Article 43

 

Dying America

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Why the World is Being Decivilized

image: sucker

What it Means to be a Civilized Society
Why the World is Being Decivilized

By Umair Haque
Eudamonia
April 5, 2018

Here’s a question that’s been on my mind lately. What does it mean to be a civilized society - or even a person? Why doesn’t America seem to be one anymore? What does that portend for the world?

Money is no guarantee that a person or place is civilized (exhibit one, the White House). You might say it means power - but that’s false, too. Nero was powerful, but he wasn’t civilized. He was a barbarian wearing a crown. What made him one?

To the barbarian, violence is the answer. The first, last, and best one. To what? To everything: to all social, political, economic, or personal problems. But to the civilized person, violence isn’t the answer - it is the problem. Violence is a kind of ignorance. So it is the opposite of ignorance that a civilized mind seeks, values, prizes - whether we call it education, wisdom, intellgience, or knowledge.

But isn’t that - violence as the solution to all a society’s problems - exactly what resurgent, macho, strongman extremists propose across the globe today? Whether its in the form of bullying, bluster, domination, discipline, or punishment? We’ll come to that. Whatever you suppose that being “civilized” means, I wonder if you don’t agree at least in a tiny way with my simple answer. So let’s apply it.

Is America a civilized country - really? What went wrong with it? Does it pass the test above? Kids are SHOOTING one another at schools. Answer? Arming teachers. People are overdosing on opioids. Answer? Not Narcan-jail. There aren’t enough decent jobs to go around. Answer? Let employers treat people like worthless commodities. PEOPLE FIND IT impossible to make ENDS MEET, even when they’re OLD. Answer? Let them work three jobs. The sick DIE young from a lack of HEALTHCARE - or even basic medicine. Answer? So what? If they CAN’T AFFORD, they DON’T DESERVE it. Do you see the common thread?

Too often in America, VIOLENCE emerges as the first and last answer to all problems. That violence might be explicit and extreme - as in arming teachers. Or it might be hidden violence, violence by omission, like letting people die for a lack of insulin. But it is violence all the same - harm, not gentleness, transformation, and growth.

Let me sharpen that. Recently the Atlantic hired - and then fired - a columnist who proposed that women who’d had abortions should be (wait for it) hanged. Do you see what I mean by violence as the first and last answer? The issue isn’t just a columnist - it is that is that violence marks the boundaries of acceptable discourse, ideas, thought, in America. Whatever the issue is, if a solution is violent, it is treated seriously, and chins are stroked. Punish people more. Treat them with even more badly. Hurt them a little more. Then they will learn. (Hence, America is always declaring war - wars on drugs, wars on poverty, and so on, but the problem is that when you are fighting a war - even a noble one - brutality quickly becomes normality.)

But if a solution is nonviolent, like for example public healthcare, basic incomes and assets, better safety nets, or working retirement systems, it is quickly deemed impossible. It seems impossible in America to propose nonviolent solutions to social, human, or economic problems. Only more and more crazily deranged, bizarrely violent ones, to the point of surreal absurdity, like arming teachers, or hanging women.

Hence, the rest of the world finds it difficult to see America as a civilized country anymore. When kids are shooting each other at schools - something that happens nowhere else in the world - perhaps that isn’t so surprising. But it cuts to the heart of the distinction between civilization and barbarism. Violence and nonviolence. Harm and healing. Punishment and gentleness.

But the inconvient truth is that the same forces that have decivilized America are also threatening to decivilize the world. Neo-Nazis in the Bundestag, remember? What are those forces? We call them “inequality” and “stagnation” and “austerity” but we speak too technically, missing the human point. The force that decivilizes people in the end is a lack of dignity. Where there is no dignity, there will soon enough be extremism, tribalism, and authoritarianism - rule by mob, mafia, a thugocracy, the rise of the predatory. What in an earlier time we would have simply called barbarism.

Dignity is what people have lost as a result of decades of aggressive, single-minded neoliberalism, in which only how much money a society or a person makes matters - not belonging, trust, meaning, purpose, intelligence, empathy, or wisdom. How did we expect civilization to survive that kind of assault, anyways? Neoliberalism, capitalism, these ideologies see it as beneficial and noble things to take a persons dignity away - or even a whole society’s. Who needs dignity? It’s made of troublesome things like rights, norms, values, which cost money. But the truth is that when we take people’s dignity away, we set a kind of nuclear chain reaction in motion that ends in decivilization.

When a person loses their dignity, they have lost what matters most - the sense that they count, have inherent worth, meaning, can amount to something. If you are worthless, why not lash out at the world that made you that way? But the truth is that violence has already been done to such a person, by dehumanizing and abusing them. In that way, stripping people of dignity sets off a chain reaction of violence. Violence is ultimately the loss of dignity.

Civilization, then, because it is the opposite of violence, is also the project of creating dignity. Of endowing it. Bestowing it. Sharing it. And celebrating it. And what has gone wrong in America today is that that process, that project of civilization as the creation of dignity failed catastrophically. Not by accident, but by design. In taking peoples dignity away, American also decivilized itself. And now it is a place where the most violent and harmful rule over the weak and meek. But that is the place that countries who allow this chain reaction of indignity and violence to ignite will end up, too: decivilized.

So. How do we give people dignity? Ah, that is the simplest - but hardest thing. Dignity comes from rights. Dignity comes from norms. It comes from values and responsibilities. Ultimately, dignity comes from each other. It is the measure of how much we can see in one another. How gently we can hold each other. And how high we can lift each other up - not simply pull each other down, which is what violence, the absence of civilization, really is.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/08/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Workplace Stress

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This professor says the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.

ByJena McGregor
Washington Post
March 22, 2018

Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer doesn’t mince words. WORKPLACE STRESS - the result of conditions like long hours, a lack of health insurance, little autonomy on the job, high job demands—don’t just hit productivity or damage morale. They’re killing us.

"It’s pretty clear that the human costs—in terms of death—and the economic costs, in terms of elevated health care spend, are quite substantial,” Pfeffer said in a recent interview about his new book, DYING FOR A PAYCHECK.

Pfeffer’s book, released Tuesday, is built around a 2015 paper that said more than 120,000 deaths a year and roughly 5 to 8 percent of annual health care costs may be attributable to how U.S. companies manage their workforces. A core argument: Instead of adding wellness programs or yoga classes, companies need to focus more on the management practices that lead to substantial health issues, such as layoffs, job insecurity, toxic cultures and long hours—not only for their own bottom lines but so they don’t offload those costs to broader society. As he told a Stanford publication: I want this to be the ‘Silent Spring’ of workplace health,” referring to the 1962 book by Rachel Carson that spurred the environmental movement.

We spoke with Pfeffer about his research, “social pollution,” and where your workplace ranks on the list of leading causes of death. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What did your research show?

For decades there has been epidemiological literature that looked at the effect of individual things like not having health insurance or the absence of job control and other work conditions like long hours. What I thought we needed to do is figure out - not for all of them but for many of them - what the total toll of them was on both mortality and health care costs.

I enlisted two operations research colleagues to help, and we did a meta analysis on all the literature and they did some fancy modeling. We found that there are basically 120,000 excess deaths per year attributed to these ten workplace conditions and they cause approximately $190 billion in incremental health care costs. That would make the workplace the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. - higher than Alzheimers, higher than kidney disease.

One of your arguments is that while we’ve dramatically lowered physical accidents and safety issues in the workplace, the health impacts of social or stress-related work conditions have remained unaddressed. Can you elaborate?

We focused on the physical environment, and we now need to focus on the social environment the human environment. With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplace accidents and chemical exposures and injuries has gone down dramatically because it’s been measured, because its been regulated and because those regulations have been enforced.

But regulating and measuring the causes of workplace stress seems much more difficult and much more nebulous than preventing people from, say, falling down the stairs on the factory floor.

I don’t think so. There are validated scales for all of these. It]s not hard to measure hours. It’s not hard to measure shift work. It’s not hard to measure work-family conflict. It’s very easy to measure whether you have health insurance or not.

We have said to companies they cannot pass costs [of environmental damage] on to the broader society. We have not done that with respect to health. I would argue that its actually maybe harder to measure smokestack emissions than it is to measure healthy work conditions. If we wanted to regulate it, we could regulate it.

What about wellness initiatives, health risk assessments and smoking cessation programs? Do any of those ideas work?

No. The evidence on that is pretty clear. The reason they don’t help is also pretty clear. Wellness programs are an attempt to remediate the harmful effects of whats going on in the workplace. Instead of remediation you need to prevent. Instead of causing you to over-smoke and over-drink and over-eat and under-exercise because of what goes on in the workplace, and then giving you a wellness program, they should change the underlying work conditions. If I change the workplace so you didn’t do that stuff in the first place, you wouldn’t need a wellness program.

What was the most startling statistic you discovered in your research?

There are several. The 120,000 excess deaths a year. According to one study I cite, more than a million people are dying due to OVERWORK IN CHINA. The American Institute of Stress claims that stress is costing employers $300 billion a year. There are 2 million WORKPLACE VIOLENCE incidents reported a year.

So what needs to be done?

The first thing I would want to do is we need to get a better handle on its scope. We need to measure it. You can see how many people are dying from air pollution a year. In the U.S. no agency does the same thing that weҒve done for water pollution, air pollution or infectious disease, which is to measure the harm the toll ח of the workplace on human health. If I can measure the effect of physical pollution on health, I can measure the effect of 10 workplace practices.

You talk about the phrase “social pollution.” What’s that?

Harmful practices, as determined by a large epidemiological literature, that are reasonably widespread and exact a physical and psychological toll. Work-family conflict. Long work hours. The absence of job control. Being MICRO-MANAGED.

But how do you measure micromanagement?

There are validated scales that measure job autonomy. It’s a concept that has been around in management and leadership literature for decades. We require companies to report on lots of things, and a bunch of political people run around and say human life is sacrosanct and human well being is important. My response to that is if it is, we ought to take it seriously, and if we’re taking it seriously, we ought to measure it.

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image: stress pie chart

Workplace Stress

Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades.  Increased levels of job stress as assessed by the perception of having little control but lots of demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders.  In New York, Los Angels and other municipalities, the relationship between job stress and heart attacks is so well acknowledged, that any police officer who suffers a coronary event on or off the job is assumed to have a work related injury and is compensated accordingly (including heart attack sustained while fishing on vacation or gambling in Las Vegas).

Although the Institute is often asked to construct lists of the mostӔ and leastӔ stressful occupations, such rankings have little importance for several reasons. It is not the job but the person-environment fit that matters. Some individuals thrive in the time urgent pressure cooker of life in the fast lane, having to perform several duties at the same time and a list of things to do that would overwhelm most of us provided they perceive that they are in control. They would be severely stressed by dull, dead end assembly line work enjoyed by others who shun responsibility and simply want to perform a task that is well within their capabilities. The stresses that a policeman or high school teacher working in an inner city ghetto are subjected to are quite different than those experienced by their counterparts in rural Iowa. It is necessary to keep this in mind when sweeping statements are made about the degree of stress in teachers, police personnel, physicians and other occupations. Stress levels can vary widely even in identical situations for different reasons.

Stress is a highly personalized phenomenon and can vary widely even in identical situations for different reasons. One survey showed that having to complete paper work was more stressful for many police officers than the dangers associated with pursuing criminals. The severity of job stress depends on the magnitude of the demands that are being made and the individualגs sense of control or decision-making latitude he or she has in dealing with them. Scientific studies based on this model confirm that workers who perceive they are subjected to high demands but have little control are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
Digesting the Statistics of Workplace Stress

Numerous surveys and studies confirm that occupational pressures and fears are far and away the leading source of stress for American adults and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades. While there are tons of statistics to support these allegations, how significant they are depends on such things as how the information was obtained (self-report vs. answers to carefully worded questions), the size and demographics of the targeted group, how participants were selected and who sponsored the study. Some self-serving polls claiming that a particular occupation is the “most stressful” are conducted by unions or organizations in a attempt to get higher wages or better benefits for their members. Others may be conducted to promote a product, such as the
“Stress In the Nineties” survey by the maker of a deodorant that found housewives were under more stress than the CEOs of major corporations. Such a conclusion might be anticipated from telephone calls to residential phones conducted in the afternoon. It is crucial to keep all these caveats in mind when evaluating job stress statistics.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/31/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book: The People Vs. Democracy

This Is How American Democracy Could End
We asked a leading political scientist about his terrifying new book.

By Harry Cheadle
Vice
March 7, 2018

If you are worried about the world becoming less and less stable with each passing month, about democracies around the world coming under assault from strongmen and would-be strongmen, about society succumbing to its worst impulses, do not read the new book from political scientist Yascha Mounk, The People Vs. Democracy. It will scare the hell out of you.

Mounk, who grew up in Germany in the 80s and 90s, attracted attention in late 2016 for co-authoring an article that found people in the Westand young people in particular - are less enamored with democracy and more open to autocracy than ever. Coverage of the study was criticized for being alarmist, but it is true that in countries ranging from Hungary to Poland to India liberal democratic institutions have come under attack; extremist right-wing parties have also come dangerously close to gaining power in places like Austria and France. And thanks to Donald Trump, Americans have reason to believe their own democracy could erode with frightening speed.

THE PEOPLE VS. DEMOCRACY is obviously a book intended to alarm (its subtitle is Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It) but it also offers a compelling way to look at several trends afflicting the world. The chief problem Mounk identifies is that “liberal democracy” - the system guaranteeing a wide range of individual rights as well as elected governments, seems to be splitting apart. On one hand, you have rights without democracy situations where the rule of law is intact but the people are ruled by unelected bureaucrats and elites who aren’t in tune with the popular will (Mounk cites the EU as his prime example). On the other hand are “illiberal democracies,” where populist leaders take take advantage of anger and resentment to damage institutions and civil liberties, and even wind up establishing outright dictatorships. Mounk also delves into the causes of the West’s vulnerability to these demagoguesin his telling, decades of economic stagnation and relatively sudden demographic changes via immigration have made many people unhappy with their lot in life and prone to xenophobia. Meanwhile, social media provides fringe groups platforms that gatekeepers had once denied them.

In other words, society is fracturing along several axes at once and in ways that benefit strongmen, racists, and other forces that liberal democracy was supposed to keep at bay. Before the book dropped this week, I asked Mounk if there was anything we could do about it.

VICE: Is there an easy or succinct explanation for why so many people seem to be turning against liberalism?

Yascha Mounk: One way in which a lot of people are turning against liberalism is that they are frustrated with the constraint ׭on the popular will, and that takes on a couple of forms. The first is that they feel like the political system hasnt always been very good at listening to the people and translating popular views into public policy. And often, they’re right about thatthere are ways in which our political system hasnגt been efficiently responsive. And that makes them quite open to politicians who say, You know what, all of those things that are supposedly needed to guarantee the rule of law, to guarantee individual rights, really arenӒt necessary. We should get rid of independent institutions like the FBI, we should get rid of courts that can meddle with our decisions. We dont need to respect the rights of immigrants, refugees, or even citizens in our own country who hail from some kind of ethnic or religious minority.Ҕ

The other reason is that its always easier for countries to rule themselves collectively when they feel that they have a lot in common. In the history of democracies, most of them have been built in countries that are reasonably homogeneous. As countries have become more heterogeneous, there’s a lot of people who resent that, who say, “Why should I let these other people who are from a different ethnic group, who come from a different part of the world, who might have different religious ideaswhy should I let them participate in the collective we?”

How much do you blame elites for the problems you discuss?

Itגs quite clear to me, especially in the United States, that both the political and the financial elites have used their power to extract what political scientists and economists call rents. Which is to say, they rig the rules in such a way that they benefit while everybody else is harmed. I think one obvious example is that it used to be that capital income, from investments, for example, was taxed much more than active income from going to work and getting a paycheck. Now capital gains are taxed at a much, much lower rate than going to work for a living. And even if you have reasonably conservative values, even if you think that we shouldnt do too much redistribution but we should reward people’s effort, that is a very strange system. Obviously this is only one small example of myriad ways in which weve set up the system in such a way that relatively few people manage to capture a vast share of the gains from economic growth.

I think we need to go beyond this as well, though. From 1985 to today, average incomes have been flat. Part of that is because so much more of recent economic gains have gone to the very top. But part of it is also because there have been fewer economic gains to go around. So to me, the fundamental question here is about whether the stable democracies that weҒve come to know and expect were dependent on economic background conditions that simply arent there anymore.

When you talk about the economic problems, it reminds me of things that left-wing economic populists say, and it made me wonde - I know there are some left-wing populist parties in Europe that have gained some power, but it seems that the far right is just way more powerful than the far left at the moment. Why do you think that is?

First of all, let me say a word about what I mean by populism,Ӕ because its a word thatҒs confusing and lots of people use it in lots of different ways. To me a populist is somebody who doesnt accept that peopleҒs different political points of view are legitimate, who doesnt accept that the world is complex. [Populists] claim that the only thing that we need to do in order to face up to the challenges we have today is to get somebody who has common senseҗwho channels the true nature of the peoplein power and sweep aside all of the elite. Then everything will be great.

And of course what happens is that they can never actually deliver on those false promises, because the world is more complicated than that. So at that point, they start to blame everybody. They say, דThe reason why I havent delivered is that the opposition are traitors. The reason why I havenҒt delivered is that the press are enemies of the people. And a lot of that rhetoric can consist of excluding and vilifying everybody who is Muslim, or black, from the ԓtrue people.

It can direct itself from a political right against people who are un-American because theyԒre socialists who want to redistribute mone. Or it can come from the left, as in Venezuela, and direct itself against capitalists. Now, why is it that left populists are often unsuccessful? There are some countries where they are pretty strong, where they might well take power in the coming years. But youre right that certainly in North America, certainly in most parts of Northern Europe, certainly in Central and Eastern Europe, right-wing populists tend to be stronger. And I think that that is a) because immigration and fears about cultural change play in those countries, and b) because in the end, when you have a clash between left populism and right populism, I think right populism always has an easier time winning. It is easier to scapegoat foreigners, minorities, people of different religious beliefs, than it is to scapegoat corporations, or capitalism, or Wall Street, which are abstract concepts. Unfortunately, I think itҒs much easier to incite hatred against people rather than a system.

What do you think people who do oppose right-wing populists can learn from how quickly their ideas have spread and how theyve managed to gain a surprising amount of power?

One thing that I think we should learn is that we mustnҒt cede ground, we mustnt make some topics taboo in such a way that only the right gets to talk about it. So, for example, IҒm Jewish, my grandparents survived the Holocaust, I grew up in Germany, and so to me it was always obvious that we should try and leave nationalism behind in the century that it so cruelly shaped. And 15 years ago, that didnt seem to be such an unrealistic hope. But I fear that actually disengaging from the space of patriotism and nationalism has allowed the right to colonize it, to take it over, to say, ғIf you care about America, if you care about Germany, if you care about the national flag or the national anthem, then really, youre with us.Ҕ And because nationalist sentiment and symbolism retains a very deep power, I think that that makes it much easier for them to win and exploit those symbols in the worst possible way.

I think of nationalism as a half-domesticated animal. I think what we need to do is try and domesticate it. And the way to do that is to emphasize that, yes, we are proud to be Americans, yes, its important to us to be a member of a nationҗincluding all of the mutual solidarity that that entails, and also the mutual pride that it entails. And naturally, anybody who is a citizen, whether they are white, or brown, or black, or they are Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or of no faith, or whatever, need to be valued equally as a member of our club. And by the way, people who may not have a US passport but are clearly American in every other sense because they were brought here as children and have never known any other country need to be treated as equals as well.

How do you think the anti-Trump resistance movement is doing in that respect?

I think theres a big range there. There are people who speak very movingly, for example, about Dreamers as Americans, and I think thatҒs the right path to take. And then sometimes I see people saying the history of this country is so racist that theres no aspect of it which we should claim and celebrate. IҒm deeply aware of the deep injustice in our history and also in our present. I think that thats the wrong path to take. I think what we should do isҗas President Obama did, consistently and very powerfullyclaim the best things in our history and use them in order to both acknowledge the ways in which we still fall short of those ideals and to motivate the fight for their realization.

In 50 years, do you think the US political system will be the same as it is today, or will it be drastically different?
I roughly think of it as three different scenarios to what might happen now. The first is that the United States turns out to be more similar to Hungary than we care to believe. Although it doesnגt look right now that Donald Trump is doing deep damage to our institutions in the United States 18 months in, the same was true for [Hungarian leader] Viktor Orban a year and a half into his time in office, the same was true of Vladimir Putin a year and a half into office, the same was true of Recep Erdogan in Turkey a year and a half into office. The process of dissolution of democracy is slow, and theres no one single measure that looks like the obvious point of crossing the Rubicon. And so we need to stay very attentive. But I think itҒs rather unlikely.

The second scenario is the optimistic one: that Donald Trump will mobilize such opposition and such a renewed commitment to our political system that when he leaves office in disgrace there will be such a moment of political reckoning that we can go forward with a new kind of political unity and fix our politics. Theres some reason for hope thereҗI dont think that this is entirely unimaginable. But if you look at the fact that, as of the time of this conversation, Trump actually does have 42 percent of approval in the country, if you look at the depth of the reason for the populist rise, not just in the United States but around the world, if you look at the bitterness of our politics, itҒs quite difficult for me to envisage the populist momentum simply evaporating and everything returning to normal.

And so I think the most likely scenario is what I call the Roman scenario. We might resemble the Roman Republic, where a populist by the name of Tiberius Gracchus won power late in the second century BC riding on a wave of discontent about economic stagnation and a rigged political system. He was eventually removed from office, violently as it happened, and for a few years things returned to normal. But then somebody else used the fact that the underlying problems hadn’t been resolved to gain office on a similar message. And conflict broke out again. There was a cycle of this, from high moments of political tension and drama to moments of relative normality for some 50, 100 years. And over time, the Roman Republic withered away. I could imagine that we are now at the beginning of a cycle, and 50 years from now we might be at any point of it, including the terminal one.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/29/18 •
Section Dying America
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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Third World U.S.A. Part 10 - The Gig Economy

image: gig economy

[L]ivery car driver Douglas Schifter killed himself outside the gates of City Hall, after writing in a suicide note posted to Facebook, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.”
- Democracy Now, March 22, 2018

“The Gig Economy” Is the New Term for Serfdom

By Chris Hedges
Truthdig
March 25, 2018

A 65-year-old New York City cab driver from Queens, Nicanor Ochisor, HANGED HIMSELF in his garage March 16, saying in a note he left behind that the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft had made it impossible for him to make a living. It was the fourth SUICIDE BY A CAB DRIVER in New York in the last four months, including one Feb. 5 in which livery driver Douglas Schifter, 61, killed himself with a shotgun outside City Hall.

"Due to the huge numbers of cars available with desperate drivers trying to feed their families,” wrote Schifter, “they squeeze rates to below operating costs and force professionals like me out of business. They count their money and we are driven down into the streets we drive becoming homeless and hungry. I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” He said he had been working 100 to 120 hours a week for the past 14 years.

Schifter and Ochisor were two of the millions of victims of the new economy. Corporate capitalism is establishing a neofeudal serfdom in numerous occupations, a condition in which there are no labor laws, no minimum wage, no benefits, no job security and no regulations. Desperate and impoverished workers, forced to endure 16-hour days, are viciously pitted against each other. Uber drivers make about $13.25 an hour. In cities like Detroit this falls to $8.77. Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber and one of the founders, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. Logan Green, the CEO of Lyft, has a net worth of $300 million.

The corporate elites, which have seized control of ruling institutions including the government and destroyed labor unions, are re-establishing the inhumane labor conditions that characterized the 19th and early 20th centuries. When workers at General Motors carried out a 44-day sit-down strike in 1936, many were living in shacks that lacked heating and indoor plumbing; they could be laid off for weeks without compensation, had no medical or retirement benefits and often were fired without explanation. When they turned 40 their employment could be terminated. The average wage was about $900 a year at a time when the government determined that a family of four needed a minimum of $1,600 to live above the poverty line.

The managers at General Motors relentlessly persecuted union organizers. The company spent $839,000 on detective work in 1934 to spy on union organizers and infiltrate union meetings. GM employed the white terrorist group the Black Legionthe police chief of Detroit was suspected of being a member - to threaten and physically assault labor activists and assassinate union leaders including George Marchuk and John Bielak, both shot to death.

The reign of the all-powerful capitalist class has returned with a vengeance. The job conditions of working men and women, thrust backward, WILL NOT IMPROVE until they regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists. There are some 13,000 licensed cabs in New York City and 40,000 livery or town cars. The drivers should, as farmers did in 2015 with tractors in Paris, shut down the center of the city. And drivers in other cities should do the same. This is the only language our corporate masters understand.

The ruling capitalists will be as vicious as they were in the past. Nothing enrages the rich more than having to part with a fraction of their obscene wealth. Consumed by greed, rendered numb to human suffering by a life of hedonism and extravagance, devoid of empathy, incapable of self-criticism or self-sacrifice, surrounded by sycophants and leeches who cater to their wishes, appetites and demands, able to use their wealth to ignore the law and destroy critics and opponents, THEY ARE among the most repugnant of the human species. DON’T BE FOOLED by the elites’ skillful public relations campaigns - we are watching Mark Zuckerberg, whose net worth is $64.1 billion, mount a massive propaganda effort against charges that he and Facebook are focused on exploiting and selling our personal information - or by the fawning news celebrities on corporate media who act as courtiers and apologists for the oligarchs. These people are THE ENEMY.

Ochisor, a Romanian immigrant, owned a New York City taxi medallion. (Medallions were once coveted by cab drivers because having them allowed the drivers to own their own cabs or lease the cabs to other drivers.) Ochisor drove the night shift, lasting 10 to 12 hours. His wife drove the day shift. But after Uber and Lyft flooded the city with cars and underpaid drivers about three years ago, the couple could barely meet expenses. Ochisors home was about to go into foreclosure. His medallion, once worth $1.1 million, had plummeted in value to $180,000. The dramatic drop in the value of the medallion, which he had hoped to lease for $3,000 a month or sell to finance his retirement, wiped out his economic security. He faced financial ruin and poverty. And he was not alone.

The corporate architects of the new economy have no intention of halting the assault. They intend to turn everyone into temp workers trapped in demeaning, low-paying, part-time, service-sector jobs without job security or benefits, a reality they plaster over by inventing hip terms like ”THE GIG ECONOMY.”

John McDonagh began driving a New York City cab 40 years ago. He, like most drivers, worked out of garages owned and operated by businesses. He was paid a percentage of what he earned each night.

“You could make a living” [then], he told me. “But everyone shared the burden. The garage shared it. The driver shared it. If you had a good night, the garage made money. If you had a bad night, you split it. That’s not the case anymore. Right now we’re leasing” [cabs at the garages].

Leasing requires a driver to pay $120 a day for the car and $30 for the gas. The drivers begin a shift $150 in debt. Because of Uber, Lyft and other smartphone ride apps, drivers’ incomes have been cut by half in many cases. Cab drivers can finish their 12-hour shifts owing the garages money. Drivers are facing bankruptcies, foreclosures and evictions. Some are homeless.

“The TLC [New York City Transportation and Limousine Commission] wanted to limit yellow cab drivers to 12 hours a day,” he said, referring to the distinctive yellow cabs that have medallions and can pick up passengers anywhere in the five boroughs. There was a protest. Yellow cab drivers were protesting that they have to work a 16-hour day in order to make a living. It’s cut everything. “Everybody’s fighting for that extra fare. You would be at a light with two or three other yellow cabs. You saw someone up the street with luggage you would run the lights to get to them. Because that might be an airport job. You’re risking your own life, risking getting tickets, you’re doing things you would never have done before.”

“We don’t have any health care,” he said. “Sitting for those 12 to 16 hours a day, you are getting diabetes. There’s no blood circulation. You’re putting on weight. And then theres that added stress you’re not making any money.”

Uber and Lyft in 2016 had 370 active lobbyists in 44 states, dwarfing some of the largest business and technology companies, according to the National Employment Law Project. Together, Uber and Lyft lobbyists outnumbered Amazon, Microsoft, and Walmart combined. The two companies, like many lobbying firms, also hire former government regulators. The former head of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, for example, is now on the board of Uber. The companies have used their money and their lobbyists, most of whom are members of the Democratic Party, to free themselves from the regulations and oversight imposed on the taxi industry. The companies using ride-hail apps have flooded New York City with about 100,000 unregulated cars in the past two years.

“The yellow cab has to be a certain vehicle, said McDonagh. “It’s a Nissan.” [Nissan won the bid to supply the city’s cabs.] Every yellow cab has to charge a certain price. When that drop goes down, that’s regulated by the city. They added on all these extra taxes, for the MTA and for the wheelchair [half of all yellow cabs are required to be wheelchair-accessible by 2020], a rush-hour tax. Uber comes in. No regulations at all. They could pick whatever type of car they want. Whatever color of car. They could change prices when it’s slow. They can lower the prices. When its busy they can do price surging. It can be two or three times. Whereas the yellow cab is just plowing along at the same rate at the same time. Going to Kennedy Airport from Manhattan is $52. No matter what the traffic is like, no matter how many hours it takes you to get there. Uber will jack up its prices two or three times. You might have to pay $100 to get to Kennedy Airport. While the yellow cab industry is almost regulated to death, Uber is coming in with new technology, figuring out different ways how [it is] going to make money.  “Its finished, with the yellow cabs.”

Life for Uber and Lyft drivers is as difficult. Uber and Lyft use bonuses to lure drivers into the business. Once the bonuses are gone, these drivers sink to the same economic desperation as those driving yellow cabs.

“Uber is leasing cars,” McDonagh said. “They have car dealerships that will sell. They advertise as, ‘Listen, you can have bad credit. Come down to Uber. Well get you the money or loan to buy this car.’ And what they do is they’ll take the money directly out of what you’re making that day to pay for the loan. They can’t lose. And if you go under, they’ll sell the car back to the dealership and then redo it for the next immigrant driver. There’s a whole scam going on.”

“As a yellow cab driver, you don’t see the world vision,” he said. “But there’s that famous term - the RACE TO THE BOTTOM. You’re working more and more hours for less and less wages. This is the new gig economy. Someone will use an Uber to go to an Airbnb and get on his phone to order something from Amazon to eat in his house. All those shops are now gone. From cashiers to cab drivers. I feel like I’m a blacksmith or a typesetter at a newspaper business trying to explain to you what the yellow cab industry used to be. We’re becoming obsolete.”

“Guys are sleeping in the cab,” McDonagh said. “They’ll go out to Kennedy at 2 or 3 in the morning. They pull into the lot and go to sleep to catch [passengers off] the first flight that’s coming in from California a couple of hours later. You have guys who won’t go home for a couple of days. They’ll just stay out on the street. They roam the street to try to make money. It’s dangerous for the passenger. The amount of accidents will be going up because drivers are drowsy.”

McDonagh said Uber and Lyft cars must be regulated. All cars should have meters to guarantee an adequate income for drivers. And drivers should have health care and benefits. None of this will happen, he warned, as long as we live under a system of government where our political elites are dependent on campaign contributions from corporations and those who should be regulating the industry look to these corporations for future employment.

“We have to limit the amount of cabs, particularly here in New York City,” McDonagh said. If we did it in the yellow cab industry for 50 years, why can’t we do it with Uber? They’re adding 100 cars a week through the streets of New York. This is insane. When you call an Uber, the biggest complaint people have now is, ‘The car is here too quick.’ They’re there within two or three minutes. I can’t even get dressed. They’re rolling empty throughout the city, waiting for that hit.”

“Horses in Central Park are regulated,” he pointed out. There’s 150 of them. They make a great living there, the guys on the horse and buggies. Say Uber comes in and says, We want to bring in Uber horses. And we want to add 100,000. And let’s see how the market will handle it. We know what’s going to happen. No one will make money. They’re all around Central Park. And now no one can go anywhere because there are now 100,000 horses in Central Park. It would be considered madness to do that. They wouldn’t do it. Yet when it comes to the yellow cab industry, for 50 years all we could have was 13,000 cabs, and then within a year or two were going to add 100,000. Let’s see how the market works on that! We know how the market works.

“They [the horses] work less hours” [than cab drivers], he said. “They don’t work in hot and cold temperatures. If you believe in reincarnation, you should come back as a horse in Central Park. And they all live on the West Side of Manhattan. We live in basements in Brooklyn and Queens. We haven’t upped our status in life, thats for sure.”

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Posted by Elvis on 03/27/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Why Don’t Americans Care About Each Other

image: learning to give

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you cant exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You cant be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu 2008

How Societies Based on Rivalry Become Lord of the Flies

By Umair Haque
Eudaimonia
March 2018

Heres a tiny question. Does a society prosper, mature, develop, grow? By people pulling themselves up?

Today, high school students across America are walking out. But lets remember exactly why. Because their elders HAVE ALLOWED gun massacres at schools, and appear totally unmotivated or unmoved to change it. Hence, its left to the vulnerable kids to fend for themselves. Pull yourself up!! How Lord of the Flies.

So. Why don’t Americans care about each other? After all, that high school students have to walk out en masse to demand, well, they don’t be massacred is a pretty good indication that Americans don’t.

(But perhaps you object to my question. Very well, lets consider it in a number of other ways. Americans won’t give each other working healthcare, education, media, transport, safety nets, retirement, mobility, stability. The result is lives like pressure cookers - boiling with stress, mistrust, despair, and rage. Hence, opioid epidemics, loneliness, depression, anxiety, anger. America is above all renowned today for being something like a new Rome: for its cruelty. But all that is just another way to say that Americans don’t care about one another.)

I think that the reason is hidden in plain sight. Americans have been taught to see one another as rivals - because the idea was that way, everyone would pull themselves up. Rivals, everywhere, in everything. Whether at work, in life, or at play. It is something like the most rivalrous society that has ever existed. But that led to a catastrophic outcome: people forever pulling each other down, instead of lifting themselves up. And a society, economy, and democracy cannot function that way. There are better ways.

Let me give you a small but telling example. My friend recently got her “performance review.” It was full of sniping and bitching and pettiness: ”NEGATIVE FEEDBACK.” Now, she’s great at what she does - really. She’s never once had “negative feedback” in her life. She was shocked. But that’’s because she’s from Canada. I had to explain to her: this is just what Americans do: they have learned how to game this system of “review” by constantly being savage with one another - instead of being honest, its better to talk down everyone else, and get ahead that way. And so these “review systems” quite obviously don’t work in America - its leaders are nothing of the kind, of the lowest calibre imaginable, whether in business, politics, law, or media.

Do you see my point? Let me make it clearer.

What happens in the end if we make rivalry the fundamental principle of society - the one great ideal that orders and defines it that people see one another as bitter rivals to defeat? American thinking suggested the following outcome: that people would compete to pull themselves up, and that way, everyone would rise.

But it forgot one crucial detail. There are two ways to compete. By pulling yourself up or dragging others down. Now, which is less costly, which one requires less effort, time, imagination? Which only takes brutality, muscle, and cunning? Pulling others down, obviously. You can pull people down with a tug or a punch. But lifting yourself up? You have to fight gravity. You have to find a foothold. You have to look up and be blinded by the sun. In other words, you need empathy, compassion, grace, and courage. How much easier to just pull down. The economics are simple: pulling others down is much less costly than lifting yourself up, and that is the fatal mistake American thought made, but still HASN’T LEARNED yet.

And so the RESULT is now. A society of people forever pulling one another down, just like crabs in the proverbial bucket, each one trying to escape, but only ensuring none go anywhere. Lord of the Flies - remember?

When life becomes rivalry, the result is that relationships get blown apart, that institutions - which depend on genuine relationships - erode, that norms of decency and humanity corrode. An atmosphere of cruelty is produced when life becomes rivalry - but nothing can really function amid such absolute cruelty, not even basic things like performance reviews, let alone democracy, society, or the economy.

Democracy depends not on rivalry, but on a sense of COOPERATION, of people standing together. But because life is rivalry in America, the only people who stand together anymore are the extremists. Society depends not on rivalry, either, but on people crafting a fair and expansive social contract, that provides everyone some minimum level of well-being - otherwise, a society is broken by definition. And you think an economy depends on bitter, bruising rivalry - thats what American thinking says, after all - but you, and it are wrong: an economy depends on people being able to work together, for one anothers real human benefit, on things of genuine worth, accomplishments that matter. In genuinely transformative ways - not just those that please a Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or Zuck’s quarterly profit imperative.

So America is profoundly broken because rivalry has made stunted its democracy, society, and economy - they do not have the raw materials they need to really elevate human lives anymore: concern, passion, imagination, empathy, creativity, authenticity, trust, beauty, and truth.

What has all that been replaced with? Well, what is a life of such constant, intense, bitter rivalry like? Well, it means that everyone in your life is an adversary, opponent, or enemy - though you might call them your colleague, peer, coworker, classmate, they are really just your rival. So you don’t really friends, hence, “frenemies” you don’t really do work of service, your primary goal is to compete; that you measure yourself by how many people you have defeated, bested, and thrown down - not by how meaningful, rich, and worthwhile your life really is. A life of rivalry is full of stress, pressure, fear, and misery. One quickly becomes paranoid, fragile, bitter, and toxic.

How funny. How sad. How terrible. AMERICAN THINKING does not yet understand that rivalry does not work as the ordering principle for society because it is always cheaper to pull someone else down than lift one’s self up. To be cunning, ruthless, and deceitful is always easier than being compassionate, gentle, courageous, and strong.

But none of that is even the real tragedy.

It never CONSIDERED the third possibility at all - the greatest one of all. That people do not have to lift themselves up, or pull each other down. That they can lift each other up, too. That is what happened elsewhere in nations that developed expansive social contracts, with healthcare, education, retirement, etcetera, and now live vastly longer, happier, saner, healthier lives. Remember those poor high school kids, left to fend for themselves? Exactly.

Let us hope they LEARN this lesson.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/25/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions
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