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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy 2014; New America!

Wall Street Brokers Watching Occupy Protest - 2011
Will The Last Person Standing Please Turn Out The Lights?

It’s December 31st as I write this, and my friend Lisa’s unemployment benefits run out today.

I’ll start by telling you that her real name isn’t Lisa.  The rest of what happened - and is happening - is true.

Lisa worked for a television station here in my home state; she was, as they say, a Creative.   She worked hard, putting together advertising for everyone from auto dealerships to furniture stores, and spun-up other media services.   She might have retired from that position had the country as a whole stood by the idea that multiple media sources kept the news business honest, and that many choices (instead of one or two) meant that we’d get local responsiveness and better media products, overall.

All of that changed when the company which owned the station for which Lisa worked decided to sell it to a large media conglomerate.

Then,  shit got real.

The decision to sell meant that creative work wouldn’t be done at a local level.   To the conglomerate, it didn’t matter that there were small and medium-sized business-owners who liked working with Lisa – it meant that all of that work could be singled-up into a huge studio back East, where interns making nothing could ply their talent with the hope of winning the lottery and getting an actual job with these predators, all the while banging out single ads and whole campaigns for businesses they only knew in theory, and for people they’d never met and would never meet.

To Lisa, it meant that her job disappeared like a fart in a vacuum-cleaner in June of this year.

She’d expected this for a while.  She’d saved.  She’d paid everything off that was possible.   She got her teenage daughter used to simpler pastimes.  She’d started looking for work in advance.   Lisa, as a result, is in better shape than most, at least for a while – she has some modest savings; no payments save for a mortgage, and a lot of talent.  

Unfortunately, Lisa was hit with the other reality of the New America – the fact that when you hit age 50 and wind up out of work, you might as well be dead.   Remember those interns?   They’ll work for nothing while they live in their parents’ basements.  They’ll eat Ramen noodles on the second-hand coffee table in the basement while they write reports for their media-overlords; due in the morning.  Meantime, they’ve the uncomfortable feeling of Mom and Dad, breathing down their necks to get that one job that’s open for every fifty interns, because student loans, and stuff.  

The 'light' that was the American Dream got snuffed a while ago; the only faint glow left is from diehards who believe it'll turn around eventually - and that's starting to fade, because whether you believe it or not, the Lights are Going Out In America.  That's because the average new-hire (required to have a four-year degree) in one of those new media conglomerates makes less than a kid just out of high-school in 1960, when you factor inflation.   His or her 1960's-era counterpart might be sweeping floors and stocking shelves in the local supermarket, but those kids had something going for them that their New America contemporaries do not:  They had the support of a labor union, a progressive tax system which left them largely alone, and a body of laws which kept the corporations in check.  No longer.  Remember - this is the New America.

The newly-minted college graduate today is happy to eat Ramen, live in the basement, and hope to win the job-lottery, because that's all they know.  They were never educated as they should have been - and that's part of the problem (if not the plan), also - they don't know the power of their own numbers, or the history of labor in America.  They do their jobs as 'media managers' and 'account executives'; they get to call the boss by his first name - but they're working-class, and actually in worse shape than their grandparents.

And it’s December 31st, with a new year just around the corner, and Lisa’s unemployment benefits run out today.

Thanks to the ghost of Ayn Rand and the writings of the all-too-alive Marvin Olasky, the clarion call of the New America is to leave people like Lisa to the local churches and private charities, because “spiritual redemption is what saves people” according to Rand Paul, one of the current darlings of the neoconservative movement.

Today, 8% of the population controls most of the nation’s income, and 1% controls its wealth.   Income inequality is the highest it’s been since the Gilded Age.  Absent outright rebellion, those interns in their parents’ basements won’t even own their own existence – remember those college loans, and all, because for them, shit just got real, also.

Meantime, we’re told that it’s all right for the government to spy on us and throw us in jail without a trial – because terrorists, and stuff.   We’re also told that there’s a recovery going on, and to ignore the seven million or so homeless people, because prosperity.   We’re told that it’s all right to send kids straight from high school to prison, because safety, and all that.   Our government tells us that no longer taking care of the Lisas of America is just fine, because spiritual redemption/self reliance/laziness, and stuff.   There’s no such thing as global climate-change, because God; there’s no such thing as peak oil, because fracking, and drill-baby-drill.  Today's New Working Class now knows only that only the Bad Guys need to worry - and that the Bad Guys are whoever the government (which is run by the corporations) tells us are Bad. 

The other thing they know is that if they step out of line, there are 100 other kids coming out of college right now with worthless degrees and student-loans who'll cheerfully chase a non-job for a chance to get a real one.

(If by now you're wondering if this isn't all somehow connected, I've done my job.  Keep reading.)

Energy companies and banks alike give glowing reports about the U.S., but there’s a disquieting feeling that the lights are going out all over America in more ways than one.   We’re told that we’re now producing most of our energy at home.  Banks are telling us that as long as the Fed keeps allowing them to suck the public tit called Quantitative Easing, everything will be fine.   Most of America believes this – because if they quit watching Duck Dynasty, Naked and Afraid and Swamp Dwellers of Hooterville long enough, they’d have to also abandon the cognitive dissonance of belief in the system.

Dishonesty has consequences.  We got our first big wake up call that things were seriously wrong in 2001, when the stock bubble collapsed; we should have seen then that the ‘Clinton Miracle’ was merely a card-shuffle, accompanied by that most popular of dances, the Capitol Two-Step.

We should have learned then and there that lowering interest rates to zero would only drive another bubble – but instead we decided that buying houses and selling them to other people actually created wealth.   While Wall Street was busy taking jobs and shipping them to Asia, we congratulated ourselves with sub-prime loans and new houses.

In 2008, when that bubble collapsed (nearly taking the banking system with it), we should have learned that dishonesty had consequences – but instead, we cheerfully agreed with Congress and its plan to allow the banks to back a metaphorical truck up to the Treasury building in Washington and loot the place with our blessing.

Millions wound up out of work; millions more lost their homes – and any company with cash began a buying spree to do away with competition.   More and more wealth became concentrated in the hands of a few.

Today, 25% of all food expenditures go to Wal-Mart – and half of that is spent on processed junk.   It’s in the interest of the plutocracy to keep us poorly fed, sick, pliant, and non-rebellious.   We learned in 2011 that while they tolerated the Occupy movement as a sideshow for a short time, there were also limits – and they made it clear in no uncertain terms that the truncheon, if I may quote a movie here, is always used in lieu of conversation, especially when large numbers of people point out reality to those who have a vested interest in lies. 

This story-arc doesn’t have a good end.  It’s a safe bet that we’re going to continue fracking and drilling, because activists who believe clean water is a good idea are now considered ‘terrorists’, along with anyone else who speaks truth to power.   It’s a safe bet that more people are going to lose their jobs, as unregulated business finds more and more inventive ways to spin jobs off to ‘interns’, and to spin yet others off as ‘contractors’, while continuing to ship large numbers of jobs outright to countries with even fewer regulations on the fair treatment of human beings.

Very little of this matters to Lisa, because her unemployment runs out today.  

That’s what she’s thinking about.   That’s what keeps her awake at night.   That, and the fact that her chances of getting a real job again are about on-par with being hit with an asteroid.

Happy new year, New America.

The lights are going out.
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