Wednesday, April 01, 2015

10 Years After: 2006 -- Sunshine, Freedom, Immigration and Manifest Destiny

In the service of fundraising and nostalgia, I am using the occasion of my 10th blogiversary to bring some stuff out of the archives -- a few representational samples from each year. 

Writing is a gig from which no writer can truly be fired, but if you want to keep from shaming yourself, you gotta keep your knives sharp and your hands clear.  Which means practice, practice every damn day.  So whether I was working ludicrous hours for a sadistic creep at a job I considered to be important, or long-term unemployed and in financial free-fall, I wrote.  Every day.  I still do.

And since no one tells me what to write here, I get wander off into whatever topic pleases me.

Like immigration and how getting used to luxury has despoiled our national soul.

Live Free or Buy


In which Tom Friedman gets this one just about right as far as it goes, but never closes the circle and reaches the Conclusion That Dare Not Speak Its Name: specifically, that George Bush and his pet Republican Party couldn’t be doing a better job of destroying this country if they were the paid agents of a foreign power.

Friedman will never utter those words. Never, ever.

He long ago dropped anchor in the Neverland Lagoon where the problem with the President and his Posse is that – much to Tom’s consternation -- they just don’t realize the harm their doing. It is indeed a puzzlement! That if Captain Obvious could just arrange a 20-minute audience with Himself he could straighten ‘ol Dubya out and explain, for example, that his Iraqi Policy is causing problems, not solving them.

Friedman’s pervasive and fact-free theory is that this “Come to Moses Meeting” would somehow be followed by the thunder of hands slapping foreheads and scales falling from eyes as the GOP collectively comes to grips with their failures; he is stuck in the “technical fix” Universe where people still believe that Bush and his peeps are basically good guys with good intentions, and just suffer from poor execution and being poorly served by a rouge’s gallery of Uriah Heep underlings.

The Captain also treads as lightly as a chubby mouse in a catnip bomber-jacket navigating the main floor of the Lion House just around sup-sup-sup-suppertime, because far too much of his personal well-being is staked to his main gig -- delivering ten-year-old platitudes about globalization to twenty-years-out-of-date, Conservative CEOs. Rich, white men with Republican rock-ribs, who adore George Bush and have voted straight GOP-ticket since they were old enough to golf in ugly pants.

Men who live in First Class – sometimes, to be clear and fair, through dint of long hours and hard work, which are traits to be admired – and have deluded themselves into believing that they can outsource the rivets and steel that hold the plane together, the engines that make it go and the flight crew that navigates it safely though the storm…and yet somehow they will be able to fly on in comfort forever, fueled by consultants and canny financial valuation trickery.

Friedman catches such men as the last of their employees plummet wholesale Earthward, as they sit in the skeletal airframe of their once-proud ships and the deathly cold wind of 30,000 feet is whistling though their ass-cracks and he advises that, perhaps, Steps Of Some Kind Should Be Taken.

This time, however, although what he says is obvious, he gets it about 50% right, so let’s give him his due, listen a bit to Radio Free Obvious, and then double-back and talk about certain Glaring Omissions.

This from an Op-Ed column entitled “Facts and Folly”
I was leaving for a trip the other day and scooped up some reading material off my desk for the plane ride. I found myself holding three documents: one was the Bush administration's National Security Strategy for 2006; another was a new study by the Economic Strategy Institute entitled "America's Technology Future at Risk," about how America is falling behind the world in broadband. And the third was "Teaching at Risk," a new report by the Teaching Commission, headed by the former I.B.M. chairman Louis Gerstner Jr., about the urgent need to upgrade the quality and pay of America's K-12 teachers.

The contrast was striking. The Bush strategy paper presupposes that we are a rich country and always will be, and that the only issue is how we choose to exercise our power. But what the teaching and telecom studies tell us is that key pillars of U.S. power are eroding, and unless we start tending to them in a strategic way, we aren't going to be able to project power anywhere.

Because we've long been rich, there is an abiding faith that we always will be, and those who dare question that are labeled "defeatists." I wouldn't call Lou Gerstner a defeatist. He saved I.B.M. by acknowledging its weaknesses and making dramatic changes — beginning with scrapping I.B.M.'s arrogant assumption that because it was such a great company, it could do extraordinary things with average people. Mr. Gerstner understood that an extraordinary company could stay that way only if it had a critical mass of extraordinary people.

"If teaching remains a second-rate profession, America's economy will be driven by second-rate skills," Mr. Gerstner says. "We can wake up today — or we can have a rude awakening sooner than we think."

Meanwhile, the report by the Economic Strategy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, is equally harrowing. It notes that while the U.S. led the world in broadband Internet access in 2000, it has now fallen to 16th place. In 2000, 40 percent of the world's telecom equipment was produced in America. That share is now 21 percent and falling. The U.S. ranks 42nd for the percentage of people with cellphones.

In an age when connectivity means productivity, when communications infrastructure is at the heart of any innovation ecosystem, these things matter for job creation and growth. The lack of ultra-high-speed networks in the U.S. "makes it impossible for U.S.-based companies to enter key new business sectors" — one reason venture capitalists are moving their R.&D. start-ups to Asia, E.S.I. noted.

"The wealth and long-term economic growth of the United States," it added, "have long depended upon technological advancement as a means of competing with our foreign rivals. ...

It's not surprising that the Bush strategy paper is largely silent about these educational and technological deficits, as well as about the investment we need to make in alternative fuels to end our oil addiction. Because to acknowledge these deficits is to acknowledge that we have to spend money to fix them, and the radical Bush tax cuts make that impossible. It would be one thing if we were going into debt to solve these problems that affect our underlying national strength. But we are going into debt to buy low-interest houses and more stuff made in China.
Which is true, but insufficient.

We may or may not be able to educate our way out of the corner we’re in, but to even attempt to do so, we first have to come squarely to terms with who we are, what we are, and how we really got here.

To do that, consider this, which is one of my favorite quotes from Charlie Chaplin.
“The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury.”
That is the dirty truth and true root of our problem; We have become the saddest thing Charlie Chaplin could imagine.

We have become used to luxury.

Those $.99 chicken fingers? The $12 bumper-to-bumper, inside-and-out car-wash? The three-oranges-for-a-buck sale down at the Jewel?

These are, all of them, luxury items, created not by a band of rugged Libertarians hewing agricultural and technological miracles out of the living rock, but made possible by an ocean of cheap labor, federal subsidies and a continent rich beyond the dreams of Avarice in natural resources.

What we’re all about (and always have been) is manufacturing what, for most of human history, has been luxury goods, selling them cheap and living fat off the margins. There is nothing at all wrong with making a living doing this, except that in the long run, every race will go to the cleverest, and right now our problem is that we don’t believe that.

We are drowning in our own mythos of Sunshine, Freedom and Manifest Destiny.

We have take a fatal dose of our own Exceptionalism propaganda and have internalized down to our tubby little toesies the belief that God Almighty wants us to live in opulence.

That God wants gas prices to be low.

At the heart of the Parable of the Talents Party is a core belief that “Abundance is my Right”, and since my rights are thingies with which my Creator has endowed me…God not only wants me to have a 106” flat screen plasma teevee, His divine plan demands it.

Like the War on Terra, or gay bashing, or stripping women of the right to possess and govern their own bodies unmolested (literally and Constitutionally)…once you begin with the fucked-up premise that the pursuit of your greed or perversion is actually a Celestial Mission sanctioned by the Big Guy, all is permitted.

And if we believe that we have a Divine Right to live forever at our ease at the expense of others because Yahweh wouldn’t want it any other way, the doors of Pandora’s Hummer fly open and the terrors of the night walk out into the daylight.

Because to strut the planet and rub the noses of six billion people in the fact that we believe God has ordained we live in perpetual, profligate extravagance in a world growing poorer, smarter and more globally interdependent every day is to court disaster abroad…and slavery at home.

Because slavery is where it all began.

And where it is doomed to end if we don’t make substantive changes both in the way we think about the world, and the way we act in the world.

We are and have been, from time to time, a wildly and breathtakingly creative and imaginative people. We shouldn’t discount that because in the end it’s what will save us.

In the end, if we are to survive, we need the educate the hell out of people. To train them by the millions and then retrain them as the world changes, and reward them for learning and adapting and “making the pie higher” as richly as we now reward people for downsizing and outsourcing.

But we can’t delude ourselves: we did not arrive here on a mountain of gold with clean hands and by God’s Grace. We got here by a combination of cleverness, theft, creativity, murder, luck, and viciousness, and the reason we live large has little to do with some ineffable quality of “Christian Americanyness” and a lot to do with these three thing, presented in no particular order.

Natural Abundance. There was more here – on the American continent – of everything in staggering, seemingly-limitless quantities than anywhere else ever. Period.

We wolfed it down, and came back for seconds. And now we believe a bottomless appetite is somehow something that's sanctioned by the Bible and protected by the Constitution.

WWII. The short version. Virtually the entire industrial capacity of planet Earth was obliterated and the fortunes of great nations and empires bled out by World War II. When the last shot was fired, the lone manufacturing giant still standing almost unscathed was the United States.

At a time when the whole of the world was a desert…we owned the only lemonade stand in the Solar System.

Of course we made money. Mad, impossible, Croesius-crying-in-his-beer loot. For about three decades, it didn’t really matter how filthy or inefficient or just-plain-dumbass the process was, here at home and out there in blasted rubble of old empires, people were ready to buy, buy, buy.

So we made the Big Cake…but then ascribed our wealth to our ideology instead of our good fortune. We froze the haircuts, social structures and mores of a moment in time when the Gods gave us a huge fucking windfall and said, for all time, that it was our crew-cuts and virginity that made us rich.

And conversely, when competition heated up and recessions came -- when Japan began making really good cars, and OPEC grabbed our nuts and squeezed -- we blamed the implosion of the Nuclear Family on our long hair and fucking, instead of recognizing the obvious: that the Nuclear Family – like the tail-fins on a Caddy – can only exist in a peculiar, rarified culture that can remain perpetually wealthy enough to support an entire family on a single income.

The minute that ceases to be true, without the bracing, stabilizing benefits of an extended family wrapped around it to absorb the shock, a culture built on the beach of the Fountain of Eternal Wealth begins to collapse.

Slavery. Slavery made us rich and destroyed our soul. Not simply because it made using people as chattel part of our national identity and heritage, but worse – much, much worse – in order to reconcile the existence of Slavery as the pillar that supported the worldly prosperity of the ruling class in the Land of the Free, we created the mold of Divine White Male Privilege into which our hatred and fear has been poured, generation after generations.

And out of which the scum of the Earth have lumbered, generation after generation.

Once they were the CSA.

Today they are the GOP.

Nothing but Old Whine in New Skins, creatures whose Operating System was hammered into place using the butt-end of the Cross by the Confederate Government and the War of Choice they chose to wage in defense of their right to get rich from the forced labor of others.

Hey, don’t take my word for it. Just listen to what ol’ Jeff Davis himself had to say on the subject.

From Jefferson Davis’ actual address to the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America, Montgomery, April 29, 1861…

"In the meantime, under the mild and genial climate of the Southern States and the increasing care and attention for the well-being and comfort of the laboring class, dictated alike by interest and humanity, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction.

Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South; the white population of the Southern slaveholding States had augmented form about 1,250,000 at the date of the adoption of the Constitution to more than 8,500,000 in 1860; and the productions of the South in cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man."
And this…
I enter upon the duties of the office to which I have been chosen with the hope that the beginning of our career as a Confederacy may not be obstructed by hostile opposition to our enjoyment of the separate existence and independence which we have asserted, and, with the blessing of Providence, intend to maintain."

It was God’s Will that White Men exploit and subjugate the lesser races and work them to death for White Men’s Prospertity.

So what does that have to do with Friedman?


In 1861 the South was prosperous specifically because of the forced labor of four million brown people who were reviled, exploited, abused and utterly necessary.

In 2006, America is prosperous specifically because of the peonage-cheap, illegal labor of twelve million brown people who are reviled, exploited, abused and utterly necessary.

We tolerate with a wink-and-a-nudge a system that simultataneously criminalizes a labor force of twelve million to keep them underground and terrified, and then carefully extracts their labor for pennies.

Any social policy which doesn’t confront immigration on those terms will fail and fail badly because, in the end, we really only have two choices: Either a renegotiation of the social contract to pay working people a living wage, or an open recognition that we will forever rely more and more on cheaper and cheaper labor to remain spoiled and Holy.

So far we have chosen neither. We have chosen to burn through our collective inheritance of wealth and prestige to make foolish choices, set foolish policies, wage foolish wars, without having to feel any pain. Like crack-heads, we have stolen from our parents and mooched from our children enough fast, high-interest cash to allow us to trundle along in a state of oblivious Eloi-ness where we don’t have to make any hard decisions and our God-Given Right to Comfort and Ease keeps us from asking too many tough questions about where all this Free Lunch is actually coming from.

But Physics and Economics are brutal loan-sharks and we can’t all live forever on borrowed money, no matter how successful certain individuals like Dubya have been at doing just that.

And sooner than we ever dreamed possible the day will be upon us when we will be required to choose between working and living a little harder and a little smarter for a little less in the short run, but a lot of good in the long term…or to continue to insist that God demands that we get the top cut of everything, even if it takes an army to force the rest of the world to give it to us.

And if we choose the latter – if we refuse to cope or adapt, but just insist that the government keep us stocked with cheap goods and cheap labor by any means necessary – all of Tom Friedman’s schools will not save us.

Because by that time the Slave Markets will have once again become permanent fixtures on our national landscape, and the Jefferson Davis South will have well and truly risen again.

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