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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Fifteen is Not Enough

You can't draw water from a dry well. Just take that as gospel. If you don't know what a well is, search "Timmy" and "Down the" at your earliest convenience. But for now assume that the well is metaphor for the working class, and we are (have been for a long time) running on dry.

When adjusting the minimum wage from our hey day years of the 40's through the 60's, economists tend to put the minimum wage between $12 and $20 per hour, or somewhere between 24,900 and 41,600 a year before taxes in today's dollars. Another way to look at this kind of money is this: enough to make the three times rent margin with most apartments, enough money to purchase a new car, enough to afford a house costing between $70,000 and $120,000. Of course not everyone will do all of those things. Who needs to rent an apartment and buy a house; not everyone wants a new car. So instead, with this kind of money, people will do other things. Go to more movies. Buy more trinkets. Go on vacations. Spend more on groceries. In short, they'll dump that money into the economy.

Evidenced in the post war boom in America, where wages and middle income soared, more money for the middle meant more money for everyone. The gilded age of the 60's saw the rise of American purchasing power--something that is still happening today, though we can barely afford it anymore. If the 1980's and 2000's have taught us anything, it's that giving money to those who already have more than they know what to do with will only hurt us. Reagan created one of the largest deficits in our history with his planned tax cuts, which he then reneged on in order to make the government solvent. Similarly, W's tax cuts in the 00's turned our surplus nation on it's head, leaving us in a deficit that we are still in, seventeen years later.

The rich will only hold on to their money. That is what makes a rich person rich: miserly behavior. But a middle and working poor American will spend. They, after all, need to spend. The kids need shoes or new shorts for school, and the fourteen year old Focus dad has been driving to work is about to crap out. Americans will spend because of necessity. Then they will spend because they feel they deserve it; a long day of working on the Focus deserves a stop at the local ice cream shop, or local theatre.

But there is a caveat to all this. In order for this kind of economic boom to happen, you need people in the black right off the mark. This was the problem with Obama's big tax breaks during his first term. He managed to push some big tax breaks for the middle through, but the middle was already saddled with debt, under water mortgages, and financial PTSD. Instead of spending and jump starting the economy, they socked the money away, or paid of their long overdue bills. And to economy petered on, making it but barely.

To jump start the economy the way Obama foresaw, and Bernie dreams about, a wage increase of astronomical proportions is due. The fight for fifteen is not enough. Fifteen won't buy an apartment in Detroit. It won't buy a new car either. If we are to see the golden years like the 50's and 60's we need to see wages go up to at least $20 per hour for every full time worker. It will mean that the profits won't be astronomic for our corporation, but, to be honest, they've made a nearly immoral amount of money over the past few decades at the expense of the American people. If you want a growing economy, you need high wages. The more money you give the middle, the more they will spend it on the things that companies make: more phones, newer cars, more houses, more movie tickets, more ice cream at the local shop. Corporate America will have to get used to the idea of being just rich, instead of filthy rich.

If something isn't done soon, there will be no saving the middle of America. Not only will we have been too poor for too long, but there won't be anything left to give back. If Trump's tax plan, Trickle Down Redeux, goes into effect, there may be no money left in the economy to go back to the middle. It will all be tied up in investments and savings accounts in the Cayman Islands. The top one percent already has most of the nations wealth. How much longer until they get the rest?

And it will only be after they've gotten all that money that they'll realize: it does nothing to make phones or cars when there is no one left with a dollar to spend on them. But don't expect that to be a lesson learned. Misers will always be.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

It was easier for everyone under Obama

You can go ahead and admit it; it's true. Life was easier for everyone under Obama. Republicans had it easier. Liberals had it easier. The only people that seem to be having a good time with all this are the American Taliban, otherwise known as the far right evangelical, and alt right white supremacists.

It was easier for the Republicans,because it's so easy to hate a guy that exemplifies everything you've been railing against for years: a brown, college educated, liberal/globally minded intellectual with aspirations to bring America into the future. Basically the antithesis to a party that routinely championed the greatness of our country, based primarily on the mythos of Vietnam being our attempt to "bring freedom" and WW2 in which we stopped the Axis of Evil--something that was done primarily with Russian blood, not American, but that is an topic for another day. Obama championed health care for all, reforms for banks, and deescalating our foreign wars.

In 2008, he was called the Anti-Christ, UnAmerican, someone how hates freedom. And that was so easy. It was, in fact, the easiest eight years for the Republican party. They sat back, said, "no," a lot, and spent a great deal of their air time complaining that what Obama was doing would destroy America. Never mind the fact that Obama turned into a real war hawk, expanding the drone program, assassinated an American citizen abroad, and expanded our presence in the Middle East. To the GOP he was the greatest villain they had ever seen.

The reality is this: none of the initiatives that Obama put in place turned out the way the GOP and its satellites like Fox and Info Wars said they would. The ACA was not a death panel; it did not take over health care in America (though it should have). It was a lukewarm jump into socialized health care, opening markets in a way that was previously impossible, and--in many respects--in ways that many of Obama's detractors liked. No previous condition restricts is Obama's legacy. Making it so that health insurers cannot charge women more is also Obama's win. But the ACA did not achieve universal coverage. Costs did not go down. The disparities between an X-ray in America versus an X-ray in Canada is still staggering. Almost as staggering as Obama's change on foreign policy.

Obama's foreign policy was a continuation of what every president has done since Truman: more war for the war machine, less liberty for the free. The only major difference is that spending did not go up after the sequester. But despite that, even under Obama--the peacenik communist Muslim sleeper agent--US spending was still more than it's allies, minus Japan, combined.

Trump makes things a lot harder. Mostly, now the GOP has to do actual work. If the past six months is any indication, writing laws that don't suck is a lot harder than zero sum opposition, especially when you have a party largely high jacked by a large section of the population that does not believe in facts. Case and point, watch this exchange from Raul Labrador here, or Mike Pence's reaction to an HIV outbreak in his home state of Indiana here. Both of these men are proof that republicans will choose their ideology over the good of the people they serve. And the consequences are devastating.

Pence and Labrador are clear markers of how the GOP is great at pushing ideology. It is, in fact, the best. An entire part of the news cycle is built off of a GOP platform, something that Democrats have struggled with since the left leaning (hell, left tumbling) MSNBC still has loose cannons like Rachel Maddow, who spent weeks of her life hitting Obama for expanding the drone program, and many liberals decrying the continuity of domestic surveillance programs here, and here. Really, you can look plug a few key words into google. You'll get a mountain of data.

This solidarity on pro-life, guns, Murica, anti-science--along with a gerrymandered to hell electoral map--is what made 2017 possible. The USA political body is now so conservative, white, and evangelical, one would not be remiss in mistaking us for a Christianity version of Iran; states like Texas clearly already are, and have been for some time with their pro-life and anti-LGBT legislation that shatters basic tenets of our Constitution and Supreme Court rulings like Roe v. Wade. But it is policy know how and smarts that get things done, not a flag waving in the wind or a Bible in your hand. That truth the GOP is yet to learn. Then again, truth has never been their strongest suit.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Chicago Trip II: the Distant Sister

We arrived an hour late--by anyone's time--in the Windy City, and right on time for rush hour. Already the similarities between Detroit and Chicago were already taking shape before us. Rush hour here is almost as bad at rush hour at home.

Make no mistake, Chicago has a beauty and mystique that is truly it's own. The sheer number of high rise hotels, apartments, and business towers is staggering--and climbing ever taller, every year. The history behind the city--a series of mishaps, misfortunes, and miscreants looking to make a buck or a thousand--is one-of-a-kind. But in the same token, it was still eerily familiar.

The presence of young and old hipsters, helping to raise the rent, was all around us. The streets and businesses named after states that were not Illinois, were there too. Chicago has it's Ohio. We've got Wyoming, among others. Detroit and Chicago share their talent for making a memorable hot dog, though we did not draw a consensus over which was superior. All for the better. Nick is a man of the moment. In this moment it was the Chicago Dog. In another moment, it would have been the Coney. And Mike had his with ketchup. Nothing else.

And, of course, there is the art as architecture. Now, there is no denying it here: Chicago got us beat. The sheer number of artistic structures that you can find all over this city is ridiculous. The glowing glass block towers and "walk like Jesus" fountain, to the headless men wandering around Lakeshore Dr., to Cloud Gate, otherwise know as the Bean--it was almost overwhelming. One weekend in the city was not enough time to get in all of it.

Still, the Bean is no match for the Spirit of Detroit, who sports a Red Wings jersey during the Stanley Cup. I'd like to see the Bean do that. Or see it try and go a couple rounds with Joe Louis' fist.

And then there was the poverty. 

Chicago is a city of layers, much like the onion it is named after. Layers of roads that cross over other roads, and parking structures so integral to the city you couldn't imagine anything else in its place. And there are layers of garbage, and dirt. Some of it hidden by concrete. Some of it not.

We had the luck of taking the bus tour of the city, which gave us a solid overview of the entire experience. Sears Tower, the Pier, the Chicago Theatre. We got a taste of all things awesome. But in an unexpected stop under the Lakeshore Dr. over pass, where police sirens ground all of us to a halt, we got a taste of somethings else.

In Detroit, we wear our despair on our sleeve. You see the homeless everyday, at every turn. You see their living situations clearly on every drive at eye level; there are fewer dark corners to hide. But it took dumb luck to find this. It reminds you just how hard it is to make it anywhere. And the homeless of Chicago seem particularly hardened.

Still, like Detroit, you move on. The sadness does not get you down when there is so much to do, so much concrete to walk, hot dogs to eat, towers to climb, and history to take in. And I have cataloged most of it in my bachelor weekend in my viewbug portfolio, available here. It is a beautiful city to walk--which we walked roughly 20 miles over the course of two days--and breath taking when you stop and look up. For a big city boy like me, this was one for the bucket list.

That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Chicago Trip I: the Places Between Cities

I took a road trip with my two best friends, Mike and Nick, a few weeks back. It was an early bachelor party for my August wedding this year. Better to get these things out of the way early, and avoid being a still-drunk groom cliche later.

We started our trip riding out of farm country, Adrian, in what can only be considered a light class monster truck. Mike, my oldest friend, was the driver, and the only man I know capable of parallel parking an F-250 in a spot meant for a Prius, Lucky we didn't have to; the concept of a truck for personal use was a novelty in Chicago, and granted us a very special parking spot.

But out journey was not as easy as finding that spot.

We have a saying in Michigan. There are only three seasons: Fall, Winter, and Construction. Illinois and Indian, as it turns out, have the same saying. Routed from I-94, our five hour journey turned into a back roads adventure, eventually dumping us off in Gary, Indiana.

I have no photos of Gary. I grew up, and live still, just outside Detroit. I walked the Cass Corridor nightly between 2005 and 2010 in order to avoid parking fees on campus. I'm used to seeing abandoned homes, empty stores, hollowed out skeletons of things stripped then burnt. I grew up by a city of fire.

But in Detroit, there is hope. The corridor has WSU. Where, I used to park, there is now a textile shop. The old Blimpy was torn down to make way for high rise apartments. When all else failed, all I had to do was look up, and see the Downtown sky line in ink black silhouettes, incandescent, and neon lights.

In Gary, the sorrow went on, seemingly forever.

I know we left Gary, Indiana at some point. I just can say when that point was.

"We've got to be out by now," Nick, my newest friend, said, appealing to the logic of time and space in a place frozen from both.

Mike checked the map. It, too, was unsure.

Finally, Mike said, "Oh, we're coming up from the south."

"So this is the South Side now?"

It might as well have been Gary.

Slowly, the South Side turned into the city interior: Streeterville, then the Miracle Mile. All turned glass, and glorious. It the world inside Chicago, Gary might as well have not existed.

Driving through it, I feel that Gary is more than just a place. It's an idea. It's a sense of despair, of loss, of a time and place that left it behind. In Gary--and all that surrounding sorrow that Gary seemed to infect--time was immaterial. And to its detriment, very material to the world around it.

That's all from Elliot at the Kitchen Table

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Long Away

It's funny finding something of yours online that you almost forgot entirely. You see like one sees an ex-partner: you recognize; they remember; but time and experience has rendered the both of you nearly unrecognizable.

That's the way I felt seeing Elliot at the Kitchen Table.

It was a part of my life for so long, yet one day I said enough was enough. No reason beyond that. Life, maybe, was getting in the way. My bouts of depression were making it harder to write and generally function. My son was starting grade school, and I was working more hours than I ever had. And not in industries I enjoyed--just the ones that paid a regular check.

Fulfilling, they were not. Soul-sucking. Spirit-crushing. But there was a check every two weeks. That was the perk.

You know--a real world job.

Yet here we are: close to three years later after my last post. Maybe it's time to indulge again in this child's dream, even if the typewriters are spending more time in the closet than on the desk now, and that my hair is a little thinner on top than it was before.

I guess this is a long winded way of saying: New Material in 2017.

That's not all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table.