offender here. I first heard from them last year (see link below), where I questioned why they were inviting me to a pizza party, to discuss the disposal of my mortal remains. Just make sure your piece didn't come out of the cremation ovens, right?



<"Demo Day!"
The Squawker>

<ii.>
But Acme's learned something, it seems. Last year's two-page questionnaire is now a one-pager, boiled down to the essentials, from basic info on my age and status (Employed/retired? Vet/Non-vet?), to desired arrangements (Burial/cremation? Life insurance/Prepaid plan or not? Will or no will?), how much I'd cough up for a funeral (0-$2,000? $2,000-4,000? $4,000-6,000? $6,000-8,000? $8,000-10,000?), and who'd make the arrangements, if I couldn't (Children or spouse? Family member or Other?).

At first blush, most of these questions are holdovers from last year, though once again, I can't help but detect a hint of surrealism in some (Cemetery: Very important, Somewhat important, Not very important, not important at all), a telegraphed punch or two in others ("Would it give you peace of mind to know that you could do the planning in advance and that your family would not have to make the arrangements themselves?"). 

To which I might answer, "Not important" on the first, and "Not applicable -- there's not many of us left" on the second." Sadly, I seem to have lost the prepaid envelope that Acme so helpfully provided, leaving my answers to languish unrecorded for posterity. History doesn't always record who led, I'm afraid.

Oh, wait, I almost forgot. As a reward for filling out the whole business, Acme will gladly send me something called a Final Wishes Organizer. I imagine it's a slightly nicer-looking version of the sort you'll see in a Dollar General, Dollar Tree, or Family Dollar. But I don't really need Acme for that, so I'm passing on that, too.

All of this stuff leaves me wondering, "Who's this appealing to, and what's this supposed to accomplish?" Considering the gravity of the enterprise, it's hard to imagine somebody cheerfully filling out this unsolicited piece of paper, and chucking it back out in the mail. More than most businesses, I suspect that word of mouth, or recommendations from friends or relatives, best decides how we shuffle off this mortal coil.

It reminds me of working on survey questions during the pre-Internet era, at the various papers that employed me, when a response rate of five to 30% was the norm. We typically languished near the lower end of that figure, but even if you're in a relatively robust industry, I doubt the rates have changed that much. Or the times, for that matter.



<iii.>
Acme seems to tacitly acknowledge all of these various issues, as this proviso, sprawled across the bottom, in pint-sized type, suggests: "If this letter reaches you at a time of illness or loss, please accept our sincerest apologies." I suspect that this unsolicited mailing reflects a business trying to keep its finger on its customer base in these COVID-wracked times. But I'm not sure what it'll accomplish. 

Honestly, can you imagine your friend, neighbor, or significant other, working out funeral arrangements from a postage-paid questionnaire? I can't, and neither would anyone else who gets this, I wager. So I'm sending this unsolicited reading material straight to the bin. 

And the next time I hear that line from Pink Floyd ("I've got a grand piano, to prop up my mortal remains"), I'm going to switch the radio dial somewhere else -- and count my lucky stars, such as they are. --The Reckoner


Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before Your Number Comes Up):

Ramen Noodle Nation: 
My Corona Diary (Take X): 
The Funeral Home Sent Us A Survey...

Sunday, May 9, 2021

False Equivalency 101: Springing The Student Loan Jailbreak

<"Boxed In":
The Reckoner>

<i.>
Student debt feels like the weather. Everybody talks about it -- and talks and talks and talks, and talks and talks and talks, and then talks some more -- but nobody does anything about it. That seems the case, now that we've passed the magical 100-day mark of the Biden presidency. 

President Biden has shied away from progressive calls to cancel $50,000 of debt per student. He's willing to write off up to $10,000, which would ease a third of the average student's debt load ($30,000), but hardly dent those of the average MBA ($66,000), PhD ($110,000), lawyer ($145,000), and physician ($246,000). Nevertheless, Biden has tasked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to see if he can cancel student debt by executive order, via the Higher Education Act.

Time will tell if the Biden administration works up the gumption. Even so, his predecessor, Donald Trump, and former "Education Secretary," Betsy DeVos, postponed student debt repayment deadlines three times, as Debt Collective organizer Astra Taylor notes in her piece (see below). Though it's fine that Biden has extended the deadline again, to September 21, continuing "a flawed Republican policy is hardly a victory," Taylor states, in part.

Biden doesn't help matters when he suggests that struggling borrowers should rely on parents, or sell their homes, "a luxury those without intergenerational wealth cannot afford," Taylor scoffs. At times, his reading of the facts seems downright muddled, such as his willingness to tout options that fail borrowers, like the notorious Public Loan Service Forgiveness program, which rejected 95 percent of its applicants.

Student debt has reached alarming levels in this country. As of January 2021, 44.7 million Americans hold an estimated $1.71 trillion in student debt, or twice the total level of credit card debt. That's an eye-popping figure, fueled by extreme cases like Seth Koeut, a Cambodian refugee who convinced a federal bankruptcy judge in December 2020 to wipe out 98 percent of his medical school debt ($440,465).

What makes Kouet's case noteworthy, other than the mountain of debt that nearly swallowed him whole, is that he still got screwed, even as he dutifully followed the standard life script ("College pays off," "Education is the answer," yada-yada-yada). His educational odyssey included bachelor's degrees in marine biology and Spanish from Duke University (2002), and a stint studying clinical tropical medicine in Bangkok.

Koeut wrapped up his education at the for-profit Ponce School of Medicine in Puerto Rico, in 2010. But Koeut never gained a residency placement, something that happens to roughly 10,000 medical school graduates per year. He then worked a series of part-time McJobs (Banana Republic, Bloomingdale's, Crate & Barrel, dishwasher in a Mexican restaurant) before he finally threw in the towel in 2015, and initiated the long road to his bankruptcy relief. 

Yet students like Kouet often face a stunning lack of empathy. The Department if Education argued against clearing most of Kouet's debts by suggesting that he hadn't "given his best effort to find better employment." Thankfully, the court didn't buy it, as its reasoning made clear: "A medical school graduate who works as a parking lot attendant and dishwasher cannot be described as lazy." You'd think, right?

Howie Klein sums up the situation well in a post ("The Student Snake-Oil Scam") on his Down With Tyranny blog. Education used to be considered as a path to upward mobility, one that's turned seriously sideways, as Klein points out: "In the last couple decades, it has instead turned into a path to permanent debt penury and financial servitude." 


<ii.>
The collateral consequences of that penury and servitude are endless, and well-documented. Debt-burdened graduates often end up postponing major life decisions like cars, houses and kids. Massive monthly  repayment schedules leave little or no room for necessities, let alone the serious business of saving for retirement. Only 33.3% of Americans finish their four-year degrees, yet even their future is hardly rosy, with so many jobs paying essentially the same as they did 20 years ago, as my comrade in arms, The Squawker, points out. 

Yet the same strawmen are still peddling the same tired arguments against canceling student debt, from the standard boilerplate line ("It would only help the rich"), to the speculative ("The federal government would lose too much money"; "It won't help the economy"), to the downright defeatist ("It won'f fix higher ed overall; it won't help those who didn't go to college"). 

I'd offer a simple rejoinder to all of those bromides: 

So...What? 

Even if any of them were true -- and they aren't -- do we really want to perpetuate a debt-based higher education model, with all the implied social costs? With so many millions struggling under crushing repayment schedules, does it really matter if they racked up their debts at a state school, or a private one?

We also need to deal with the "The What About?" argument, as in, "What about me? I busted my ass to repay my loans, why should I pay for everyone else who can't pay theirs?" That rests on the classic American notion of "bootstrapping" -- "I pulled myself by my bootstraps, so why can't you?"'

You know we've become a truly twisted society when we wax anxiously about, "What happens if we make life better for others?" Aside from the obvious rejoinder (Isn't that what government's for?), such notions rest on the premise that giving people support, no matter how badly they need it, makes them weaker and more dependent. Take them off the hamster wheel, and they might lose their edge. Or some crap to that effect.


<iii.>
But here's the rub. The loudest advocates of bootstrapping often had somebody else pulling the strings for them. Our sociopathic ex-President, Donald Trump, is the classic example. His wealth rests on the connections and money that his reptilian father, Fred, engineered, largely before his voice changed. 

When cash-strapped Donald entered the real estate game, his father set up the multimillion dollar loans that made his presence possible, and helped transform New York City into a giant Monopoly board, at its non-wealthy residents' expense. When Trump's dream of Atlantic City as a gamblers' paradise started going south, his dad jumped in, and discreetly bailed him out.

In other words, the price of admission for the rich and the mega-rich is way, way different than the rest of us: no bootstraps needed. For them, it's simply a case of making the right call, or flashing the right amount of cash, to make whatever headache they're facing disappear, as Lori Loughlin demonstrated, in showing her willingness to pay $500,000 to get her two daughters into USC, on the pretext of joining the rowing team.

These indiscretions earned Loughlin and her husband a mere two months in prison, plus the usual community service/supervised release model of legality, and $400,000 in fines, which they'll probably write off next year, as they move on to the next quarter of their lives. Their daughters remain enrolled at USC, they've never joined the rowing team, and while their various business ventures have been disrupted, they'll probably find someone else willing to roll the dice. No bootstraps needed.

Suddenly, the strawman argument ("But canceling student debt would only hurt you") looks a hell of a lot less impressive, if we consider one simple fact. We've been subsidizing the Loughlins and the Trumps of the world all along, for far too long. That should be reason enough to pull the plug on the edu-debt scam, and start over from scratch.

If nothing else, canceling student debt would provide a major stimulus in itself. Instead of allowing banks and the feds to skim off the interest, the money could actually go back into the economy, or the indentured edu-debt class could actually set some aside for themselves -- what a radical concept, eh? 

Again, time will tell if the political class finds the gumption to actually allow it, but we shouldn't wait for them anymore to find it. We've waited too long as it is. And not stop raising hell, publicly, privately and politically, until they do. --The Reckoner


Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before The Interest Rate Carries You Away...)
Admissionsly.com:
Eye-Opening College Dropout Rates & Statistics:
https://admissionsly.com/college-dropout-rates/

Down With Tyranny: 
The Student Debt Snake-Oil Scam:
How America Uses Education
To Expand Poverty And Hurt The Economy:
https://www.downwithtyranny.com/post/the-student-debt-snake-oil-scam-how-america-uses-education-to-expand-poverty-hurt-the-economy

Educationdata.org: College Dropout Rates:
https://educationdata.org/college-dropout-rates

MarketWatch:
Schumer: With Relief Bill,
Major Argument Against
Student Debt Cancellation "Vanishes":
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/schumer-with-relief-bill-major-argument-against-student-debt-cancellation-vanishes-11615903993

The American Prospect:
Six Stupid Arguments Against 
Forgiving Student Loan Debt:
https://prospect.org/day-one-agenda/six-stupid-arguments-against-forgiving-student-loan-debt/

The Guardian:
Biden Is Already Backtracking
On His Promises To Provide Student Debt Relief:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/25/joe-biden-student-debt-american-students

Yahoo Finance:
Medical School Graduate Sees Nearly
All His $440,000 In Student Loans Discharged:

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/medical-school-graduate-440000-student-loans-discharged-151422886.html

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Gleichschaltung, GOP Style: The Death Of Democracy Starts Here

 

<Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda,
Gauleiter of Berlin, Portrait: 1942>

<Bundesarchiv: Picture #183-1989-0821-502>


Gleichschaltung (noun):
The standardization of
political, economic and social 
institutions, as carried out 
in authoritarian states


<i.>
Eighty-eight years today, on May 2, 1933, the end for organized labor came swiftly in Nazi Germanyas the brutal paramilitary muscle of the SA (Sturmabteiling), and SS (Schutzstaffel) rampaged through the offices of the General German Trade Union Federation, or Allgemeiner Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (ADGA). 

With additional reinforcement from the Nationalist Socialist Factory Cell Organization (a sort of Nazified alternative union), SA and SS storm troopers occupied ADGA member offices and properties, seized assets and documents, and dragged its officers into the "protective custody" that many would not escape. Those who dared to fought back were simply killed, a fate that befell four union officers in Duisburg, for instance.

Ironically, ADGA had been meeting with counterparts from Christian and liberal organizations, hoping to hammer out a merger that would shore up its rapidly eroding strength and relevance against the growing power of the Nazi state. To that end, ADGA had begun distancing itself from the Nazis' chief remaining opponents, the Social Democrats. ADGA's leader, Theodor Leipart, pledged his organization's neutrality, and its 52 member unions' readiness "to put themselves in service to the new state."

The government further lulled Leipart and his fellow unionists into complacency by declaring May Day, the traditional leftist celebration of labor, as a holiday. In typical Nazi fashion, it had been celebrated with a massive rally, where Germany's newly-minted dictator, Adolf Hitler, told the 100,000 in attendance: "You will see how untrue and unjust is the statement that the revolution is directed against the German workers. On the contrary!" Germany's Fuehrer had his black humor down to a fine art.

Craven and desperate as this collaboration undoubtedly was, it didn't save ADGA from being dissolved, and the slapping of a total ban on all such organizations -- along with collective bargaining, and strikes. (Authorities briefly detained Leipart, but allowed him to return to his Berlin home, mainly due to ill health, and his wife's intervention. He lost his pension, but survived the war, dying at 79 in 1947.)

A year later, the government created its own alternative, the German Labor Front, that every worker had to join. In February 1935, came the "work book," which tracked job skills and performance. No worker could be hired without it, because bosses had to sign off on any departures from a previous job. Finally, in 1938, the Nazi state decreed it would draft citizens for compulsory labor, at whatever job it wished to assign them. Workers, like everyone and everything else in the Third Reich, had now become an asset that solely belonged to the state.


<David Horsey, LA Times:
http://www.ih8trump.org/trump-triumphant/>

<ii.>
The destruction of the unions is often cited as a classic example of Gleichschaltung, which is variously translated as "bringing into line," "coordination," or "synchronization," among other variations. One of the best summaries comes from historians Robert Michael and Karin Doerr, who label it: "Consolidation. All of the German Volk’s social, political, and cultural organizations to be controlled and run according to Nazi ideology and policy. All opposition to be eliminated."

The legal framework for Gleichschaltung, of course, stemmed from the abrupt suspension of civil liberties on February 27, 1933, and the passage of the Enabling Act, on March 6, an all-encompassing initiative that allowed Hitler to dream up whatever laws he wished, without those pesky Reichstag parliamentarians getting in his way. 

Though the notorious Reichstag fire of February 27 is widely considered the tipping point for Gleichschatung, I'd add the clunkily-titled Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service, as an equally significant benchmark. Passed on April 7, 1933, the measure allowed federal and state authorities to remove Jews and Communists from professions like law, medicine and teaching -- as well as anyone not showing sufficient enthusiasm for the new regime's desired way of thinking. 

Other significant moments came with the abolition of all political entities, except the Nazi Party (July 14, 1933), and the Law Concerning the Reconstruction of the Reich (January 30, 1934), that essentially abolished the state governments, and handed their powers off to the central government, in Berlin. Six months later, Hitler consolidated his power through a series of murderous purges (The Night of the Long Knives). 

In reality, the guardrails that characterize a functioning democracy were a faint memory, leaving the Fuehrer free to act as he pleased -- even if he had to tread carefully, at first, against his last remaining rival (SA leader Ernst Röhm), before unleashing the full fury of the Nazi state, as he did on June 30, 1934. 

Debate persists to this day how many died with Röhm. The Nazi government only acknowledged 85 murders. The White Book of the Purge (1934), published by German emigres in Paris, claimed 401 victims, naming 116 in particular. Still other sources put the total much higher, at up to 1,000 victims.  

Despite these events, several local prosecutors tried to prosecute some of the murders. The regime responded swiftly, by quashing the cases, and retroactively justifying the purges through (what else?) another wordily-titled initiative, the Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defence. The whitewashing of murder as "acts of self-defence by the State" marked the final, irrevocable break from Germany's short-lived democratic experiment, the Weimar Republic (1919-33).



“It would not be impossible 
to prove with sufficient repetition 
and a psychological understanding 
of the people concerned 
that a square is in fact a circle. 
They are mere words, and words can be molded 
until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

<Joseph Goebbels>


<iii.>
The Republican Party is giddily and gleefully orchestrating its own version of Gleichschaltung, in the 23 state legislatures it currently controls. Like the Nazi one, it's happening in plain sight, with no attempts made to hide it. The reaction of many GOP functionaries and followers to Biden's victory last fall over Donald Trump struck me as eerily similar to the racist-tinged disbelief that greeted Obama's historic 2008 win (Jeez, it's a black guy, of all people? Now everybody will want a reparations check with their government cheese), even if many pundits and mainstream media writers seemed poised to ignore it, or brush it aside, despite what their own eyes and ears were telling them. 

The ongoing rightist anger over Biden's win reflects a darker, more dangerous streak of a party, and a fanbase, that seems ready to embrace authoritarianism as the last, best hope of weaponizing its (mostly) white, fundamentalist, nationalist and nativist grievances for good. (For further reflections on how we got here, see our series, "Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow Creeps" below.)

We see that idea reflected in the dizzying array of voter suppression laws that Republicans and their allies are passing or plotting. These proposals range from allowing state legislatures to overturn Presidential election results (AZ), to allocating electoral votes by Congressional district, instead of "winner take all" systems (MI), and throwing out no-excuse absentee voting reforms that passed without fanfare only two years before (PA).

Other proposed laws, too many to enumerate here, will drastically cut back numbers and locations of ballot drop boxes, or even Election Day voting hours, curtail absentee or mail-in balloting, or impose requirements -- such as having notaries sign ballots -- that would hit particular types of voters hard, like the elderly, or people with disabilities.

Republican-led legislatures are also moving to muzzle expression they don't like. One of the more outrageous examples just happened in Florida, whose Governor, Trump stooge Ron DeSantis, has signed measures to give police sweeping powers to arrest anyone they deem riotous or disruptive, and provide immunity from civil suits to vigilantes who kill demonstrators (see link below). 

You can almost hear the trigger fingers clicking in anticipation; all that's missing are the brown uniforms and right arms held in that familiar pose we know from decades of "Hogan's Heroes" reruns. As odious as this stuff all sounds, there's a wicked logic at work, too. Suppressing your perceived (read: mostly nonwhite, young) enemies' votes won't always be enough. By definition, any authoritarian equation also has to include the total suppression and criminalization of free speech rights, as Hitler and his allies demonstrated so long ago.

But the GOP Gleichschaltung project doesn't end there. In other cases, state lawmakers and election officials are openly tampering with the democratic machinery they profess to support. For example, in Michigan, where Republican Aaron Van Langeveld cast the decisive vote to certify Biden's victory -- instead of doing Trump's bidding -- has been bumped off its state canvassing board, for a loyalist who probably would have done what the Dear Leader wished.

That's before we get to the Census Bureau's recently-announced apportionment totals thatdetermine how many seats each state gets in Congress. The biggest winner is Texas, which will gain two seats, followed by one apiece for Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina. 

The states getting screwed include California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, which will all lose a seat. Wow, what a shocker. You can almost visualize Republicans in the states they control, twirling their handlebar mustaches like some deranged version of Snidely Whiplash, as they chortle about how to make the latest district maps more one-sided than ever.

"Heh, heh, heh! Curses, curses, too many people voted last time! Well, this map will show them -- it'll keep them out of power for a lifetime! Let's see how they like that! Heh, heh, heh!"



<"The Paradox Of Tolerance">

“The most brilliant propagandist technique 
will yield no success 
unless one fundamental principle 
is borne in mind constantly - 
it must confine itself 
to a few points 
and repeat them over and over.”

<Joseph Goebbels>


<iv.>
At this point, I suspect some of you might be asking yourselves, "Well, wait a minute. What are you talking about? Trump's coup attempt didn't succeed. The system held." That point is technically true, but like most technicalities, it only holds so far. If anything, the 2020 election showed just how goofy the process is, and how fragile it is, too -- if not downright dysfunctional.

Start with the obvious. As many media wags observed, had Biden been directly elected -- instead of sweating the outcome for almost a whole week, in the Electoral College, whose representatives (or electors), cast their votes, based on which candidate wins a particular state -- the race would have ended. No blizzard of meritless lawsuits for Trump to file, and no unhinged press conferences by his acolytes, though he probably would have still sicced his mob of followers on the Capitol, anyway.

So what would have happened, had Van Langeveld buckled in Michigan, or Congress delayed certifying the Presidential election results, to name two scenarios on which Trump pinned his last, desperate hopes of staying forever in office? Any number of nightmarish scenarios would kick in, as Ryan Cooper details in his excellent overview for The Week (see below). 

For example, as Cooper details, if Congress fails to certify a presidential winner in the Electoral College, the U.S. House of Representatives gets the job. Since Republicans hold a majority of House delegations in 26 states, there's nothing to stop them from gumming up or canceling enough state certifications to hand their favored candidate the Presidency. 

That's because "each state delegation bizarrely only gets one vote," Cooper writes. "Wyoming's one representative will get the same sway as the 50-odd representatives in California." So what happens if the process deadlocks, which is possible in a 50-state setup? It's not clear, because there's no process to break a tie. Many states also have an even number of representatives, which only further muddles the situation, he observes.

Thus, it's not too far-fetched to imagine a scenario where the Democratic and Republican nominees show up with their respective entourages, demanding to be sworn in as President, or a rerun of the 2000 presidential election, which the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly awarded, 5-4, to George W. Bush. 

Given the court's current makeup, including three Justices who owe their careers to Trump, it's not hard to guess how that outcome would pan out. This is the legal face of Gleichshaltung, as Nazi-appointed judges began to swat aside defense attorneys' increasingly desperate appeals on behalf of their clients, and the rule of law began to fade away. 

Even without the Supreme Court's potential interference, it's easy to imagine Trump-appointed federal judges serving a similar role, as the ex-President's resurgent personality cult begins tearing up the Constitution to retain power indefinitely, and wields the system like a blunt instrument against its real or imagined enemies. 

It's the same situation that's played out in countries like Hungary, Poland and Turkey, whose autocrats have boldly co-opted the civil service and legal systems to twist the ground rules in their favor. El Salvador joined the Autocrats' Club this weekend, by ousting its attorney general and five high court justices; no nation, however tiny, seems immune from the virus. In any event, once an authoritarian regime gains the upper hand legally, it becomes virtually impossible to root out, short of armed resistance -- a step that often involves massive bloodletting.

The other critical point is that laws and procedures only go so far in and of themselves, as Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at the University of California-Irvine, told Rolling Stone. "We narrowly averted disaster (in 2020). There's only so much the law can do. Beyond that, you’re in the realm of a potential coup or raw power politics where the law doesn’t matter.” And raw power politics, as we've learned over and over, since the 2000 presidential election, is one of the GOP's specialties.




“Every age that has historical status 
is governed by aristocracies.
Aristocracy with the meaning - 
the best are ruling.
Peoples do never govern themselves. 

"That lunacy was concocted by liberalism. 
Behind its "people's sovereignty" 
the slyest cheaters are hiding, 
who don't want to be recognized.”


“If the day should ever come when we must go, 
if some day we are compelled to leave 
the scene of history, we will slam the door so hard 
that the universe will shake 
and mankind will stand back 
in stupefaction..”

<Joseph Goebbels>

 
<v.>
There's good news and bad news, as the old joke goes, about these grim facts. The good news? Well, the House has passed a major bill that would institute the most sweeping changes to our creaking system since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The bad news? Short of reforming or killing the filibuster, House Rule 1 (For The People Act) faces an uncertain future, at best, in the current 50-50 Senate.

HR 1 marked the last significant project of John Lewis, the late Georgia Congressman and civil rights action, who wrote the first 300 or so of its 791 pages. For openers, the law would enable automatic voter registration, restore ex-felons' voting rights, and roll back voter suppression techniques, like the imposition of stiffer ID requirements. These steps would spare advocates from having to play the current legal game of Whack-a-Mole in state and federal courts (as in Florida, where challenges are already underway to its anti-protest laws).

Other provisions endorse statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., rein in partisan gerrymandering, along with a series of sweeping anti-corruption measures. The most important would require the disclosure of large donors, and the creation of a small donor fund, as a financial counterweight. Candidates would also be barred from coordinating with so-called Super PACs (Political Action Committees).

It's not hard to see why Senate Republican bullies like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz have bitterly denounced HR1 as "full-bore socialism," to borrow Mitch the Mummy's preferred term. Senator Mike Lee, of Utah, has gone farther, in blasting HR 1 as "the devil incarnate." When you've carved out so many structural advantages for your psychopathic, power-hungry tribe, change is the last thing on your mind.

Yet so far, at least, there seems to be little official urgency on the Democratic side for getting HR 1 across the finish line, not least because its two most regressive faces, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), have remained publicly unmoved by pleas to get behind the law. 

Manchin undoubtedly added more stones to that soup with his latest Bizarro World pronouncement, that passing HR 1 by a simple majority of Democrats would only further erode faith in the system -- conveniently forgetting the vows to kill Vice President Mike Pence, among the many, many threats spewed by the pro-Trump insurrectionists on January 6th. 

Is that how true believers in democracy act? And what exactly, do we owe them, other than the legal courtesy of not wearing an orange jump suit for X number of years, if a jury acquits them of major federal crimes? What kind of common ground could any Democrat, never mind someone like Manchin, ever work out with such people? Is there any real point to negotiating with an autocratic wannabe like Trump, who says, "Why settle for an equal share, when I just have it all?" 

That's before we get to one other inconvenient truth, suggests Amanda Litman, executive director of Run For Something, which recruits candidates to run for statewide offices: 

“This is really an existential crisis. It’s a five-alarm fire. But I’m not sure it’s quite sunk in for members of the United States Senate or the Democratic party writ large. If the Senate does not kill the filibuster and pass voting rights reforms … Democrats are going to lose control of the House and likely the Senate forever. You don’t put these worms back into a can. You can’t undo this quite easily,” she added.

Manchin, for his part, stubbornly continues to insist that his GOP counterparts are negotiating in good faith. He sounds like many Weimar-era politicians, who didn't grasp -- or refused to grasp -- what kind of people they were dealing with. A scan of many social media pages, websites and news articles has convinced me that the GOP's newfound authoritarian posture isn't some temporary aberration, but the shape of things to come, if we allow it.

From that posture, it's possible to draw three inferences. First, that Christianity, and the Republican Party, are America's default religion and political beliefs, respectively. No other opinions need to be considered. Second, anyone who objects to the first assumption must be suppressed, no matter what. Third, when it comes suppressing dissenting power politics, the ends always justify the means.

None of those inferences should come as news flashes, since the GOP and its allies have been saying the quiet part out loud for a long, long time. You can go to such examples as right-wing activist Paul Weyrich's infamous admission to evangelical leaders in 1980: "I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Republican leaders have allowed many, many similar utterances to slip past their double-talking lips since then.

Like it or not, the showdown is coming, up close and personal. Rubber and road are about to meet, and the resulting pileup won't look pretty. However...if we don't stand up to protect voting rights, then nothing else matters. The promise of a brighter economic future rings hollow without the equal promise of expressing yourself freely, and deciding who's best suited in carrying out your wishes. 

No nation that's decoupled these promises has ever made that type of shotgun marriage stick, as a glance through history's back pages teaches us. The only constant of dictatorships is that they all get toppled. Some last longer than others, but all Gleichshaltung efforts eventually end up on the historical dust heap. 

Now is not the time to let up, as I've said here before. I'll leave you with one final thought, from one of HR 1's other chief architects, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD): “This is not a matter of ‘we can do it now or later. If we don’t do it now, there may not be a later.”

I couldn't have said it better. Is there a "later" for everyone? We'll find out soon enough. --The Reckoner


Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before One-Party Rule Kicks In):

Associated Press
Former Trump Adviser
Takes Prominent Role In Voting Battle:

Miami Herald Editorial:
Heaven Help Us If Court Upholds

Ramen Noodle Nation:
Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow Creeps (Takes I-III):


The Guardian: Why A Filibuster Showdown In The US Senate Is Unavoidable:

The Week: The Republican Plot To Steal The 2024 Election:

Yahoo News: El Salvador's Top Judges,