Article 43

 

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Welcome

Welcome to article43.com - a memorial to the layed off workers of (PRE SBC MERGER) AT&T, and the disappearing MIDDLE CLASS citizens of America.  It is NOT endorsed or affiliated with AT&T or the CWA in any way.

This sticky post was written the day we appeared on the internet in 2004.

In addition to INFORMATION, resources and opinion for former AT&T workers DEALING WITH the EFFECTS OF LAYOFF and looking for meaningful employment, some articles here are meant to bring into awareness the LARGER PICTURE of corporate dominance of the UNITED STATES’ political and economic policies which brazenly DISREGARDS, disrespects and EXPLOITS worker, citizen and HUMAN RIGHTS under masks like FREE TRADE and the PATRIOT ACT - resulting in a return to a society of very rich and very poor dominated by a few very rich and powerful - whose voices are anything but - for the people. If left UNCHALLENGED, the self-serving interests of those in control may result in the end of DEMOCRACY, the end of the middle class, irreversible ENVIRONMENTAL damage to the planet, and widespread global poverty brought on by exploitation and supression of the voices of common people EVERYWHERE, while the United States turns into a REINCARNATION of the ROMAN EMPIRE.  Author Thom Hartmann shares some history and outlines some basic steps to return our country to “The People” in his two articles TEN STEPS TO RETURN TO DEMOCRACY and SAVING THE MIDDLE CLASS. I support CERNIG’S idea for a new POLITICAL MOVEMENT - if not a revolution to cleanse our country of the filth ruling it - as we EVOLVE into a GLOBAL community - assuming we learn the THE LESSONS OF OUR TIME and don’t DESTROY CIVILIZATION first.

Everything here can be viewed anonymously.  Inserting or commenting on articles requires a free user account (for former AT&T employees with a real, non throw-away, email address.) Requests to the new user registration page are redirected to BLOGGED DOT COM’S site because most new signups I get are from COMMENT SPAMMERS and their ilk, so if you want to contribute, contact me through email, phone, or some other way.

There’s no third-party scripts here like privacy-eroding WEB COUNTERS, hidden datamining widgets like Pay-Pal donation boxes, or AMAZON DOT COM tracking stuff.  The RSS feeds are pulled by the server, and have no relation to anything you may be doing here.  Standard Apache WEB LOGS of info like IP, and pages visited are rotated every few days, and used internally to check the web server’s performance.  Logs of suspicious activity may be shared with law enforcement, or other ISPs, to deal with troublemakers.  Nothing here is for sale, and donations are not solicited.

If you get an email that claims to be from somebody here that’s anything but a request to post your article, or report suspicious activity (like logs sent to an ISP to report an attack) - it’s SPAM. I do not, and will not - ever - join the junk mail sender community. There are no mechanisms to prevent anyone from forging anyone elses email address in a “from” or “reply-to” mail header. For those of us whose email addresses are fraudently used, the best we can do is filter out NDR REPORTS.

Per U.S.C. COPYRIGHT LAW - TITLE 17, SECTION 107, this not-for-profit site may reproduce copyrighted material not specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such articles will either have a web link to the source, home page, and/or show credit to the author.  If yours is here and you have a problem with that, send me an EMAIL, and I’ll take it off. Stuff I wrote carries a CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE permitting non-commercial sharing. In addition, this site’s owner forbids insertion and injecting data of any kind - especially advertisements - into ours by any person or entity.  Should you see a commercial ad that looks like it’s from here, please report it by sending me a tcpdump and/or screenshot in an EMAIL, then READ UP about how the PARTNERING OF INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS and companies like NEBUAD are DESTROYING INTERNET PRIVACY

Resumes of layed off AT&T workers are posted for free HERE.

Information on the Pension Class Action Lawsuit against AT&T is HERE.  More pension-related articles are HERE.

Links to some Telecom companies’ career pages are HERE.

Click HERE to learn a little about Article 43 and why I loathe the CWA.
Click HERE or HERE to learn what the CWA did when given a chance to do the right thing.
Click HERE for a glimpse of undemocratic and hypocritical CWA practices.
Click HERE for an article on Corporate Unionism.
Click HERE for an article of AFL-CIO’s undemocratic history.

If you’re looking for telco nostalgia, you won’t find it here.  Check out THE CENTRAL OFFICE, BELL SYSTEM MEMORIAL, MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATIONS, TELEPHONE TRIBUTE, and THE READING WORKS websites instead.

This site can disappear anytime if I run out of money to pay for luxuries like food, health care, or internet service.

Discernment of truth is left to the reader - whose encouraged to seek as much information as possible, from as many different sources as possible - and pass them through his/her own filters - before believing anything.

...the Devil is just one man with a plan, but evil, true evil, is a collaboration of men…
- Fox Mulder, X Files

No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.
- John F. Kennedy

Today my country, your country and the Earth face a corporate holocaust against human and Earthly rights. I call their efforts a holocaust because when giant corporations wield human rights backed by constitutions and the law (and therefore enforced by police, the courts, and armed forces) and sanctioned by cultural norms, the rights of people, other species and the Earth are annihilated.
- Richard L. Grossman

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
- Albert Einstein

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
- Aquinas

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King Jr

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
- Benjamin Franklin

If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin

We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.
- Albert Einstein

Solidarity has always been key to political and economic advance by working families, and it is key to mastering the politics of globalization.
- Thomas Palley

Update 8/11/07 - As we head into the next depression, fueled by selfish corporate greed, and a corrupt, SOCIOPATHIC US government, MIKE WHITNEY has a solution that makes a lot of sense to me:

The impending credit crisis cant be avoided, but it could be mitigated by taking radical steps to soften the blow. Emergency changes to the federal tax code could put more money in the hands of maxed-out consumers and keep the economy sputtering along while efforts are made to curtail the ruinous trade deficit. We should eliminate the Social Security tax for any couple making under $60, 000 per year and restore the 1953 tax-brackets for Americans highest earners so that the upper 1%-- who have benefited the most from the years of prosperity---will be required to pay 93% of all earnings above the first $1 million income. At the same time, corporate profits should be taxed at a flat 35%, while capital gains should be locked in at 35%. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Congress should initiate a program of incentives for reopening American factories and provide generous sufbsidies to rebuild US manufacturing. The emphasis should be on reestablishing a competitive market for US exports while developing the new technologies which will address the imminent problems of environmental degradation, global warming, peak oil, overpopulation, resource scarcity, disease and food production. Off-shoring of American jobs should be penalized by tariffs levied against the offending industries.

The oil and natural gas industries should be nationalized with the profits earmarked for vocational training, free college tuition, universal health care and improvements to then nations infrastructure.

Posted by Admin on 09/05/04 •

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking To 2019

image: dying america

We Need a More Humane Economic System
Not One That Only Benefits the Rich

By Richard D. Wolff
December 27, 2018

Prof. Wolff joins Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now to discuss the current economic crisis, from the stock market fluctuations to the partial federal government shutdown.

The partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government is entering its fifth day after a political impasse over President Donald Trumpגs contentious demand for border wall funding. Funding for about a quarter of all federal programs expired at midnight on Friday, including the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. On Christmas Day, Trump said the shutdown will last until Democrats agree to fund his $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall, despite previously repeatedly claiming Mexico would pay for the wall. The shutdown is occurring as concern grows over the U.S. economy. U.S. stock markets are on pace to suffer their worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression. In response, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held an emergency meeting with top financial regulators and also convened a separate call with top executives of six major banks.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Im Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government is entering its fifth day after a political impasse with Congress over President Donald Trumps contentious demand for border wall funding. Funding for about a quarter of all federal programs expired at midnight on Friday, including the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. On Christmas Day, Trump said the shutdown will last until Democrats agree to fund his $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall, despite his previously repeated claims that Mexico would pay for the wall.

The shutdown is occurring as concern grows over the U.S. economy. U.S. stock markets are on pace to suffer their worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression. In response, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held an emergency meeting with top financial regulators and also convened a separate call with top executives of six major banks.

AMY GOODMAN: This came as President Trump renewed his attack on the Federal Reserve, openly criticized its chairman, Jerome Powell, whom he appointed. On Christmas Eve, Trump tweeted, ғThe only problem our economy has is the Fed.

Well, for more, weԒre joined now by Richard Wolff, emeritus professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, visiting professor at The New School, founder of Democracy at Work, hosts a weekly national television and radio program called Economic Update, author of many books, including Capitalisms Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown.

Richard Wolff, welcome to Democracy Now!

RICHARD WOLFF: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve got, before this, the capital gains tax break, the break for the richest Americans, and President Trump says hes improving the economy, and now the stock market has plummeted back to the Depression times. Explain.

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, we’ve had an economy that never really escaped the crash of 2008. In a way, the last 10 years have been an economy on life support: vast amounts of money pumped into the economy; record drops in interest rates, inviting everybody - business, individuals, governmentsחto borrow moneya debt-sustained situation. And after a while, you canגt mount up the debt on the basis of an economy that hasnt really gotten going. And we’re seeing the eventual break.

You know, the capitalist system has a downturn every four to seven years. Its had that for centuries. And the last big downturn was 2008 and ‘09. So, if you do four and seven, and you add it to nine, we’re due for one. And every major stock market observer, bank and so on predicts that we’re having a downturn. So its really only a question of exactly when. And the stock market anticipates this. And so we’re having, in a way, economic chickens coming home to roost. And the notion that its just the FedҒs policy that explains this is really the kind of remark that would get a student a very low grade in any economics course.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Richard, why - if over the last 10 years the Federal Reserve kept interest rates so low and provided so much cheap money, why hasn’t inflation increased dramatically in the U.S. over this period of time?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, the irony is, it’s one of the bizarre ways an economy works. There was no incentive to take all that money and go in and produce things that might have driven up prices and so on, because the people in America can’t afford to buy it. Our wages have been stagnant. The debts have been so big that people are afraid to borrow the way they once did, even though they still do, but not at the growing scale as before.

So, all that extra money kind of went into the stock market to make itself make quick money by buying shares, hoping that they would go up. And if all the rich people who get it into their hands do that kind of thing, you see the stock market go up, but the underlying economy doesn’t go anywhere. And again, after a while, that’s not a sustainable arrangement.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the other thing that happened, though, after the Trump tax cuts, there was all of these companies buying up their own shares, seeking to drive up their prices, right?

RICHARD WOLFF: Exactly.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now all that money has been lost?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, basically, yes, because it was funny money to begin with. It was money that was not used to hire people, was not used to raise people’s wages. All of those promises were never delivered on. Instead, it rushed into the stock market or buying back shares, which is another way of playing the market. So the market prices went up. The mainstream media tended to say, See, the economy is in good shape. It’s strong, because the market went up.

But the underlying reality of most people, which is reflected in our politics, is one of bitterness and anger and resentment that they are not participating in this so-called recovery. And now the rich are also facing the falling apart of this house of cards as the market tumbles down. And poor Mr. Trump, having staked his reputation on a rising market, is now confronted with a declining one and is looking for a scapegoat, which Mr. Powell, his own appointee, is providing to him.

AMY GOODMAN: Who I always thought wrote that op-ed piece for the Times. But I do want to ask about this Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s secret meeting - emergency meeting, I should say - with top U.S. financial regulators, after hosting a call with executives from six major banks on Sunday. You have him meeting with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Bank of Americas Brian Moynihan, Goldman SachsҒ David Solomon, Morgan Stanleys James Gorman, Tim Sloan of Wells Fargo, Michael Corbat of Citigroup. What message did he convey to them? And what about the meeting with the regulators?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, I think the basic plan here, no one knows the details, but most of us think this was not a leak. This was a letting us know that the government is busy fixing all of this. The hope is that by promising everybody’s on board to fix it, that the market will somehow come back. Its the easiest, simplest first step.

But the irony is, it didn’t play out very well, because the mass of people saw it for what it was: a ploy, an effort to verbally shore things up - which makes you wonder about how bad it really is, having pretended there was no problem, having pretended we have a strong economy. We don’t have one, so now you have to kind of talk it up.

My guess is, it wont make a big difference. We have a long-term instability built into this economic system, and we look to be on the verge of doing just that kind of downturn that history suggests we ought to expect.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is Trump so angry at Mnuchin right now?

RICHARD WOLFF: Basically, he’s looking for scapegoats. I think if he can’t use Mr. Powell - there’s some evidence he tried to figure out whether he can fire him. He was told, apparently, he cannot. OK, he can fire Mr. Mnuchin. That’s for sure. So maybe he has to shift his focus of whose the bad guy here, against = so he isnt the bad guy, so the system is never questioned. He’ll find somebody who he can fire to do the theater that he seems to like to do to solve problems by pointing to a scapegoat.

JUAN GONAZLEZ: And to what degree does TrumpRs continuing trade war battles with China have an impact on the U.S. economy and where people think its heading, not where it is right now?

RICHARD WOLFF: Mostly, at this point, it’s terribly uncertain. Companies around the world cannot make plans, cannot make investments, cannot make assumptions about whats going to happen, because we don’t know what hes going to do, we don’t know what the Chinese are going to do.

But, you know, theres a more deep historical problem here. And itҒs really American history. When we became an independent nation, it was partly because we were held backtea party, remember?חby the British. They had a rule: They wanted the colony to be subordinate. We didnt want to do that as Americans, and we ended up pushing back against the control, the effort to hold back American development. We went to two wars: the Revolutionary War and, again, the War of 1812.

The history records are not good about trying to squelch an upcoming economic power. China is todayҒs upcoming economic power. The effort to squelch and stop it is both likely to fail and extremely dangerous, because these trade wars have a nasty habit of becoming military.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about this government shutdown and who it hurts? I couldnt help thinking about the fact that so many hundreds of thousands of workers will not be paid. Of course, itҒs particularly painful through the holidays. Many other hundreds of thousands are being furloughed. You have those in the private sector who rely on the government jobs for their jobs. They will lose their jobs or not be paid. I mean, President Trump, before he was president, of course, we know that he didnt pay many of his own workers. But this idea of who is hurt during a government shutdown and who continues to get paid?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, for me, this isҗas Senator Corker said, this is theater. This is Mr. Trump producing a big news event. He is in charge. He is acting. And for him, the cost of these hundreds of thousands without incomeand, by the way, all the people they canגt spend on, who are losing an income indirectly, when you multiply this out, as we do in economics, the impact is very severe. And Im not even talking about the services they canҒt perform and the long-run effects of the services not being performed by the government. The IRS is cutting back at a time when we are desperately in trouble with our revenues anyway. So, yeah, its a crass, self-serving, political ploy, the costs of which, like in the tit-for-tat war with China, are huge but are not being counted, because they donҒt calculate in to the self-promotion of our leadership.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But this is all coming, supposedly, in a time when we have the lowest unemployment record in decades, supposedlyunemployment rate. Yet, of course, many of those who are employed are severely underemployed. But Iגm wondering what your sense is of the actual economy itself?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the reality is that we are - we have a lot of employment, but the quality of the jobs has collapsed over the last 10 years. The people who work now used to be people who had a job with good income, good benefits and good security. The jobs, overwhelmingly, created have none of those things: low wages - that’s why our wages have gone nowhere; bad benefits - those are shrinking, pensions and so on; and the security is virtually gone. One of our biggest problems in America is people don’t know one week to the next what hours they’re working, what income they’ll get. You can’t have a life like this.

So, what weve done is we’ve ratcheted down the quality of jobs. We’ve made people use up their savings since the great crash of 2008, so theyҒre in a bind. They have really no choice but to offer themselves at lower wages or at less benefit or at less security than before, which is why there’s the anger, which is why there was the vote for Mr. Trump in the first place, because this talk of recovery really is about that stock market with the funny money that the Fed Reserve pumped in, but is not about the real lives of people, which are in serious trouble, hence the numbers, like a average American family can’t get a $400 emergency cost because it doesn’t have that kind of money in the background. So, you’ve undone the underlying economy, you have this frothy stock market for the 1 percent, and this is an impossible tension tearing the country apart.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the Democrats will be taking officewill be taking over the House next week. And itגs not only the Democrats, but you have this whole new generation of progressives that are moving in. What do you want to see happen? What can they do?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the first thing is, they have to get strong enough, which may take a while, to have the numbers able to fundamentally change policy. Thats what I want. I want them to recognize that our economic system is a problem, that there ought to be a national debate, which theyҒre in the best position to start, that we stop looking for this scapegoat or that onenot just Mr. Trump with Powell or with Mnuchin, but the whole mass media effort to see a problem everywhere but in the basic economic system. We have to get over that. For half a century, weגve been afraid to debate those questions, because of the Cold War and everything having to do with it. Lets do that.

Let’s ask, for example, whether the best way to organize our enterprises is to have a tiny group of people - board of directors, major shareholders - make all the decisions, so that the rest of us have to live with the results, but we have no input. You know, a country that promises it is committed to democracy has never faced the fact that in the enterprise we don’t have democracy. We have a tiny group of people making all the decisions. And that’s not a good idea. And maybe now we can face that the decisions they’ve made, individually and collectively, have plunged us into a situation where we cannot afford the luxury of not facing basic questions about how our economy is organized. We should have done it for the last 50 years. Maybe this new generation of young people coming into the Congress will begin that conversation and, hopefully, bring us along into a national debate on these subjects, which is long overdue.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, but beyond the debate, what kind of legislation do you think that the House should be seeking to pass?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, easiest way to summarize it: We have been following - and, unfortunately, Democrats, too - something called trickle-down economics. We do economic policy where we help the folks at the top - we bail out the big banks, we give a tariff benefit - and we hope it trickles down, which it rarely does.

First thing they can do, reverse it. Lets do trickle-up economics. You help the people at the bottom, in all the different ways that we know how to do because the FDR regime back in the ‘30s did a lot of that. So we know how to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Like?

RICHARD WOLFF: Do it well, put people to work. Put people to work doing socially useful things at a decent income, not working in a fast-food restaurant under unbearable personal situations. Here’s another one: this greening of America. There’s a project that could help millions of people in a direct way. Let’s kind of do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Put forward by a Democratic Socialist, a Socialist like yourself.

RICHARD WOLFF: Absolutely. And thats where we’d expect it to come from, because we haven’t been willing, outside of the mainstream, to have the debates, so - excuse me, in the mainstream we haven’t had it. So we need the folks coming in, that are new and different, to talk about all of those things.

We did them before. The minimum wage should be raised, and dramatically. We should be helping all the kinds of people who have been denied help. We should be making sure that jobs are secure, that jobs have proper benefits, that we’re enhancing the benefitsall the things that could help the folks at the bottom have the money to spend, that will trickle up into the profits and revenues of business. That’s a more humane system.

And, you know, even if it doesn’t work as much as we want it to, at least we will have helped the majority of people. What we have now is trickle-down, that helps those of the top, and then, when it doesn’t trickle down, what have we got? We’ve helped those at the top - again. The focus on trickle-up would be an alternation in our policy that’s long overdue.

AMY GOODMAN: Are we in the midst of a recession, or is it just about to hit us?

RICHARD WOLFF: It’s just about to hit us. Goldman Sachs is literally predicting it. JPMorgan Chase - you mentioned these institutions before - they’re all saying in their newsletters - if you read the financial press, its not a question of whether, it’s just a question of when. And its sort of within the next six to 18 months. So, yes, it’s possible those will be wrong, but, you know, its been that way for a couple of centuries. It’s a good bet. And so, yes, were going to have one.

And Mr. Trump is in the very dangerous position of having two years to go before he has to run for re-election, at a time when the one thing he can point to, which is economic something, is going to disintegrate, as it has in the last several weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Wolff, we want to thank you for being with us, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, visiting professor here in New York at The New School, founder of Democracy at Work, hosts a weekly national TV and radio program called Economic Update, author of a number of books, including Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown.

SOURCE

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The Year of Fascism
Ten Lessons We Should Learn From 2018

By Umair Hague
Eudaimonia
December 30, 2018

Theres an open secret that too many of us donҒt want to admit right now, at the end of a long, ugly, emotionally bruising, psychically battering year. Yet if were going to learn anything from the mess weҒre in, it starts with just that open secret.

This was the year of fascism. The year that bona fide fascism  replete with demonization, dehumanization, demagogues, camps, show trials, and hints of genocide ח made a dramatic, shocking return to the global stage. Do you think I exaggerate? What other system, way, attitude, puts toddlers on trial? cages infants? Calls them vermin? Does literally unspeakable things, things for which we have no words, like killing them by denying them water and medicine, or freezing them to death? This was a year defined by the resurgence of fascism, if only we are brave enough to admit it. I wouldnt blame you if җ like many people  you canגt quite bring yourself to do so. After all, doing just that brings up tough, unforgiving questions. Was I complicit? Am I? Arent we better than this? DidnҒt we learn anything from history?

The year of fascism began in America. It skyrocketed to the heights of power, and then spread through the world like a terrible epidemic. Soon enough, Europe was infected. Paris was on fire. There were neo-Nazis in the Bundestag. Italy was gripped by its own ugly bout of what looks a lot like national socialism. And so on. Now, it was utterly predictable that America was going to implode into fascism (no, that doesnt mean youҒre a fascist, it just means that there are supremacists in high office, doing terrible things, which are slowly normalized.) Not just because fascism was invented in America  the Nazis, after all, studied Americaגs race laws, great admirers of its system of slavery and segregation  but because political economy said so. That brings me to my second lesson.

Economics was right, but American economics was wrong. Was it the one of historyגs greatest, weirdest coincidences that nations as different as America, Italy, and Austria all melted down into different degrees of fascism? How can the cause of fascism be cultural when these nations dont share cultures? But wait җ wasnt economics wrong? IsnҒt the economy booming?

Its baffling җ and nobody explains it well, mostly because almost nobody remembers how to think about it well. I dont blame you for being confused. The confusion arises from the a simple problem.

American economics was wrong. About what? About everything, more or less. Capitalism - by way of slashing social investment, privatizing everything, making corporations people, and cutting taxes for the rich - wasn’t the answer to everything. Wealth and income and prosperity didnt trickle down from billionaires to average people. Instead, the rich turned into the super rich, while the average American went deeper and deeper into debt, unable to afford basics like healthcare and education and a home on his stagnant income.

(American economics is so badly wrong that it says absurd, bizarre, hilarious things like: “the economy’s booming!!” at the precise moment that life expectancy is cratering, suicide and depression are skyrocketing, young people cant afford to start families, old people can’t afford to retire, and average incomes have barely budged for half a century. LOL So when people living shorter, unhappier, grimmer, poorer lives, to the point that they kill themselves in despair, have become a “booming economy,” then, my friends, a theory of dunces has replaced reality with a grotesque and backwards illusion. The earth isn’t flat - though American economics would like us all to believe it is, in a weirdly Soviet twist.)

But American economics is not all of economics - its just a weird, cultish subset, its own strange discipline, which is at this point, so badly wrong its somewhere between absurdly hilarious and tragically gruesome. That’s because 1) it didn’t study the world 2) learn anything from history 3) think very hard about whether it’s conclusions are backed up by the most basic empirical reality (like - wait, how can an economy be booming when life expectancy is falling? Isn’t life the point of money, not money the point of life?)

EconomicsҢ  not American economics, but the real thing - said exactly the following would happen  exactly what the great economists of the past, like Keynes, would have predicted: because the average Americaגs life had fallen apart, because he was so deeply indebted, society would destabilize, and a fascist-authoritarian wave was likely to roar. Keynes, after all, was the one who pointed out that is precisely what happened in Weimar Germany. In todays context, it goes something like this: when there isnҒt enough to go around, and there is no way to ever get or have or be any more, people define the weakest among them as nonhumanӔ or subhumanӔ  precisely so there is more for them. That brings me to my third lesson.

Fascism is a way to ration a stagnant economy. It is what happens when a collapsed middle class punches down, instead of lifting up. Imagine that the pie is shrinking for a moment. But our bills are going up, year by year. What are we to do? The easiest solution is to exclude some people from having a share. That is what fascism really is. We define some people as inhuman, so that they do not belong anymore ח and then there is more, suddenly, finally, for the true peopleӔ, the volk, the real ones. In Weimar Germany, that is exactly what happened. Spectacular economic mismanagement led to runaway inflation, living standards cratered, there wasnt enough to go around җ bang! Fascism.

But thats what happened in America, too җ only in a less obvious way, at least to pundits, who never leave the DC/NYC bubble. Prices for the basics of life  education, healthcare, even food, rose by thousands of percent. But incomes didnגt. The average persons living standards cratered. There isnҒt enough to go around  enough healthcare, education, incomes, jobs, money, retirement, childcare, maternity leave ח all these things are in chronic, constant shortage, thanks to predatory capitalism, which needs those artificial shortages to boost its profits. So peoples share of the social surplus has declined sharply. That alone predicted a sudden tidal wave of fascism җ and then there was the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which made it more or less inevitable.

Let me give you a concrete example so its clearer. There was a nobody җ a man who used to be a machinist, unemployed now in Weimar Germany, drunk every day, wth no hope in the future. Along came the Nazi party. He joined it, out of hope. And he found himself living in a fine riverside mansion, filled with grand art and furniture. Suddenly, he had power, money, respect, belonging, an address. He was someone. But the mansion was seized from a Jew  and given to him because he was an SS officer. And so, really, was the respect, money, and belonging, too. Do you see what I mean? Itגs often said that national socialismӔ is just a label without a meaning, but that is wrong. It is the act of taking the possessions, belongings, wealth, incomes, jobs, homes, and ultimately, the personhood of those who are even weaker than the middle class who has collapsed into new poverty  by defining them as impure, as unreal, using the state to do it ח creating whole new industries and jobs (not to mention norms, values, and ideals) along the way.

But thats what began to happen in America җ a collapsed middle class, suddenly lurching into new poverty, began punching down, hoping to seize prosperity from those even weaker than it, Mexicans and blacks and immigrants and so on, by taking away everything from them  beginning with their personhood. Stagnation lights the spark of old bigotries. But the lesson is this. Middle class collapse is the strongest predictor of fascism there is ח it tells us a society cant punch up, climb up, lift up anymore, and soon enough, it will begin to have to punch down.

Fascism is always a depression away. What does it mean for a middle class to collapse? Where are the good jobs left in America? The truth is there arenҒt many. Sure, the unemployment rateӔ is low  but the average American is living paycheck to paycheck, unable to muster $500 for an emergency. That tells us in no uncertain terms that the jobs he is doing are low-wage, dead-end ones ח essentially, he is a servant to the new rich, whether he drives their cars, or delivers their fineries, and so on. America has undergone several decades now of hidden stagnation  itגs economics statistics only tell us about the health of capitalism, but when the stock market booms, average people get poorer, not richer, because those profits are had by cutting away their incomes and wages and raiding their pensions  all while charging them higher prices every year for the very things they produce.

But when people cannot make ends meet, then the problem of allocating a stagnant social surplus arises. And yet, just as in Weimar Germany, the capitalists, who are profiting massively by driving the average person into stagnation, cannot be moved - they will not budge an inch, or give a dollar, to lift living standards up. They simply don’t care What is a society to do? There is no solution left, apart from excluding some, so that the illusion of prosperity for the true volk can appear. Bang! The fascist implosion begins. Germany 1934. America 2018. But the lesson is: fascism is always a depression away. It is a solution to a very real problem - a bad one. The problem of depression, of stagnation, of stuck or declining living standards, and no resources or mechanisms available with which to reverse them. What is left but to turn on ones neighbour, and take his bread, then? A starving man will do anything to feed his kids - including believing a bellowing demagogue when he shouts those other kids, the strange-looking ones, are parasites and vermin.

Fascism was predictable. So how come nobody predicted it? The sequence above  stagnation, middle class collapse, simmering rage, implosion ח should have foretold a fascist wave in gigantic blinking red letters blaring air-raid alarms. It did, to those of us who are versed in history, economics, and politics (after all, greater minds, from Adorno to Fromm to Bourdieu, have spent decades explaining how capitalism implodes viciously into fascism  not the Marxist revolution that once was hoped for.) Those of us who did see it coming tried warning of it as desperately, urgently, and loudly as we could. But Americaגs class of leaders  politicians, academics, intellectuals, columnists, pundits - didn’t just refuse to listen. They made us pay a steep price - we were shunned, mocked, reviled, and taunted. Those of us who saw it coming were women and minorities, mostly, or both, and we have lived this before - but those who didn’t see this coming were those who couldn’t. That is because they were all one kind of person: comfortable, upper-middle-class, Ivy League, white, who’d never really lived anywhere but the East Coast of America. No, its not that they;re all bad or inherently bad - it’s that a kind of predictable group think emerged, just like in a frat-house: hubris, arrogance, willful blindness, a closing of the mind - and a backlash against anyone who tried to open it.

דLOL  fascism? Those people are weirdos! No matter how accomplished they are, theyגre nottheyŒre not us! Theyre women and minorities! Come on. WeҒre right  we always are! There are more of us than them ח and were stronger!!Ҕ They were right  there were more of them than there were of us. They were stronger. But that didnגt make them righter. It only made them, sadly, a little deafer, dumber, and blinder. They failed at job one of any leader  protecting their society from turning on itself.

It happened here, and it still is. Because of the comfortable atmosphere of hubris, arrogance, and ignorance among them - America’s politicians, intellectuals, and pundits spent all of 2016 and 2017 lost in a fog of denial, wandering in circles like the blind. “How bad could it possibly be?” A lot, lot worse than they thought, it turns out. They spent that vital time minimizing, denying, and erasing the possibility of implosion - instead of reflecting on it, considering it, understanding it, grappling with it. The New York Times and Washington Post profiled Nazis as handsome, charming rogues, over and over again - while warning their readers never to bring to use words like fascism and authoritarianism, because it couldn’t happen here.

And that is exactly how in 2018, it did, with a vengeance. Bang! Those of us who warned of it were dismissed, taunted, mocked, and sneered at  and we still are. It would be wise for those who made the fatal mistake of not seeing fascism coming when it was eminently predictable to admit it, to learn something from that mistake. But I donגt see any evidence of that. Morning Joe, who supported Trump all election long, is now a vicious enemy of his. But he never examines why, is open enough with his viewers, to say, I was wrong, and that is how we got here. Why was I wrong? Doesn’t it matter? You see, unless there is responsibility amongst leaders - then there will irresponsibility. Until there is accountability, then there will be failure. Not to take responsibility for I failed to protect my society from fascism, and that was my first jobӔ is to add insult to injury. That brings us to my next lesson.

Fascism takes us by surprise  happens faster, harder, and worse than we think because we try very hard not to think about it at all. Weגre in denial  but denial is fascismגs best friend. America spent so much time it-cant-happen-hereing that it did. That is one part of the story in a nutshell. ItҒs difficult to admit that fascism is a thing that hasnt ғgone away, died some kind of natural death. But fascism is more like a plague, which can strike at any time, if you understand the above, than some kind of episode in distant history. ItԒs always just a depression away. And yet when we waste time it-cant-happen-hereing, like AmericaҒs leaders all did, for crucial, vital years, then how can we prepare for it? Fight it? Prevent it? We cant. We disempower ourselves, as we always do, when we make ourselves blind. America was caught totally by surprise by its fascist implosion. Most people, IҒd wager  who are good and decent people ח are still in shock, though they might not know it. Theres a lingering hangover of disbelief, of confusion, of bewilderment. Wait җ were killing kids? What the? How is this happening? Yet shock is what happens when you spend so long in denial, reality comes as a jolt.

NobodyҒs immune from fascism  itגs only cure is prosperity. Fascism spread to Europe, too. Nobody is immune from it. And yet the spread of this latest fascist wave tallies with what the economics predict: those societies where middle classes have done better see less of it (not none of it). Sure, France and Germany and Sweden all have their extremist fringes  who have risen to power. Yes, the Gilets Jaunes are setting Paris on fire. But these nations arenגt headed by supremacists. They arent nearly as badly affected by neofascism as America is җ and that is because America is where the middle class collapsed the most.

Fascism is a disease of modernity  itגs cancer. It happens when middle classes implode into sudden poverty  thatגs a curse of prosperity, because middle classes are a new phenomenon in history. When they cant make ends meet, when they grow desperate, enraged, when they lost trust and faith in society җ then they turn on those below them and beside them. A man who has been lifelong friends with his neighbours will take all that they have if he sees his children starving. It is the simplest and greatest lesson of the 20th century. For that reason, peace amongst people is the most fragile and tenuous victory of all  it only becomes possible through shared, enduring, growing prosperity. Why is it that a century later ח we still havent learned it? And that brings me to my last lesson.

Social democracy insulates societies against fascism. Fascism is rising hardest and fastest in countries which have failed the challenge of really modernizing. Of giving people a fair chance at a decent life. Foremost amongst these is America җ where people must make grim, terrible choices, like chemotherapy, or feeding my kids?Ӕ, my life ӗ or my life savings? But there are many more. EuropeԒs peripheral states, too, are failing to modernize. Russia has descended into nationalist fervor since it failed to modernize. And so on. The lesson is simple. Fascism is a kind of reaction to a society being stuck at a certain stage of development  it is what happens when a society fails to make the transition from capitalism to social democracy. Or, worse, regresses from social democracy to capitalism. Fascist pressures are emerging in Europe precisely because a foolish policy of austerity is turning social democracy back into capitalism. You can think of it like falling into a chasm, if you want.

Capitalism is not meant to last forever. It is meant to evolve into social democracy. Society is meant to transcend capitalism, to go beyond it, by investing the social surplus it creates in things like hospitals, schools, education, media, retirement, for all. If a society doesn’t do that - then the rich will become ultra rich, while the middle implode into the new poor, and that new class of poor will grow resentful, enraged, embittered, and punch down, hoping to seize what they can from those even more powerless than them. Bang! Thatגs the fascist implosion. Its what happened to the world in 2018. Economics has everything to do with it. It’s not a coincidence that so many countries turned so hard towards fascism so fast.

The question in 2019 is whether we are wise enough to begin understanding it.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/31/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Monday, December 24, 2018

Culture of Stupidity

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We Are The People of the Apocalypse
Clinical psychologist John F. Schumaker reveals the dangerous erosion of human personality at the heart of modern consumer culture.

By John F. Schumaker
New Internationalist
December 14, 2018

“For a culture to avoid self-destruction as it progresses,” writes Henry George in his classic 1883 work Social Problems, “it must develop a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit while ensuring responsible and visionary leaders who embrace the mental and “moral universe.” By stark contrast, modern consumer culture barrels in the opposite direction, breeding an increasingly trivialized and disengaged strain of personhood, devoid of the loftier qualities needed to sustain a viable society and healthy life supports.”

Human personality - a crisis

While the ever-deepening mental-health crisis is common knowledge, less understood is the even more serious personality crisis that has rendered the consuming public largely unfit for democracy and nigh useless in the face of the multiple emergencies that beg for responsible and conscientious citizenship.

In times of crisis, we turn reflexively to the state of the economy without considering possible collapses within the general state of the person or what psychologist Erich Fromm called a culture’s social character. By this he meant the shared constellation of personality and character traits disseminating from a society’s dominant modes of inculturation, all of which serve to forge common values, priorities, ethics, lifestyles and worldviews, and even the so-called will of the people.

Writing when he did over 50 years ago, Fromm already noticed the unfurling of a personality crisis, using the term marketing personality to describe the one-dimensional, commodified and de-sensitized eternal suckling that was, as he forewarned in the famous conclusion of Beyond the Chains of Illusion (1962), succumbing to a culturally manufactured consensus of STUPIDITY that could prove our ultimate undoing. Since then, the social character has become so stunted, and the decline of true citizenship so complete, that some now speak of the apocalyptic personality propelling our rush toward self-destruction. But the problem now goes far beyond an agreed-upon stupidity.

Cultural infantilism

Immaturity has joined forces, as a cultural consensus, with a growing number of social thinkers warning of the dramatic rise of psychological neoteny, otherwise known as “cultural infantilization”. Bruce G Charlton’s influential 2006 Medical Hypothesis article “The rise of the boy-genius” detailed the cultural evolution of a personality profile marked by delayed cognitive maturation, emotional and spiritual shallowness, and diminished profundity of character that manifests itself in a child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge. While these Ғunfinished personalities may have increased adaptability in a mercurial culture of inconstant loyalties, abbreviated attention spans and compulsive novelty-seeking, they also expose society to the rawness and limitations of youth that hamper higher-order judgment and decision-making abilities, and culminate in a ђculture of irresponsibility.

In his 2017 book “The Public in Peril,” Henry A Giroux writes about the cultural infantilism of daily life, which encourages adults to assume the role of unthinking children while simultaneously crippling the imagination of the young and destroying their traditional role as “the repository of society’s dreams,: Through the engineering of an infantilized society, he observes: Thoughtlessness has become something that now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses.ё The result is a social system overly invested in ethical ignoranceҒ and a public sphere. dumbed to the value of an enlightened and democratic body politic.

In a similar vein, sociologist Christopher Swaders book The Capitalist Personality (2013) documents the prevailing of a rudimental cultural personality featuring exploitive egoism, selfish ambition and profit-mindedness that became the psycho-social mainspring of consumer capitalism. Although bedevilled with deadly long-term consequences, the ґcapitalist personality was a predictable outcome of a system functionally dependent on low levels of ethical conviction, personal growth and spiritual wakefulness.

Guilt has lost its power

Of the many ways that we invite self-destruction, the climate crisis cries loudest for responsible citizenship and leadership. It is by far the greatest moral, ethical and psycho-social challenge encountered by our species. But the cultural conditions that foster collective responsibility, other-mindedness and conscience development have eroded. Guilt has lost much of its former powers of persuasion and deterrence. Character building as a socialization pathway to ethical resolve and civic commitment is virtually extinct. The trait of narcissism, as well as diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, have risen so much in recent decades that many now regard the narcissistic personality as a normal outcome of current social-cultural conditions. The same is true of the sociopathic personality.

Researchers, such as those at Essex UniversityҒs Centre for the Study of Integrity, have chronicled a deepening crisis in which people are increasingly willing to condone behaviour, both in themselves and others, as well as their leaders and institutions, that once would have been deemed dishonest, immoral, unjust and anti-social. The sociopathic personality has become integral to the workings of modern consumer capitalism. But as sociologist Charles Derber, the author of Sociopathic Society (2013), also notes: Climate change is a symptom of the sociopathic character of our capitalist model.ђ

Adiaphora

Empathy is the cornerstone of civilization and the faculty of human intelligence upon which all well-functioning societies depend. But evidence shows it to be fading from the global social character. Using data from 127 countries and over 100,000 assessments, the State of the Heart Report (2016) showed empathy to be one of the fastest-declining components of overall emotional intelligence (EQ). According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the psycho-social workings of consumer capitalism make such moral dissociations inevitable. In Moral Blindness (2013), he uses the ancient Stoic word adiaphora (meaning indifferents) to describe the consensus of indifference that enables consumer capitalism to fulfil its operative promise of ever-growing creative destruction. As a result, he writes, we are at risk of losing our sensitivity to the plight of others, something which applies equally to our socially sanctioned indifference toward future generations and the well being of the planet.

Climate of apathy

The ruination of nature is an implicit assumption of the current capitalist system. While the terms apocalypse fatigue and doomsday fatigue have joined similar ones like climate fatigue, environment fatiguҒ and green fatigue, all these imply, not only a mature and dutiful citizenry, but one exhausted from fending off ecological catastrophe, which is of course ridiculous. In fact, around 10 years ago, an especially large drop in climate concern coincided with a deluge of high quality climate change research alerting people to the need for urgent action. In the most comprehensive study of its kind, titled Declining public concern about climate change (Global Environmental Change, May 2012), political scientists Lyle Scruggs and Salil Benegal analysed data over the last 30 years and demonstrated that climate concern is on a downward slope, with recent years showing the most precipitous decline.

The seemingly suicidal ditching of climate concern was blamed initially on economic woes, but environmental researchers gradually discovered that education, rather than being the master key to responsible and ethical behaviour as one may think, can actually make things worse. Called the cultural backfire effect, it refers to the way in which people retaliate against facts disconfirming their cultural beliefs by actually strengthening those beliefs, even when they are blatantly erroneous. Researchers at Yale Universitys Cultural Cognition Project studied this effect in relation to the climate change beliefs of different political parties in the US. For Republicans, most of whom do not believe in climate change, as their factual knowledge of climate change increased, they actually became less likely to believe in it. For Democrats, as their factual knowledge increased, they were more likely to believe, even when they knew less than Republicans. Such findings demonstrate that our beliefs are much less a product of what we know, or what is right or wrong, than who we are by virtue of our cultural identities.

An overarching cultural system

Yet the reason that people in general, regardless of sub-groupings, are so feckless and impassive, and their actions so antithetical to what they must be at this pivotal crossroads in our existence, is that everyone has been assimilated into an overarching cultural system whose lifeblood is the mercenary indifference and irresponsibility of its followers. Consumer culture has endowed its ґunfinished personalities with minimal aptitude or motivation for constructive disobedience. While the young are the historical igniters of social change, todayҒs de-idealized youth are the most conventional and conformist generation in history with most being huddled around the same dead zone of market-driven values, commercialized meanings, and digital distractions.

Aligned to the forces of destruction

It was once assumed that, if the democratic process could be perfected, the ֑will of the people would blossom forth in the service of the greater good. But democracy is proving worthless, and even counterproductive, as a solution to the ecological crisis and other side-effects of our obsolete cultural system. Once a critical mass of the population becomes fully aligned to the forces of destruction, as it has today, democracy becomes more of a liability than a solution. At that point, a society finds itself in a psycho-spiritual plight as great as any of its political, economic or technological ones.

Experiments in eco-religion, or green religion, reasoned that the type and degree of change required today can only be achieved through spiritual growth and enlightenment. But these failed, with none able to compete with a rapidly de-moralizing society, as well as the honeyed ґprosperity theology and ґconsumer theology movements peddling less sin, soul and sacrifice, and more getting than giving.

Above self

Only the odd diehard biophile or flower child still preaches love as the revolutionary force that could awaken a higher humanity and reverse our death march. People have become less loveable, both in terms of their loveableness and, more crucially, their ability to love. In ґToward a culture of responsibility, Yasuhiko Genku Kimura singles out the current consensus, saying: ґThe pandemic of irresponsibility bespeaks a pandemic of lovelessness in the world. More to the point, Noam Chomsky states: ґIf you care about other people, thats now a very dangerous idea.Ғ To care about anything above, or outside of, oneself has become culturally dangerous, and most dangerous of all to the entire enterprise of apocalyptic capitalismђ would be a populace attuned to the sacredness and supremacy of nature, as tended to be the case throughout most of human history.

The Great Law of the Iroquois required that all major decisions be taken with consideration of people and the land seven generations into the future. Chief Luther Standing Bear, the renowned author and philosopher head of the Oglala Lakota Iroquois, who felt morally bound to remain a chronic disturberђ despite his acclaim, observed: A manђs heart away from nature becomes hard. Our alienation from nature undoubtedly contributes to our relentless abuses of it, as well as our perversion of priorities and total loss of cosmic grounding.

Who we are has never been more incompatible with who we need to be. What we have become is the greatest threat to ourselves and the planet. We have been perfectly groomed, psychologically and spiritually, for disaster. We have become hard. We are the people of the apocalypse.

John F Schumaker is a retired clinical psychologist and academic living in Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/24/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Monday, December 10, 2018

Austerity American Style Part 17- An American Invention

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How Austerity Ripped the World Apart
How the Worst Idea America Ever Had Came to Rule the World

By Umair Haque
Eudaimonia
December 8, 2018

There’s a force that’s ripping the world apart. Slashing through democracy, the future, and society. Reducing the planet to a smoking, melted wreck. Around the globe, people are revolting against it. In Paris, anger against this force has united the left and right into the gilets jaunes - at least for the moment. Perhaps that revolt will go the way of the British one, Brexit - and descend into paranoia, hubris, and self-destruction - only time will tell.

The force that’s ripping the world apart is austerity. But austerity - a term we use all too casually - deserves to be thought about a little more deeply, which I want to do in this essay. Austerity is an American invention - and funnily, strangely, sadly, today, the world is becoming Americanized because it chose austerity, when it should have chosen precisely the opposite - investment, support, nurturance, care. Britain, Europe, and even Canada - all these societies are now beginning to experience precisely all the same problems as America, hostility between neighbours, enmity to historic allies, extremism, folly, despair, rage, stupidity, superstition, selfishness, greed, violence - all the predictable, catastrophic effects of austerity. When you choose what made America collapse - where should you expect to end up but collapsing like America?

Austerity simply means a lack of investment by societies in themselves, in people, in public goods. Things like healthcare, education, transport, energy, retirement, decent jobs, incomes, savings. The problem is that all those things are what underpin the stability of societies, by ensuring that prosperity is something that is realized by all - not just something greedily seized by a tiny few. But Ill come back to all that. It’s obvious to say that this age of austerity is in a superficial way the result of bank bailouts, which foolish governments though left countries bankrupt (they didn’t). But that is only the beginning of the untold story of austerity.

We don’t often think about it, but Austerity is an American invention. So much so that Americans have never really experienced anything but austerity. America has never invested in itself as a society - building robust public goods, like a national healthcare system, transport network, retirement system, safety nets, and so on. From the time of Jefferson to Reagan to Obama, America has been a society in which people have been told to compete viciously against one another - instead of simply providing each other the things they are competing for, healthcare, retirement, income, jobs, and so forth. Compete with each other! Never invest in each other! That is the rule by which America has always been governed. The results, today, are plain to see: they have been catastrophic. The average American lives a shorter, poorer, meaner, dumber life than anywhere else in the rich world, beset by gruesome and bizarre dilemmas, like his life savings, or his life, when hes ill. Basic medicines like insulin cost up to a thousand times what they do in other societies - - while Americans are forced to watch their kids be massacred at school. All those are effects of a society of competition for the things people should cooperate to freely provide one another. Yet because Americans have never experienced anything but that, which is to say they have been brainwashed into believing austerity is the only way life and society can ever be - they are left unable to conceive of a way out of their own ongoing collapse.

Now, austerity was invented by America as a result of its toxic, terrible legacy of slavery and segregation. Americans do not want to admit it - the truth is too much to bear - but America was an apartheid state until 1971. The problem is that an apartheid state cannot invest in itself - what reason does it have to build healthcare systems for all? Instead, it invests in useless things, which genuinely improves nobody’s life - secret polices, barriers, walls, mechanisms of repression and separation. So because America was born in slavery, it evolved into austerity - which simply means that it could never really invest in itself. Trumpism was the ultimate expression of that legacy - kick those filthy subhumans out!! I will never invest a penny in their healthcare, stability, retirement, or rights! They are not even people!! But then you will never have much of your own, either. Bang! That way lies social collapse. At root, austerity is Social Darwinism by any other name - which is also exactly the mentality of a slave owner. But a society is made of people - and a democracy is made of free and equal ones. When it turns into a bitter battle of predators and prey - it collapses.

Now, the wrinkle in the story is this. The world should have understood all this ח and rejected Americas worst idea in disgust and repulsion. But it didnҒt. In fact, it embraced it. Somehow, austerity came to be embraced even by European social democrats. Even by the British Labour party. In fact, at this juncture, the only society which really rejects austerity is China  and while we might object to political aspects of Chinese growth, the fact is that investing heavily in society has led it to become a major force in the world today. But I digress.

Why was austerity embraced even by European and British social democrats - who should have been its most natural and fierce opponents? The answer to that lies in the ideology behind austerity, which is neoliberalism. Neoliberalism essentially says that nothing - nothing -in a society should be a truly public good. Everything = every single thing in a society, from jails to schools to libraries to parks to power plants - should be privately owned, and run for maximum profit.

Now, a concerned reader might ask: what kind of an illiterate fool would think that? The answer is: American economics makes it sound very smart and intelligent to answer every concern possible about life, society, and being with just that, even if - as now - the planet is melting down. It is built on three crucial assumptions. First, that “markets will regulate themselves."Second, that “social investment, governments, can never do anything good or positive” for anyone, period. Third, that “people are atoms of desire, balls of raw appetite, who should only ever be purely, aggressively, one-dimensionally self-interested.”

(Now, the interesting question is: are these assumptions true? The answer is that they are not. We don’t have to look much further than the history of the 20th century, because its three great lessons - learned after World War II  are precisely the opposite of these three foolish American ideas. Market do not regulate themselves ח that is how the Great Depression came to be. Governments are the only actors who can provide the things that markets cannot, and those things are what raise peoples living standards the most җ like healthcare, transport, retirement, safety nets. People are not just little balls of insatiable greed - they are human beings, who desire decent lives, resonant in meaning, purpose, belonging, justice, fairness, truth, stability, freedom. If societies don’t step in to provide those things, which markets never have and never will, then the result will be rising extremism and fanaticism. People will turn away from democracy, and towards authoritarianism and fascism, just as they did in the 1930s. The result will be social implosion = and America, ironically enough, is the example which proves the folly of its very own thinking.)

And yet American economics wasn’t interested - in the slightest - in thinking about all the above. It simply ignored the great lessons of the 20th century, out of hubris, arrogance, and more than a little exceptionalism. It didn’t even bother studying its own collapse. If we think about it, in fact, American economics was simply restating America’s grim and foolish history - this time as answers to every single issue of socioeconomy - as a proud model to follow for the world. The three assumptions above, after all - markets are perfect! governments are the worst! hands off my property!! more of my own property is the only thing i care about!! - are nothing other than the logic of a plantation-owner, of a slave-master. They cannot be the logic of a person who considers themselves a free and equal citizen of a democracy, if you think about it.

So American economics presented the world a pure distillation of Americas epic mistakes, a windowinto the mind of a society founded on slavery and hatred and subjugation, not freedom and justice and equality - and told the world it was the way to prosperity. The world was dumb, naive, gullible enough to swallow it. Much of it, anyways. LOL. How come no one thought this through?

This bizarre and foolish illogic, which would come to be known as neoliberalism, an eerie restatement of Americas history of slavery and segregation, came to rule the world. A whole generation of European social democrats, in particular, came to be its defenders and champions 0 ironically, weirdly, strangely. How? Why? The answer is probably that by this point neoliberalism was something like a full blown ideology. It was easy to believe childish fairy tales like Facebook would replace democracy and apps would become a nations healthcare system. Easier, at any rate, than actually thinking about the world. Europe’s social democrats remained so only in name, to a large degree - in truth, many were ardent neoliberals, who glorified, lionized, and admired America, never having visited its ruined towns, its wrecked cities, its abandoned villages, never having seen its destroyed lives and shattered future. A comforting fable is always more seductive than a difficult truth.

What do you suppose the effect of believing in the ideology that America created - which brought it to its knees, had caused America to never become a modern society, to end up collapsing before it modernised - might be in the rest of the world? Pretty obvious, no? It would probably make you end up like that, too. Believing American logic would lead to you ending up just like America.

And that is precisely what we see, for example, the world over. In Europe and Britain and Canada - thanks to the disastrous mistake of choosing austerity over investment, these societies are now wracked by the same maladies that ripped through America, imploding it from within in just a few decades. Inequality, and the frustration and resentment it breeds. Rising poverty, rising insecurity, rising injustice. A lack of decent jobs, immobility, inopportunity. The concentration of power and profit amongst the most predatory. A massive failure of social contracts. Mistrust and hostility and a loss of faith in the future. A sense of fury and disgust at it all. Middle class stagnation, and working class fury. The rich, who’ve become ultra-rich, laughing at it all, and profiting all the more, as societies turn to extremists for hope, where there is none to be found in the establishment - because it goes on proposing different flavours of austerity.

These societies are - to different degrees - on the verge, or at least the path, of becoming mini Americas. They are ending up in exactly the same place as America, on the same path now: torn apart by extremism, stupidity, greed, despair, folly, selfishness. Those are precisely all the things which many American institutions, like its political parties, its thinktanks, its famous intellectuals and pundits, still cherish and prize. But they are false beliefs - mistakes. They are the toxic residue of the age-old philosophy of cruelty and supremacy which has always defined America. Austerity is Social Darwinism by any other name, And the problem is that this century must be built on something nobler, truer, and wiser than cruelty for supremacy’s sake. Do you really want to end up like America? That is the question no one has really asked Brits, Europeans and Canadians. But it is exactly where austerity leads.

(In Britain, for example, it was places hardest hit by austerity that voted most for Brexit. That is precisely the pattern of American collapse - and it is spreading to Europe, too, where, for example, in Italy and Germany, we see precisely the same dynamics playing out. We see it beginning in Canada, too - in Ontario and Quebec both.)

Austerity doesn’t solve a single problem that a society has ever had. Inequality, a lack of opportunity, decline, a shrinking middle, crime, the decay of the rule of law, corruption - name a single social problem that a society can ever have, and you will soon see: austerity is a fiction in the sense that it has never, and can never, solve any of these problems. In fact, the greatest lesson of history is exactly the opposite of austerity. Progress in the world did not come to be at all until people began to invest in each other, in their own educations, health, longevity, intelligence, in things like universities, labs, hospitals, parks, roads, town squares. Instead of timidly handing their labour, their money, time, and energy, over to their masters, whether they were called lords, kings, tyrants, emperors, or capitalists.

For exactly that reason - because it cannot solve a single social problem that has ever existed - quite naturally, austerity doesn’t solve any of the great problems the world has today. Inequality, mistrust, stagnation, climate change - these are the big four problems of the 21st century. But austerity makes each one not just worse - but in fact impossible to solve, because the only way to solve these problems is through intense, broad, enduring social investment. Whether in clean energy, or in green management, or in better healthcare and retirement systems, or the jobs that doing all that would bring.

And so austerity is ripping the world apart. It ripped Britain from its friends and partners. It ripped social democracy from the EU. It tore through an age of stability and prosperity. It is tearing ally from ally, neighbour from neighbour, country from country, society from society, union from union. That is because it is making it impossible to solve real problems - and so those real problems have all gotten worse, since that is austerity’s true effect. As those problems get worse, people regress to their primal selves, huddling together in tribes, uttering superstitions, cursing their neighbours, bowing before totems, seeking safety from the very flood that they were told would water their gardens. What else can they do?

Hence, thanks to austerity, the world is turning American now. Britain and Europe and even Canada are beginning to be wracked by just the same problems as America җ division, hostility, outrage, extremism, inequality, rage, hopelessness, authoritarianism, stupidity, the self-destructive behaviour that arises when people become martyrs out of frustration with a broken social contract. Many poorer countries are already on the way to following their lead.

But ending up ruined, just like America, is just the perfectly logical effect of choosing the same astonishingly ignorant ideology that ruined America to run your own society, too. Neoliberalism is literally ignorant of historys greatest lesson. It thinks prosperity comes from austerity җ when in fact, the only lever of human prosperity in the long run has ever  ever, what turned feudalism into freedom ח been people investing in one another. That shattering level of ignorance caused America to never become a modern society, to end up collapsing before it modernised  but now it is causing the world to follow Americaגs lead now, too.

And so the question for the world these days is: can it understand even an inkling of the above? Nobody should end up like America. Not even Americans deserve to be in the terrible, bizarre, tragic situation they are in, really. But they have yet to fully reject the philosophies of supremacy and violence hidden prettily inside the neoliberal dream - and that is why America goes right on collapsing.

The more societies that become Americanized - the more unstable, dangerous, and self-destructive this century will become. Can you imagine a world full of little Americas? A world full of Americas? It would never solve climate change. It would cheer while the planet melted down. It would never solve inequality - it would simply abandon people to die. It would never go anywhere but right back into the dark ages. If you just shuddered - now you understand the stakes.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/10/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Austerity American Style
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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Call Center Blues

image: call center

Nothing like being stuck in a cube smaller than a cattle pen for over eight hours a day, tethered to a phone like a cow chained to a barn. Humans are not designed to talk for eight hours a day. I will be shoveling cow manure or pig crap before working in a call center again.

[T]hey get on you about AHT “handle time” being too long. So you have to shuffle customers through and blow them off to have your “talk time"/handle time in line and not get yelled at. Also, there is always some nitpicking about how to speak, no matter how articulate you are
- City-Data

Criticising our work and PUTTING US DOWN is the norm. [M]istakes are shared by management both as an internal note on the ticket for all employees to see, and broadcast on an intracompany mail list… The LEVEL of negative FEEDBACK and MICROMANAGEMENT is SUFFOCATING.
- Can’t Find a Qualified US Worker - Redux 2

Negative feedback should be an unusual event: If you run your own business or are in a position of management, you should be aware that your behavior influences the environment of your company. If you and the people in your company criticize and complain a lot, maybe this is a sign that you are providing too much negative feedback, and the risk is that the work environment can deteriorate. Be aware that critiques should be delivered just once in a while, and not permanently, as too much critique ruins the relationships between your collaborators, and risk their disengagement and consequently their performance.
- 10 Good Ways to Give Feedback

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The Worst Job I Ever Had: Working in a Call Center for a Cell Phone Company
It was four straight hours of listening to complaints, a lunch break, and then another four hours on the phone.

By Lucas McDaniel,
Bloomington, Indiana

How I got in

I was just out of college, struggling to find a job, and expenses were piling up - student loans, rent, utilities, food, car insurance. I felt the walls closing in and knew I had to find a job, any job.

I decided to apply for a job at a call center, answering customer service calls for a large telecom provider. The place had a bad reputation - a couple friends had worked there and told me, It sucks, but IT’S A JOB. Which was my exact mindset heading in.

All I had to do was walk in and fill out the application. The next week they invited all the new applicants in for a mass interview, and if you made it that far, you were basically hired.

We had about eight weeks of training, all of it paid at $8 per hour. The training consisted of the new crop of employees sitting in a room for eight hours a day, looking at PowerPoint slides and listening to recordings of people dealing with customers.

Fewer and fewer people showed up over the course of training. They got a couple paychecks, then bailed. It was demoralizing. I had just earned an engineering degree from a four-year university, and here I was among a bunch of high-school dropouts.

The last week of training was spent on the floor, where we watched customer service reps field actual calls from customers. I learned more that week than I did the previous seven. All the other training was a waste.

When I realized it was going to suck

That’s when I realized I was totally unprepared for the job. I watched the customer service reps log their call information in the internal software system, and quickly realized I had no idea how to use it. “What did you just do?” I asked them. “We didn’t go over that in training.”

“Ask your supervisor” they’d say.

The supervisor said if we had any questions, we should just look it up in the internal learning database and follow the script. But the database didn’t account for most of the situations the customers described. Or the customer would give a response not included in the script, and we’d be left flying blind.

I often had to put the customer on hold just so I could call over a supervisor and ask them what to say.

There were about 500, 600 people on the call center floor at once. It was a wide-open warehouse, with rows of cubicles, 10 to each row. The partitions between them were small, so our calls often bled into each others. I worked nights, and it was miserable going from fluorescent lighting to utter darkness.

Our base pay was $9.50 an hour, but you could make up to $12 if you stuck it out long enough. Promotions were on a merit system. You were judged harshly by the customer satisfaction surveys conducted after each call. If you weren’t able to fix someones problem, even if you followed the script, the customer would rate you low and ruin your chance for a raise or bonus.

One of the points emphasized in training was that we were to always keep the customer happy, whatever the cost. This meant giving them lots of free stuff - phone accessories like Bluetooth headsets or chargers, or upgrading them to a better plan.

I worked for the enterprise division - businesses that bought phone plans for everyone in their organization - and they knew they’d get freebies if they complained. Most of the calls were people not understanding their bills, and me having to point them to certain line items.

One time I made a mistake that caused a customer to be charged more than they should have. I was apologizing profusely, and the person on the other end kept saying, “How are you gonna make it up to me?”

After each call, we had two minutes to enter the details into the system and get a quick breather. But there was never enough time for a break. It was four straight hours of listening to complaints, a lunch break, and then another four hours on the phone.

How I got out

I lasted only a month on the floor. I had had a line on an IT job at Indiana State University, and it finally came through. The day I got the offer, I told my supervisor I quit - no notice, effective immediately. He didn’t bat an eyelash because the turnover was ridiculous.

It was the only job I ever got sick of, and that’s including delivering newspapers as a kid. I would sit in my car before each shift started, trying to psych myself up before walking in from the parking lot.

The job forever cemented in my head that its an actual person on the other end of your customer service call, and to treat them with the according respect, no matter how frustrated you are.

Every other job I’ve had has been a cakewalk relative to working in that call center. Whenever I’m feeling down at work, I just think, I could be stuck answering customer service calls all day. Maybe this mandatory lunch meeting isn’t so bad after all.

SOURCE

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Toiling Away in ‘White-Collar Sweatshops’ - aka Call Centers

By Maria Verlengia
CRM Buyer
ECT News Network
June 9, 2009

Sarah Betesh’s career in customer service began in box office call centers at venues such as the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. She moved on to Tickets.com and Vertical Alliance, at one point becoming a call center manager.
Toiling Away in ‘White-Collar Sweatshops’ - aka Call Centers

However, in spite of her success, Betesh left her call center career behind in 2003. She now teaches autistic children at a middle school in Bucks County, Penn. The high stress levels she experienced in the call center environment left her feeling burned out. Ultimately, she found the work unsatisfying because she did not feel she was accomplishing anything.

High Stress, High Turnover

“I worked for Tickets.com for two years,” Betesh told CRM Buyer. “It’s a really high-stress job. You don’t get a lot of money. The only time people call you is if something is wrong. They’re mad. Phones would ring off the hook. Phone centers are typically very busy.”

Another difficult aspect was the repetitive nature of the work. Betesh likened it to a factory. “It gets boring. That’s tough,” she said.

Betesh’s story sheds light on some of the factors leading to the high turnover rates typical of the call center industry. People take on the typically minimum-wage positions hoping to move on to something else, she said. It’s a good way to enter the customer service field.

“They’re using it as a stepping stone, or it’s their second job,” Betesh observed.

Most people consider a call center position as a way to break into a company or field—not a long-term career, echoed Karl Bonawitz, division manager at firstPro, which fills call center openings.

“People look at it as a foot-in-the-door process,” he told CRM Buyer.

Recession Effect

In spite of the historically high turnover rates at call centers, Bonawitz has seen a tremendous slowdown over the past six months—at least in the IT call centers he staffs in the Philadelphia area—which he attributes to the poor job market.

“I think it’s the economy. The economy has everyone scared,” he said. The moving around that typically occurs in the call center industry is not happening as much.

Will turnover become high again once conditions improve?

“That’s the $10 million question,” he said. Once the job market improves, he foresees people once again moving on to bigger and better opportunities.

Higher Pay, Better Training

Working conditions are a factor in the high turnover rate—especially for people who are not prepared for or suited to customer service work, said Bonawitz. “I think it can be a stressful job. Every single call is tracked. Customer satisfaction is tracked. The volume is high. It takes the right kind of personality. You need a little bit of a thicker skin.”

Additional training would help retain people, he suggested. “People in those roles don’t want to feel stymied. They want to continue to learn.”

Higher pay would also help retain the right employees, Bonawitz maintained, but companies are resistant to the extra expense that would entail, typically viewing call center staffing as a low priority.

That is a mistake, he said, because contact with a call center staff member is frequently the first impression a customer has of a company. A bad attitude can have a negative effect on a customer’s opinion.

“I think it makes a huge difference,” said Bonawitz.

High-Turnover Costs

In the long run, high turnover is very costly, said Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research and director of research for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CALL CENTERS (NACC).

“The hiring costs are huge,” he told CRM Buyer.

In fact, the cost of attrition was US$5,466 per individual, Stockford noted, based on a 2008 survey of 70 call centers conducted by Furst Person, a company that specializes in call center staffing.

Solutions to the Problem

Impersonal workspaces, tightly controlled staff, and some methods of monitoring performance such as critiquing calls and measuring call times all factored into the high turnover rate, said Stockford.

“It’s pretty much like a white collar sweatshop,” he remarked.

In her experience, companies kept a close watch on the performance of call center employees, observed former CSR Betesh.

“All of your calls were tracked,” she said.

When she moved into a managerial position, she recognized the pitfalls of overmonitoring employees. “No one likes to be micromanaged.”

Some companies are taking steps to improve working conditions, such as measuring performance based on successful outcomes of calls, which Stockford believes is a better indicator of performance.

Some are offering telecommuting to call center employees.

“It’s happening more than you realize,” observed Stockford. “That’s a way of keeping employees.”

JetBlue and Veterans2work are two companies offering work-at-home options for call center staff, he noted.

Still, there aren’t many companies offering an option to telecommute yet, firstPro’s Bonawitz said, likely because companies think they cannot adequately monitor employees who work at home.

Although companies may believe that, the perception is unfounded, Stockford said.

“A lot of monitoring is done online anyway,” he pointed out.

Signs of Change

Surprisingly, Stockford does not believe increased training will help alleviate the call center churn problem. Training is currently highly variable among call centers, depending on the complexity of the product. In a survey of NACC members and newsletter readers Saddletree conducted last year, participants were asked asked if they would like additional training. Half the respondents expressed no interest.

Improving the work environment, however, can help reduce churn. Some companies have less than 10 percent turnover per year, Stockford commented—usually, they are companies that understand the value of customer service.

Yet many call centers are resistant to change; Stockford attributes that to a lack of leadership in the industry and calls for more innovation and initiative.

Although firstPro’s Bonawitz reported a definite slowdown in call center staffing, Stockford has not noticed a drop in the turnover rate or many layoffs during the recession in the call center hot spots he monitors such as Phoenix, Dallas and Florida.

That is because companies are doing everything they can to maintain their customer base, he suggested, and they want to keep their call centers running efficiently.

“I think attrition is still an issue,” he said.

The Right Fit

Although working in a call center was ultimately not the right career for her, Betesh acknowledged that a call center job could be the right fit for some people.

Working in a well-managed call center can be a pleasant experience, especially with respect to the social aspects.

“For some people, it’s their niche,” she said. “There’s definitely camaraderie if the office is run right. Huge camaraderie. We had fun.”

SOURCE

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The Last Bullying Frontier
Call center representatives take a beating.

By Guy Winch
Psychology Today
March 31, 2011

Bullying of LGBT youth has received well deserved attention over past months and raised public awareness about every other societal manifestation of bullying-except one.

There is one group that contends with bullying with alarming regularity and although no lives have been lost as a result, the psychological, emotional and financial consequences of their bullying is staggering in scope. They are CALL CENTER REPRESENTATIVES.

Call-center representatives are the people who answer the phone when we call customer service or municipal hotlines to report problems, make complaints, or request technical support. They are entry level employees who receive a few weeks of training before being deployed to the front lines of their industry where they encounter an impatient and highly aggressive public.

Many of us associate call-centers with out-sourced facilities in India or the Philippines but there are thousands of call centers across every state in our nation that employ hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

How Abusive Do Callers Get?

In doing research for my book The Squeaky Wheel I interviewed many call-center representatives and heard many stories of terrible verbal and emotional abuse (the most dramatic of which is described in detail in Chapter 7 of the book). “People burst into tears here all the time,” a woman at one call-center said. “I was cursed at, called stupid, slow, moron, retard and idiot so many times a day-I cried myself to sleep every night.” Why didn’t she quit? She was a single mother and she needed the job.

Call-center employees can average up to 10 hostile encounters a day in which they are subject to vile and personal insults, screaming, cursing and threats. Imagine being treated abusively in your job numerous times a day, every single day.

While in-store employees can call security if a customer becomes threatening or belligerent, call-center employees enjoy no such back-up. They are required to stay on the line and ‘salvage’ even the most abusive and hostile calls as best they can. Further, they are forbidden to ‘fight back’ as responding in kind to such provocations can cost them their jobs.

The Bullying Power Dynamic

This grossly uneven power dynamic between caller and call-center representative is something of which we the public take full advantage. After going through automated menus or waiting too long on ‘hold’ we take out our anger and frustration on people whose job prevents them from fighting back-in doing so we are bullying them in every sense of the word.

What is striking from a psychological and sociological perspective is how common it is to hear otherwise decent people confess to treating call-center representatives in a manner they would consider verbally abusive and reprehensible in any other context. In fact, we are so desensitized to the plight of call-center employees, such stories are often related without a hint of remorse or recognition of the mental anguish the representative in question might have endured. In other words we demonstrate a problematic lack of empathy (read How to Test Your Empathy here).

Why We Dehumanize Call Center Representatives

There are several reasons why we allow ourselves to bully call-center representatives:

1. We tend to view them as literal representatives of the companies responsible for our frustrations and problems-thus we hold them personally responsible (even though they had nothing to do with our problem) and feel they are fair targets for our anger and frustration.

2. Never seeing their faces allows us to switch off psychological filters such as civility and empathy. As a result, we typically feel no remorse for our actions and have little sympathy for the plight of the call-center employee who was subjected to them. In other words, we are in denial about the emotional and psychological distress our bullying might cause.

3. Our complaining psychology is such that we are convinced (often erroneously) the ‘company’ will make it as difficult as possible for us to resolve our problem or get through to a live person. As a result we get into a veritable battle mentality even before dialing the toll-free number.

The Consequences of Bullying Call-Center Representatives

The impact of our bullying has severe consequences for call-center employees as well as the industry as a whole. Call-center representatives typically experience severe and chronic stress and have high rates of medical absenteeism, burnout and depression. As a result, call-centers have one of the highest employee attrition rates in any industry because few workers can manage our psychological and emotional assaults for long.

The annual costs to companies of having to regularly hire and train new call-center employees can run hundreds of millions of dollars or more. The rapid turnover also creates a vicious cycle in which a chronic influx of new workers increases the likelihood of us encountering hesitant and inexperienced representatives, which then frustrates us and inflames our tempers even further (read about Complaint Handling: Why Companies and Customers both Fail: here).

Dehumanizing call-center employees and treating them as emotional punching bags represents the kind of societal bullying that should be as intolerable as any other form of bullying we decry today. It is a behavior that causes staggering financial losses to companies and untold emotional and psychological ones to tens of thousands of our fellow Americans.

It is up to us as citizens and as consumers to acknowledge victims of bullying wherever they exist. Let’s remind ourselves that call-center representatives are there to help us and that treating them with respect and civility will make our encounters with them less frustrating for us, less painful for them and more productive for all.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 11/29/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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