What To Do (Which Side Are You On?)

It’s already Day 5 of the T___ administration. Sadly, there’s no indication yet that Vice President Pence has begun following the steps in the 25th Amendment (in particular, the Let’s-Replace-A-Crazy-President clause). However, stories describing the President’s mental instability and general unfitness for his new job are appearing, and it’s been suggested that Pence’s staff may be leaking damaging information in order to lay the groundwork for just such a constitutionally-mandated transfer of power. One can hope.

Of course, there are things to do besides hoping. Except for the extremely successful, worldwide Women’s March on Saturday, the best known call to action has probably been “The Indivisible Guide: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”. What began as an overloaded Google doc is now a website:

WHO IS THIS DOCUMENT BY AND FOR?

We: Are former progressive congressional staffers who saw the Tea Party beat back President Obama’s agenda.

We: See the enthusiasm to fight the Trump agenda and want to share insider info on how best to influence Congress to do that.

You: Want to do your part to beat back the Trump agenda and understand that will require more than calls and petitions.

You: Should use this guide, share it, amend it, make it your own, and get to work.

Here’s the summary of Chapter Two:

How your MoC [Member of Congress] thinks — reelection, reelection, reelection — and how to use that to save democracy. MoCs want their constituents to think well of them and they want good, local press. They hate surprises, wasted time, and most of all, bad press that makes them look weak, unlikable, and vulnerable. You will use these interests to make them listen and act.

Chapters Three and Four offer instructions for organizing your own anti-T___ group and doing things that will have the biggest effect (attending events, requesting meetings and making coordinated phone calls).

Another document that’s received a lot of attention was written immediately after the election by the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen. It’s called “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”. Having lived under Putin, she lets us know it would be a big mistake to give T__p the benefit of the doubt. For example, she wishes Hillary Clinton had said something like this that dark night in November:

We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half. The president-elect has made his intentions clear, and it would be immoral to pretend otherwise. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based.

Gessen’s six rules for surviving autocracy are: 

  1. Believe the autocrat (don’t assume he’s exaggerating when he promises to do something terrible)
  2. Don’t be taken in by small signs of normality
  3. Institutions won’t save you (nor will cultural norms)
  4. Be outraged
  5. Don’t compromise
  6. Remember the future (in other words, keep hope alive).

Gessen followed this up with another article, this time describing her great-grandfather’s experience in Nazi-occupied Poland and her grandmother’s as a government censor in the Soviet Union. Her conclusion is: given a choice between collaboration (possibly under the guise of being a “realist”) and resistance, choose resistance.

In December, the economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich cautioned against falling into one of four syndromes: (1) normalizing the situation (“he’s just another President”); (2) going numb or shutting down emotionally; (3) cynicism; or (4) helplessness. Prof. Reich, who is currently providing almost continuous political commentary on Facebook, ends with this:

If you find yourself falling into one or more of these syndromes, that’s understandable. Normalizing, numbing, becoming cynical and feeling powerless are natural human responses to the gross absurdity and genuine peril posed by T___.

But I urge you to pull yourself out. We need you in the peaceful resistance army, starting January 20.

Finally, here are some sites that offer alternative perspectives on the news. They’re good places to visit if you want an antidote to outlets like CNN, the TV networks and the front page of The New York Times (The Washington Post is better these days):

Pro Publica (Journalism in the Public Interest) 

Think Progress

Talking Points Memo

Media Matters for America

Vox

Daily Kos (a group blog about politics)

Hullabaloo (another group blog about politics)

Plus, something that might give you chills. It did me.

Being Paid What You’re Worth

Robert Reich is an economist who was Secretary of Labor in the 90s and is now a Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. He’s also a blogger who knows what he’s talking about (unlike some of us). I doubt he would mind this extended quote from RobertReich.org:

“Paid-what-you’re-worth” is a dangerous myth.

Fifty years ago, when General Motors was the largest employer in America, the typical GM worker got paid $35 an hour in today’s dollars. Today, America’s largest employer is Walmart, and the typical Walmart workers earns $8.80 an hour.

Does this mean the typical GM employee a half-century ago was worth four times what today’s typical Walmart employee is worth? Not at all. Yes, that GM worker helped produce cars rather than retail sales. But he wasn’t much better educated or even that much more productive. He often hadn’t graduated from high school. And he worked on a slow-moving assembly line. Today’s Walmart worker is surrounded by digital gadgets — mobile inventory controls, instant checkout devices, retail search engines — making him or her quite productive.

The real difference is the GM worker a half-century ago had a strong union behind him that summoned the collective bargaining power of all autoworkers to get a substantial share of company revenues for its members. And because more than a third of workers across America belonged to a labor union, the bargains those unions struck with employers raised the wages and benefits of non-unionized workers as well. Non-union firms knew they’d be unionized if they didn’t come close to matching the union contracts.

Today’s Walmart workers don’t have a union to negotiate a better deal. They’re on their own. And because fewer than 7 percent of today’s private-sector workers are unionized, non-union employers across America don’t have to match union contracts. This puts unionized firms at a competitive disadvantage. The result has been a race to the bottom.

By the same token, today’s CEOs don’t rake in 300 times the pay of average workers because they’re “worth” it. They get these humongous pay packages because they appoint the compensation committees on their boards that decide executive pay. Or their boards don’t want to be seen by investors as having hired a “second-string” CEO who’s paid less than the CEOs of their major competitors. Either way, the result has been a race to the top.

Professor Reich doesn’t say anything about the effects of globalization in this post, but it’s obviously a factor. Our economic bottom isn’t in West Virginia or Mississippi anymore, it’s in Guatemala and Bangladesh. Even so, a strong labor movement would help slow down the race to the bottom and to the top.

There’s a question worth asking, however: Would it be better from an ethical point of view if workers in places like Guatemala were paid more at the cost of American workers being paid less? In other words, are we in rich countries automatically entitled to a better standard of living than people in poor countries? After all, for a worker in Guatemala, our race to the bottom is his or her race to the middle. If work can be performed just as well but more cheaply in Guatemala, why should it be performed in California?

I don’t know the answer to that question. Although it’s clear we should slow down the race to the very top (it’s gotten completely ridiculous), I’m not sure what should be done for the rest of us. Maybe the answer is to provide a reasonable minimum income for those of us in the rich countries, while doing more to improve the lives of those at the bottom. 

Update:

For example, as suggested here:  Considering a No-Strings-Attached Basic Income for All Americans