A Taste of Spring


by Roxanne Tellier

Oh, it’s gorgeous on the porch this morning! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it’s not cold enough to kill you! It’s all good, says I and Lord Farlsworth. Bring on the Spring!

Of course, there’s that pesky little matter of having to deal with all the clocks. I’m on record as being very anti daylight savings, and it’s NOT just because I love clocks, and have several in every room. I checked; I’ve written about the madness of continuing this practice numerous times. Based on our records, many – hundreds! –  of you have read my ideas on changing this twice-yearly assault on our modern 24/7 economy, and STILL we continue to ‘spring forward, fall back.”

It’s as though all of my high-quality, painstakingly chosen, words are but farts in the wind! Is it possible my deeply considered, research-based opinions on politics are getting the same sort of non-response? Are my deep thoughts not being conveyed to Premier Ford, and past and present prime ministers, for their perusal?  Say it ain’t so!

I’m also shocked to tell you that there’s a women’s march going on downtown, even though I distinctly remember marching in several of these in the seventies, in both Montreal AND Toronto, AND attending a bunch of fundraisers AND buying International Women’s Day buttons, both to give away, and to wear myself! 

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that we still don’t have a female president or prime minister (besides the nearly five months of Kim Campbell’s rule.) Yeah, we probably just need to wade through the turns of all those old, rich, white guys … a few gay males, maybe a trans male …  and then I’m SURE we’ll get to a woman we’ll consider ‘electable.’ Right?

Next you’ll be telling me that all of those protests, marches, petitions, and eventual 1973 decision of the US Supreme Court on Roe v Wade that decriminalized abortion nationwide is in the process of being re-litigated, and that Chief Justice Roberts has laid the groundwork to reverse that precedent!

I told you not to tell me.

Yeah, I don’t want to bring you down, on this beautiful, sunny Sunday, but seriously, now … why did we bother? Why did so many people care so deeply, work so hard, and ultimately succeed in getting a decision and Supreme Court ruling that allowed women to decide on the fate of their own bodies, if all it takes is one trump in the White House to tear it all back down, and leave American women once again to the tender mercies of back alley, coat hanger, abortions? 

Apparently there are several other, equally impactful, decisions resting on this trumpified Supreme Court, and America – I’m afraid you’re not gonna like the new look. Since Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were installed, tipping the balance to five right wing judges vs four leftish wingers, the walls are tumbling down faster than 86 year old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and 65 year old Justice Sonia Sotomayor can prop them back up.

Your ‘swing vote’ is none other than Justice Clarence Thomas. And have you heard how his wife Gini has been spending her spare time lately? Seems she’s a huge trump fan, and so she’s opting to Big Brother her wifely role and become a key part of the conservative associates opting to send trump info so that he can weed out those not 100% loyal to His Majesty.

That just doesn’t bode well for Thomas listening to the dissents of Ginsberg and Sotomayor.

Earlier this year, the justices lifted a nationwide injunction against a sweeping policy that specifically targeted poor immigrants. The ‘public charge’ rule, put in place last August by the Department of Homeland Security, will allow officials to turn away anyone likely to become a ‘public charge’ by use of food stamps, housing vouchers, and Medicaid. This applies to immigrants wishing to enter the U.S., extend a visa, or apply for a green card.

It will also affect immigrants applying for temporary visas, even in the case of tourists, students, business travellers and skilled workers. 

Based on this rule, trump’s own mother and grandparents would not have been allowed entry. But it’s too late to close that barn door now – he’s here, and he’s not done yet.

Worse, denying entry to immigrants, and removing the right to a safe abortion, is just the New Trump Court warming up; after their summer vacation, they’re gonna rule on taking away whatever is left of the rotting corpse of Obama’s hard-won Affordable Health Care from about 20 million Americans.

And if trump gets another term, which at this point is looking like a good possibility, Americans will face very large cuts to their Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

I’ve got a question; if all we keep hearing about is what an amazing economy America has right now, of how it’s all looking up and everyone’s getting so much richer and happier under this president – none of which has been substantiated by actual fact or research – why can America no longer afford to be generous? I mean, okay, if you feel like America has been Daddy Money to the world for decades, and that it’s time others paid their ‘fair share,’ well, that’s one thing.

(“More than two hundred countries receive U.S. aid. (about $50 billion per year)  It disproportionately goes to a few, however, with the top five all receiving over $1 billion per year as of 2016: Iraq ($5.3 billion), Afghanistan ($5.1 billion), Israel ($3.1 billion), Egypt ($1.2 billion), and Jordan ($1.2 billion).” Cfr.ogr)

But how can a supposedly caring, nominally Christian, country simultaneously go from what they claim is a prosperous, booming economy, to a place where its dog eat dog for those not fortunate enough to be young and healthy, or conversely, old and rich?  Why are nearly a million Americans homeless?  If the country is so wealthy, why do so many Americans have to work multiple jobs, at minimum wage, in order to barely survive? Why are even government, civil service, workers kept at the lowest possible wage, while the number of American billionaires keeps rising?

(“In 2017, 80.4 million workers age 16 and older in the United States were paid at hourly rates, representing 58.3 percent of all wage and salary workers. Among those paid by the hour, 542,000 workers earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  BLS.gov)

There’s a strong streak of cruelty that’s always been part of the Republican mindset, even before trump. Despite repeated claims of fiscal responsibility, the GOP have always been more than eager to cut the taxes of the rich without cutting spending on already overly padded areas, like the military. But they just LOVE to cut anything that might help the poorest of their citizens.

Take the new rules on food stamps trump levied last year. Those cuts will hurt hundreds of thousands of children, veterans, and the disabled, while saving only tiny amounts that will be gobbled up just with the enforcement.

The GOP are so eager to be cruel that they will willfully damage their own, even when it won’t cost them a penny. Take Medicaid expansion, which, under the Affordable Care Act, was made optional, on a state by state basis. A no brainer, right? After all, it would get the federal government to pay 90 per cent… NINETY PER CENT  . of a state’s health costs, as well as producing indirect cost savings on previously uncompensated costs, and boosting a state’s economy, which raises tax revenues.

A no brainer – and yet one on which 14 Republican-controlled states, many of which claim the nation’s poorest citizens, took a hard pass. Why take care of your citizens, the ones that put you in office, when you have the option of making peoples’ lives so much worse?

It seems to me that Americans have found themselves in a very odd place in time. On the one hand, many, even previous trump voters, are determined to make him a one term, impeached memory. On the other, the fight for who will lead the Democratic party – really, the only other choice in what is essentially a two-party race – is becoming a death march to the finish for some of the oldest candidates ever to willingly seek elected office.

Two weeks ago, the will of the people seemed to be with Bernie, but just last week. it became all Biden, all the way

How do you counsel people to overcome their apathy and lack of interest in civics and politics when what they see with their own eyes confirms what they’ve sort of believed for most of their lives?

Spring – When the cats return to the trees, to sing their Spring songs!

It’s very hard to convince people that they matter, that their needs and values count, and that their vote makes a difference, when all it takes is one cretin winning the presidency to make all of their hard work seem to have been for nought.

Tough times, indeed. But today, there’s a promise of Spring in the air, and, for me, that always means it’s time for some Deanna Durbin. I can’t help singing!

Where We Was, Where We Is, Where We’re Going


“Money – get back. I’m all right Jack. Keep your hands off my stack”

Inequality and economic distress – these are the biggest crisis’s our societies struggle with today.

It’s helpful to understand how we got here. We were conned, by some of the best conmen of all time. It took a concerted effort, and a lot of wrangling and wheeler dealing, but in a surprisingly quick and definitely hostile takeover, our 12,000 year old Agrarian Society was overthrown by a small group of people working hand in glove – the wealthy, the church, and the governments – who ushered in the Industrial Revolution somewhere around 1760.

economic history

Prior to that time, we’d peaceably lived alongside our crops and livestock, content to track our days with the movement of the sun and the changing of the seasons. We gave no thought to wages, earnings, salaries. Life was not always easy, but for most people, it was simple and understandable, from birth to death.

With the introduction of industrialization, all of that changed. Along came machines, and factories, and overseers, and owners who needed to make certain that the wheels of the machines were kept moving and well oiled. In order to do so, changes had to be made to the lifestyles of workers – the ‘cogs’ necessary to keep the machines – and the economic engine – working smoothly.

industrial-revolutionPeople had to learn a whole new way of life. They had to wake up and be somewhere for a set time, take their meals when a work break was called, and learn to use the bathroom only when their boss thought it appropriate. Decisions on what days should be honoured, for personal or religious reasons, left their hands, and became the prerogative of the owners. All of these changes ensured that there would be work for doctors, psychologists and life coaches for years to come.

Instead of taking care of their own homes and families, workers were made to believe that the only way they’d be happy would be if they earned a wage that increased with their loyalty to the firm. With no health and safety or child labour laws in effect, many families threw their lives, and that of their children’s’, into the machine.

What people could ‘earn’ in a week mattered more than before, because they were no longer tending to their farms and live stock .. now they needed to ‘make a living’ in order to pay for those things which they’d primarily provided for themselves before.

puritan work ethicAnd the churches played their part as well, by making the concept of work ‘holy in god’s eyes.’ The vaunted work ethic, that became synonymous with virtue, never applied equally to the families of the wealthy, who instead lived lives of ease and indolence, catered to by those who now needed to provide a livelihood for themselves, or their families.

The churches were richly rewarded by governments for their place in manipulating workers’ minds, generally by being made exempt from costly taxation.

(This distinction is why the ‘separation of church and state’ is such an important principle of a true democracy, since governments, often indistinguishable from business, know full well that having religion on your side can ease through a lot of concepts that the masses might not swallow if it just came from a government or a business.)

The Agrarian Society was overtaken by capitalism, when the existing powers – those with capital, religion, and later, governments built around capitalism – made it seem that capitalism was the natural culmination of a human inclination to buy and sell. In fact, capitalism simply replaced the agrarian age with it’s own requirements.

The ‘job creators‘ were deified, while the actual workers were continually judged as to worthiness. And the worthless were ruthlessly cast aside. A new caste system emerged, defined primarily by wealth, and what wealth could buy, be it more education for their own children, more factories, or more funds with which to persuade governments to make laws protecting the continued acquisition of wealth by those who least needed that protection.

look-job-creators-job-creators-3159518Workers were told that it was only by working hard that they would be proven virtuous, and achieve their just rewards. They were told that they needed to be independent, and ask for no handouts or help from those already successful, but instead that they must forge a righteous path to their own pinnacle of success. They needed to be daring and adventurous, and carve a path to the top, letting no person or soppy sentiment impede their progress.

In time, businesses began to be the unspoken, but overriding, partners of government. Laws and rules, better for businesses than for the masses who elected government, were made palatable by a constant drip of ‘patriotic’ economic theories that always landed firmly on the side of the owner class, rather than the worker class.

“Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.
But if you ask for a rise, it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away”

It’s the economy, stupid,” was the rallying cry that allowed businesses to run roughshod over those who toiled in the businesses of the owner class. Inequality grew and grew, and as the world careened from the Great Depression to the Great Recession of 2008, the wealthy moved to the head of the table, while those who did the actual work, were told they had to settle for the crumbs that fell from the tables of the rich and powerful.

explaintrickledowneconomicssmallEconomic theories that favoured the already wealthy, like the ‘trickle down effect,’ or the tax scam bill recently forced upon the United States, were put into practice by governments who knew very well that the wealth would not only stay where it was, but increase the holdings of the wealthy, at the expense of the middle class.

 

The US Supreme Court’s decision to define corporations as people just sealed the deal that had been in play for generations – the corporations were now able to seat the government they had always wanted; one run by business and for business, rather than by  democracy or the rule of law.

Now, it could be argued that civilization grew exponentially and in a positive fashion, because of this Revolution. It is what we’ve been told was the way it had to be, for the planet to move ahead.

But in every advancement, there is the seed of it’s own destruction. Before factories were built, or mines dug, no one died in either one. Before trains were invented, there were no train wrecks. Before there were cars, no one had ever been run over by an automobile. And before there was capitalism, there was an agrarian society that worked very well on many levels. Not always, and not for all .. but I think the same could be said for capitalism.

As long as the backs and hands and eyes of workers were necessary, capitalism chugged along rather nicely. As the years passed, the workers and owners struggled for their places and for a more equitable pay structure, but workers remained the backbone of the economy. The middle class defined the country.

But then, along came a new technology, one based on information. The need for unskilled workers began to fall, as the need for a new skill set rose. Many of those who found themselves displaced by new technologies simply refused to translate their abilities to what society now demanded, and they, and their jobs fell by the wayside.

Hand holding smartphone with media icons and symbolMoving forward into the twenty-first century, those who nostalgically remembered a Golden Age where every one who wanted a job, could find a job, were increasingly threatened by a world where their backs and hands and eyes meant little to the owner class. Even worse, the service industry, once an important part of greasing the wheels of the economy, was increasingly threatened with automation.

Employment_by_Industry_in_the_US-2013 (1)

And in fact, newer, cheaper technology was intimidating many other professions, including the 1.7 million truck driving jobs that looked primed to be replaced by self driving vehicles. Not to mention the array of jobs that could be better and more cheaply handled by computers, like highly paid research jobs in legal and medical professions.

While the Agrarian Society had spanned 12,000 years, the Industrial Revolution lasted only about 150 years, before being replaced by the Information Age, which began roughly around 1945, and which we’re now exiting as we enter a new Post-Industrial Age.

So what does this mean to us, we who have to live in this Brave New World? Well, if you’ve been following the social media surrounding the January 1st minimum wage increase in Ontario, and the outrage and pushback by service industries who will be impacted by that increase … a whole heck of a lot.

In Coburg, Ontario, the billionaire heirs to the Tim Horton coffee chain immediately issued an edict to their minimum wage employees, decreeing that, from then on, their lunch breaks would be unpaid, they would be expected to pay a larger portion of government mandated benefits, and that they would lose personal benefits granted prior to the increase. The workers were informed that they would have to sign this new agreement, or forfeit their jobs.

boycottTimsPredictably, the internet went mad. Arguments were made for both sides of the dispute, most of whom wanted to send a strong message to the heirs and the coffee chain that they would not have government regulations manipulated to suit business. It is a tribute to our sense of justice that most Canadians found the Joyce/Horton’s highhanded demands a bridge too far.

But this wage increase, coming after years of employees being asked to tighten their own belts, for the sake of the economy, and to keep their jobs, coupled with the freeze of the minimum wage since 2007, is too little, too late.

The cries from the fiscally conservative, that this increase will decimate employment in minimum wage jobs – is hysterical and completely misses the larger point.

min wage earnersEmployees have been treated as little more than inconveniences for decades. Beginning with the corporate raiders of the eighties, who slashed and burned the employee rosters of major corporations in order to enrich stock holders and investors, followed by the well-intentioned, but ultimately cruel hobbling of staff who were asked to eschew wage raises and to double up their efforts as staff numbers diminished,  employees were always asked to minimize their own needs in order to further the economic needs of those for whom they toiled.

The economic crisis that collapsed the Greek economy was going on in North America as well, but our governments propped up failing businesses in the name of saving the economy, despite this coming at the expense of the workers. When businesses were told to tighten their economic belts, it was the workers who got smaller trousers, and less money in their pockets, or were dismissed, while upper management and stock holders incomes soared astronomically.

The austerity mentality that decimated the well paying jobs and sent many older workers home years before a well deserved retirement, had created an economy that saw, not value in the workforce, but a sea of gaping maws.

employee meatWhat had begun as a need for willing workers was now becoming an awareness of a glut of workers that wanted the jobs that paid for the basic needs of food, shelter and medical care when they were ill or old.

And when the big bosses looked around, they realized they no longer had the jobs to give them.

Those in power look at the conflicting and conflicted attitudes of the working class, and wonder how they will control the peoples’ needs, and how they can keep the people from recognizing that their needs have become a burden on the amassing of wealth by a very small percentage of the population. The workers have become a liability.

Capitalism is about supply and demand. The workers that were once valuable commodities are now in an oversupply and under demand position, as machinery replaces their roles.

The increase to the minimum wage was a paltry $2.40 an hour, but it might as well have been a rise to $50 an hour, or $100 an hour, because, as each year goes by, our oversupply of workers will increase, and the amount of jobs available will decrease. This long awaited wage hike will not matter in a very near future where most jobs have disappeared to technology.

We are engaged in a sound and fury that conceals the real basis of our fear and anger – we are many, but what is available to us is little. Today we fight for the staff of Tim Horton’s but tomorrow, we may be fighting for our own jobs and lives.

“Look, ” the stern faced keepers of the public purse tell us, “we need to give more money to the ‘job creators,’ so that they can make the jobs that will make you happy.  In exchange, we’re going to have to take away the social safety net. That seems fair to us.”

But the job creators always had the trillions of dollars necessary to create the jobs, either in their bank accounts or socked away in some tax haven. They just realized, a decade ago, that there was no reason to spend their own money to do so. They outsource the lowest paid jobs overseas, and patiently await the automation that will rid them of most other jobs.

VOLVO SWEDEN FORDIn times like this, we have to understand that fighting for the minimum wage of some not very desirable jobs is just one very small part of a problem that can only escalate. There are few solutions to that bigger problem.

So, despite our long term stakes and investment in the arc of capitalism that began somewhere around 1760, and that we’ve built with our own toil and sweat, what we should be contemplating is … what will be done with us when the need for our backs, our hands and our eyes no longer exists?

Can we count on those who hold wealth and power to provide some sort of Universal Basic Income? Or are our days numbered, as our value to ‘the machine’ dwindles down?

I’m just hoping our future wasn’t prophesied in the 1973 post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller, Soylent Green.

(that’s a joke! maybe … )

 

 

Greece Is The Word


The outcome of the election in Greece is sending shock waves across Europe. Syriza, the left-wing, anti-austerity party led by new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, won 36% (149 of the Parliament’s 300 seats,) and, by forming a coalition government with the center-right Independent Greeks’ win of 13 seats, will have least 162 seats, a viable majority.

Greece new govt plansThe new government plans to raise the minimum wage, and create 300,000 new jobs, reverse the bank bailouts and stop banks from foreclosing on home owner’s principle residences, close corporate loopholes and offshore havens, and bring in a voucher system to help seniors in need receive food and healthcare.

For more than five years, the Greek citizens have been crushed under austerity policies imposed by the Economic Union’s “troika” of creditors; the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Greek foreign debt currently stands at 175% of Gross Domestic Product.

Almost a third of Greece’s economy collapsed under the restrictions. Since June 5, 2011, when the “Indignant Citizens Movement” or the “Greek indignados“, held a demonstration of between 300,000 – 500,000 people protesting in front of the Greek Parliament, a change in government thinking has been pre-ordained. greek protests 2011

The Greek protest was non-violent for about a month, but on June 29, 2011, the police cracked down viciously on the protesters. Three people were killed, and accusations of police brutality, excessive use of tear gas, as well as the alleged use of other expired and carcinogenic chemical substances, led to an outcry by international media and Amnesty International.

austerity greeceWith half the population in poverty, and no end in sight to continued austerity and misery, it was inevitable that the people would rise up, and demand change.

“Both Syriza and Independent Greeks have detailed emergency economic programs that will commit their government to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe left by five years of the hated Troika policy. The damage has been unprecedented short of wartime, and has led to unemployment officially at 28%, but considered by experts to be actually as high as 45%; pensions and salaries have been slashed by 25-45%. The destruction of the health-care system has increased the child mortality rate, the suicide rate, and the death rate.” (http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2015/4205grk_elex_eup_new_deal.html)

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech  at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, ScotlandEuropean leaders were swift to denounce Greece’s audacity. British PM David Cameron tweeted, “The Greek election will increase economic uncertainty across Europe.” (Britain’s membership in the European Union is a major issue in the campaign for the upcoming May election.)

russia-greeceGerman Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann told ARD network that he hoped “the new Greek government will not make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford.” But Germany’s opposition Left Party l called the Syriza victory a “sign of hope for a new start in Europe.” And today, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told CNBC that Russia would consider giving financial help to debt-ridden Greece.

The EU is shaken by the possibility that Italy, Portugal and Ireland, also horribly impacted by austerity measures, will follow Greece’s lead. Fiscal conservatives fear that Greece’s demand to write off up to half of their of €240bn debt will create a “Global Event,” on the scale of the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers Holdings, who went bankrupt with $600 billion in assets.

German Economics 1953But there is precedent in countries restructuring debt. In 1953, Germany was in a similar position to Greece today. With debt from pre-and post-war, they owed nearly 30 billion Deutschmarks to around 70 countries. With no access to capital, and creditors who didn’t believe the country could turn the economy around, Germany was desperate for cash to begin the country’s reconstruction and growth.

Despite budget cuts and laborious repayments, the economic burden was crushing their population. FinanDebt-Accord-290cial negotiations were begun by banker Hermann-Josef Abs, who led a German delegation in London in 1953. He hoped to turn the creditors of today into the financiers and investors of tomorrow. But the foreign creditors felt his first offers were insulting.

The London Debt Agreement, finally signed on February 27, 1953, saw half of Germany’s debts written off, with the rest restructured for the long-term. Germany was not to be economically overburdened. Today, our view of Germany’s economy is paired with the idea that the German people are just a very hard-working people. But none of what Germany accomplished would have been possible without the Agreement.

Greek beach NaxosThose who believe that Greece’s new vision is childish and selfish stereotype Greece’s economy as being irreparably rife with corruption and greed, and fed by an indolent, Mediterranean lifestyle. Those same people once thought that all Germans were Nazis.

greek protests 2014In fact, the average Greek retirement age is nearly 65, but the pension is quite small, requiring many retirees to continue working as long as they are physically able. According to Eurostat statistics, the Greeks work 40.6 hours a week, the highest of all 27 EU member states. The ordinary Greek citizen in not lounging on the beach drinking ouzo, they have been protesting in the streets, as tax increases and social security cuts destroy the peoples’ hope, and the public sectors are privatized to serve as collateral to service the European debt.

The Eurozone finance ministers have no intention of continuing debt relief negotiations unless the new Syriza government promises to honour all existing austerity agreements. Meanwhile, the Euro is trending downward, and the Podemos in Spain, a year-old political party that has surged to the top of the polls promising to reverse austerity in Spain and impose a levy on banks, are poised to join Greece in challenging the stranglehold of the Troika. As Tsipras pointed out during his victory speech, the old ways of doing things in Europe are doomed.   debts are not destiny