12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
— Luke 14:12-14, from the New International Version of the Bible.
It’s puzzling to watch poor and working class people watch rich people on television, such as on shows about house hunters looking at multi-million dollar properties. Many of these rich people are frivolous twits who obsess about things like granite countertops and bathroom saunas. Why don’t many of the poor folks watching these excesses feel anger and revulsion at money being thrown away on luxuries, things they themselves could never afford as they struggle to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck? Instead they watch these programs with a kind of detached envy, commenting critically on the relative niceness of various unnecessary features.
As for the rich, they mostly have contempt for the poor people window watching on their lifestyles. They usually try to mask their contempt, of course, since it’s considered bad form among their peers to make a show of kicking the downtrodden. Mostly they ignore the poor, which is easy to do living in gated communities and surrounding oneself with all the accoutrements of wealth and security they can buy. It doesn’t occur to them to question the envy of their lifestyles by the poor, since it is based on the fabulous nature of material things they themselves exalt above all else. What troubles them is the contempt wafting toward them from some in the middle class.
Nancy Wilson, foreground, Meals on Wheels program manager, works along with other volunteers at the Great Falls Community Food Bank in Great Falls, Montana, preparing gravy on November 23, 2011 to be used the next day for the Thanksgiving meal. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen.
Historically, it has always been elements from the middle class which have led revolutions. The poor are too wrapped up in trying to survive and in slavish envy of those who have more, even when wealth is waved in their faces, but always out of reach. The middle class have the education to understand how the rich are playing them for suckers, and they have the leisure time to organize against them. They have only to inform the poor how the rich have used and manipulated them in order to gain strength from numbers. That’s easier said than done, however, and it’s a task made more difficult by the popularity among the poor of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type entertainment in movies and television.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet staff and volunteers prior to a Thanksgiving service project at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., on November 27, 2013. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, it is unlikely a high percentage of the rich and famous will be helping feed the poor and homeless. Giving and volunteering are largely activities engaged in by the middle class, and even the poor and working class. Strange then that the poor and working class should continue to ally themselves with the rich, to envy them their wealth and privilege and, when they vote, to often as not vote to the rich person’s tune.
It tries one’s patience and understanding to refrain from feeling contempt for a group of people who can witness the casual disregard of a leader who tosses rolls of paper towels at them after a horrific natural disaster, and who nevertheless still support that leader. Such a leader would never volunteer to feed the poor at a food bank or homeless shelter, at least not sincerely. For him, it would be nothing more than a photo opportunity he would be eager to get over with. But a division between the middle class and the working class and poor only benefits the rich, the oligarchy. Better to reach out and to serve, even when the people on the other end can often be ignorant, mean-spirited, and hateful.
A working class person who lives in the countryside may feel frustrated conveying to a better off city dweller the economic stagnation outside cities since the Great Recession (or Lesser Depression) of 2008. If that working class person has had his or her rural homestead on the market for over a year, a not uncommon length of time to sell real estate in rural working class areas, particularly since 2008, the city dweller might have a hard time understanding why that should be when places in the city sell well within a year if they are reasonably priced. For people in the cities, recovery from the Great Recession has progressed to pre-recession levels since the low point in 2009. For people in the countryside, where the economy has been on a downward trend for decades, there has been little to no recovery in jobs or in the housing market since 2008.
A Family Dollar store in Lenox, Georgia. Photo by Michael Rivera. Dollar stores have become a ubiquitous sign of the times in rural and small town America over the past 20 years.
Living in a middle class or upper middle class urban bubble can make it hard to understand how divided the country has become along class lines delineated between the city and the countryside. Those lines have always existed, but never more clearly than now. It’s little wonder many city dwellers, especially those living on either coast, were blindsided by the result of the 2016 election. Because their own economic situation has rebounded since 2008, they failed to notice there was no similar rebound for their country cousins, for whom things have only gotten worse. Beyond economics there is also a growing social and cultural divide between city and country. Again that is nothing new, but again it is a chasm that has opened wider than ever before.
The president elected in 2016 by the weight given to rural votes in the Electoral College has not delivered on any economic improvements to rural life he promised, such as infrastructure jobs, nor will he ever deliver on his promises. Rather than implementing policies meant to improve the lives of many of the people who voted him into office, the current president is primarily interested in stoking their anger and resentment over social and cultural issues while working toward their further economic exploitation by the corporations he really represents. To the extent those voters refuse to recognize their fleecing, they deserve contempt. The difficulty for rural voters who are not true believers in the current president’s cult of vile invective has been that corporate Democrats have forced them into a corner by not offering them a decent alternative.
A clip from “Bailey’s Bad Boy”, a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, with Bill Bixby and Don Knotts. The Andy Griffith Show ceased production in 1968 while still at the top of the ratings for CBS. Its successor, Mayberry R.F.D., fell to the axe of the Rural Purge a few years later, in which CBS and the other networks got rid of programs targeted at older, rural audiences, and replaced them with programs aimed at younger, urban viewers.
When there are only two substantial political parties, which in their allegiance to corporate donors over all other constituencies have come to resemble each other almost as closely as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, ordinary voters feel powerless and ignored by the system. Social and cultural policy differences remain between the two parties, but ultimately both parties serve their corporate masters before all else. Democrats, most of whom appear to live in urban bubbles on the coasts, would do well to recognize the dissatisfaction of those in the countryside, in fly over country, or the presidential election of 2020 could be a repeat of 2016. Recognition starts from understanding problems unique to rural America, and perhaps then people in cities won’t be surprised to learn not everyone has access to unlimited broadband, as well as many other things they have come to take for granted in wealthier urban centers. A little respect flowing both ways, between city and country, can seem hard to come by in these polarized times, this Cold Civil War, but it can go a long way toward healing divisions.
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.“
— Exodus 23:1, from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.
The job of White House Press Secretary has always been to walk a fine line between putting a good face on an administration’s policies and actions and lying about them outright. The current presidential administration and its press secretary have no such concerns and are obviously content to lie outright. When the White House released an altered video last week that made Cable News Network (CNN) reporter Jim Acosta the bad guy in an interaction with a White House intern who attempted to wrest a microphone away from him, they obviously cared not at all whether reasonable people believed their lie. They are, after all, not appealing to reasonable people.
Hip boots in the mud. Photo by Booter. Deep, and getting deeper all the time.
The current occupants of the White House offices know they have a third of the country solidly in their corner, people who will believe their lies without question and with gusto. Another third of the country is in the middle, sitting on the fence to one side or another, some of them perplexed or disturbed by the behavior they see from this administration’s people, but few of them willing to act on their apprehensions. The other third of the country consists of people who are steadfastly opposed to the current administration and are willing to resist to some degree its policies and actions and work toward its demise either electorally or by impeachment and conviction. The current president and his vassals care not one whit about the opinions of those people.
What’s particularly galling about the episode with Mr. Acosta is how the current Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed devout Christian whose father is a minister as well as a politician, a woman who has never uttered any sincere support for womens’ rights otherwise and who works for a reprobate in the Oval Office who openly insults women at every opportunity, suddenly got religion about the issue of men assaulting women and used that as the excuse for revoking Mr. Acosta’s White House press privileges by way of her false witness regarding the altered video. He got handsy and rough with our female intern! No, he didn’t. Doesn’t matter, because the only people we need to convince will believe our version of events, and some of the rest will be so flabbergasted and flustered by the sheer chutzpah of our lying they will be paralyzed into impotence. The other third – who cares what they think?
Ms. Sanders has apparently made peace with her hypocrisy, no doubt rationalizing her aiding and abetting of evil as somehow being in the greater cause of Christianity. It is worrying, though, that a majority of white, middle class women have gone along with her down that road. They may have other reasons than Christianity to justify their support for and following of the Pussy Grabber in the Oval Office, but they all have rationalizations that can’t have much to do with the actual man and his policies. It’s almost understandable why white, middle class men might remain in his camp, because however misguided their wishes are, too many of them surely look up to him as someone worth emulating. But the women are a different story.
Authoritarian Personality Syndrome (APS) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) are two of several characteristics that may explain why women follow the current president. Both are predominantly conservative characteristics and, by extension, fundamentalist Christians such as Ms. Sanders. Far more fundamentalist Christians are conservative than liberal. Without delving too deeply into differences in religions, it is safe to say fundamentalist Christians are more patriarchal than the average Christian, and more inclined toward APS and SDO characteristics. Women have to engage in more mental gymnastics than men to rationalize their devotion to the Leader of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, but they do it, most probably with little introspection, and if his pep rallies are any guide, they are overcome with such starry-eyed enthusiasm they will approve of anything he says or does.
The Keynesian economic model which held sway in Western capitalist societies in the middle of the twentieth century has long since given way to neoliberalism, a policy and a philosophy which is a reworking of the laissez faire economies of the early industrial revolution. No wonder that we live in a new Gilded Age, the culmination of increasing economic inequality and degradation of publicly subsidized social services for everyone but the rich. Neoliberalism, a term which has meant many things in theory over the last one hundred years, has come to mean in fact laissez faire economics for the poor and middle class, and corporate welfare for the wealthy.
The result has been the takeover of the economy by short-sighted financial interests among the largest banks, and the takeover of politics and public policy making by those same banks and international corporations which owe allegiance to their executives and their shareholders instead of to any one national or local community. Consumers bear a great deal of the responsibility for this state of affairs, while citizens can change it.
A protester at the second presidential inauguration of George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., in January 2005 holds up Adbusters’ Corporate American Flag. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.
Consumers are passive; citizens are active. Consumers are inattentive to politics; citizens pay attention to what’s going on in government. Consumers struggle to get by and blame themselves when they cannot; citizens understand larger forces are arrayed against their interests and demand an equal place at the table. Consumers look at the wealthy and see people who helped themselves; citizens know how wealth creates wealth and privilege looks out for its own. Consumers feel helpless to change the course of society; citizens band together because they realize their power is in their numbers.
A sign at the January 2018 Women’s March in Missoula, Montana. Photo by Montanasuffragettes.
The neoliberal philosophy of the past forty years has stripped people of their view of themselves as citizens with rights, duties, and responsibilities in society and replaced it with the lumpish, passive recognition of themselves as consumers, replaceable parts in the economic machine. Meanwhile, neoliberals have sold the consuming masses on the idea that unions and publicly funded healthcare and education are bad policies, but tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations are good because of some nebulous trickling down that’s supposed to happen. Mission accomplished!
Taking action to change neoliberal policies on the environment, on economic inequality, and on the accountability of corporations, banks, and politicians is going to have start with a change in attitude among the populace from consumers to citizens. It starts with getting the money out of politics, and that starts with overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which equated money with speech. What greater symbol for the neoliberal outlook can there be than “money talks”? The second most important step toward change would diminish the power of the big banks by reinstating the Depression era Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial and investment banking. The third step would end government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and divest from it entirely. All easier said than done, of course, and only the first few of many steps to curtail the undue influence of the rich and powerful over society, but once consumers get up off their couches and walk down as citizens to their voting places they will be taking the steps necessary to change a system that works only for a privileged few, and not for them.
The federal government sends out mixed signals about dietary health by promoting the establishment of fast food restaurants in poor city neighborhoods on the one hand, and then on the other hand advocating healthier eating by limiting consumption of fast food. It boosts the use of cheese in fast food items, and then suggests consumers curtail their dairy consumption. It works hand in glove with ranchers in the beef industry by leasing grazing rights to federal lands at minimal cost, and then warns the public off eating too much red meat. That’s a lot of taxpayers’ money wasted on bureaucrats working at cross purposes with each other.
The Dane County Farmers’ Market in September 2007 on the grounds of the state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. It is the largest producers-only farmers’ market in the nation. Photo by Kznf.
People are so inured to confusing messages about what’s healthy to eat and what isn’t that most of them pay little mind to medical experts and bureaucrats, or rather they take their advice with a grain of salt, and that would be in the form of sea salt or Himalayan salt for foodie elites, and regular old table salt for everybody else. Like everything else in America over the past thirty or forty years, food culture has split into two halves, something akin to the haves and have nots. There are the foodie elites of the professional and upper classes, and then there is everybody else, from the lower middle class which is frantically scrabbling to keep from sliding down into the working class, which is itself struggling to stay one step ahead of poverty.
Americans can make a quick, cheap meal of sorts from a one or two dollar box of macaroni and cheese mix. For some, meals like that are their only option. It’s disgraceful that people of limited means should have to bear the disdain of people with nearly limitless means because their diet is based on calorie value per dollar over nutritional value. The poor and the economically struggling don’t have the luxury of being absolutely sure of their next meal. As to how the well off view their meals, anyone who has ever worked as a table busser or as one of the waitstaff in a high end restaurant can attest to the tremendous amount of food wasted by the patrons, even though they may be spending for one meal what a working class person can expect to earn in a day. The upper classes have that luxury because they have the security of knowing there’s more where that came from.
Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca as The Hickenloopers, Charlie and Doris, visit a health food restaurant in a skit fromYour Show of Shows, with appearances by Howard Morris as another customer and Carl Reiner as a waiter.
Unlikely as it seems, the fast food restaurants scorned by foodie elites as obesity enablers for the great unwashed may hold the key to turning things around for people who can’t afford to buy groceries at Whole Foods, aka Whole Paycheck. Taking their cue to keep promotions of healthier options low key so as not to arouse the suspicions of poorer customers whose purchases are based on calorie value per dollar, yet feeling increased pressure from public health groups to offer healthier foods, fast food restaurants increasingly change ingredients and practices in a balancing act to satisfy both constituencies. No one will ever claim that a cheeseburger and fries are healthier than a homemade meal of vegetables from a farmers’ market, but given the realities of human psychology and the country’s current economic conditions, demonizing those who choose to eat the former more often than the latter is ultimately unhelpful in lessening the obesity epidemic, while reinforcing the widening economic inequality that is driving it.
There never was any truth to the notion that schools closed in the summer so that farm children could help out with chores at home, and the real reason had to do with urban schools having low attendance in the summer and teachers and administrators wanting a summer break to escape city heat in the days before air conditioning, as well as using the extended break to pursue avocations or take temporary jobs. Farm children were needed at home in the spring for planting, and then again in the fall for the harvest. While it’s true farm work never slacks off entirely, particularly when animal husbandry is involved, there still were lulls in the summer and in the winter when children could attend school. Through most of the nineteenth century, a short school year was sufficient for farm children who had no ambitions in learning beyond the sixth or eighth grade. Farm children who had greater ambitions resorted to supplementing their learning on their own when they could, much like what we know about how Abraham Lincoln learned to become a lawyer.
The modern summer break came about instead from the needs of urban school administrators and the upper and middle economic class students and their families who supported many of the schools. The needs of poor students and their families, as always, hardly entered into the concerns of the rest of society. Before school attendance became compulsory in the late nineteenth century, urban schools were open year round, but often were only half full, and even less than that in the summer. School administrators eventually came around to following the model of colleges by closing for the summer so that students and teachers could pursue other interests outside the baking cities, leaving behind only enough staff to help students who needed to take extra courses of learning during the break. Public health officials added their approval to emptying out the schools in summer because they deemed the hothouse conditions unhealthful in general, and not conducive to learning in particular. By the early twentieth century school administrators had generally adopted the summer break, which started in late May or early June, and ended in late August or early September.
A 1940 Works Progress Administration (WPA) poster promoting reading and library use upon returning to school in September after the summer break.
The system appeared to work well for most of the twentieth century. Rural schools synchronized their schedules with those of their urban counterparts so as not be left behind as it became increasingly clear a high school diploma was the minimum academic achievement necessary in modern society. The tourism industry could count on a steady source of both customers and labor during the two to three month summer break. The American public school system ranked highly among the school systems of other industrialized nations, even with its extended summer break. Then in the late twentieth century alarm bells started sounding about the supposed failings of that highly successful public school systems, the details of which are beyond the scope of this article, and so in effort to increase academic rigor, or at least appear to do so, school boards have been eroding the summer break, largely on the back end.
A 1913 “Back to School” cartoon by Bob Satterfield (1875-1958) that captures how most children have always viewed the occasion.
In many school districts, fall semester classes now start in the first weeks of August. School may have ended in mid-June, leaving less than two months for the summer break. And yet still academic achievement appears to be falling, at least among the middle and lower economic classes. That also is another article for another day. For today it is sufficient to point out that the public school system does not exist in isolation from the greater society, and lackluster academic achievement by the students cannot be remedied merely by making them sit at their desks for more days every year.
The problem is in quality, not quantity. The society as a whole is fracturing, and the problems with poor learning begin and end in the home. The long summer break enacted by the twentieth century public school system was an excellent compromise that worked well for nearly everyone except families that had both spouses working outside the home. That presents a difficulty today, too, but the answer is not in charging the public schools with child daycare duties and calling that increased academic rigor. It’s not. August is too hot for school, in air conditioned facilities or not. August is for causing students anxiety about the imminence of schools reopening when they start seeing “Back to School” sale advertisements, which now also draw the attention of their teachers, who too often feel pressed to use their own money to buy supplies for their students. July is too early for a return of that unique schooldays anxiety, especially when schools closed only a few weeks before, in June.
Technology for helping people sleep appears to be a booming business, with everything from machines that mimic ocean wave sounds to sensors built into mattresses to adjust the sleeping experience for maximum comfort. Technology also is ushered out of the bedroom, in the form of light temperature filters for smartphones and electronic tablets. Sleep difficulties, especially for older people, are nothing to be taken lightly since lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can lead to all sorts of problems in the larger society, some of them dangerous, like driving a motor vehicle while deprived of good sleep.
One of the factors often ignored in discussions of sleep is how the natural sleep cycle of our species appears to broken up into two, and often three periods. The natural cycle seems to drop into the background during most of maturity for many people, giving rise to the common illusion that eight hours of continuous sleep from late evening through the night to early morning is the norm. Nothing could be further from the truth. The true sleep pattern for our species makes itself known in youth and in old age, when work schedules are less demanding. The young and the old typically sleep several hours from evening into the night, then are up for an hour, maybe more, and then back to sleep from late night into the morning. They also often partake of a midday nap.
Asleep, a 1904 painting by Rupert Bunny (1864-1947).
The introduction of widely available electric lighting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played a part in resetting humanity’s internal clock, particularly for those living in industrial societies originating from northern Europe. Southern European societies retained a more relaxed rhythm and honored the tradition of the siesta, or midday relaxation. But in industrialized England and America the norm became 12 to 16 hours of work during all of daylight and into twilight at both ends of the day, followed by 8 to 12 hours of some sort of relaxation and sleep at home before getting back at it the next day. Sleep had to be concentrated in those hours, or foregone. Sleep at home when you got the slim chance, or fall asleep at the wheel of some dangerously unprotected machinery, risking death, maiming, or at the very least loss of employment.
To have been an insomniac working in a factory of the last centuries in the industrial north must have been utter hell, as it must be today for those working in the garment and electronics sweatshops of southern Asia. Some of the devices advertised for sale to help the sleepless may seem ludicrous or indulgent, but for those afflicted it may not seem so. The question is whether those who truly need those devices can afford them or are even aware of them. Probably not.
Madeline Kahn, as Lili Von Shtupp, sings “I’m Tired” in the 1974 Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles. Warning: foul language.
The sound of waves crashing, the gradual transition of blue light to red on electronics invited into the bedroom, and the monitoring of sleep quality, as far as that may be possible, all are geared toward the middle class and above, the office workers who have followed the 9 to 5 mold set for their kind one hundred years ago. Many work more hours than that, usually appended to the end of the day. All the same, sleep for them is crowded into the overnight hours, and if they don’t get it then they will miss out. There’s nothing wrong with them if they can’t sleep all 8 hours in the time allotted; it’s the mold that is broken and needs remaking.
In the first of two presidential campaign debates in 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush referred to his opponent, Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” (American Civil Liberties Union), he was actually citing Governor Dukakis’s own words from his speeches during the Democratic primaries, when he wanted to appeal to the left wing of the party. Governor Dukakis’s choice of words were unfortunate for him given the connotations of the phrase “card-carrying member” ever since the red-baiting days of the early 1950s Joseph McCarthy era, and the Bush campaign probably couldn’t believe their luck in that Governor Dukakis handed them such a juicy gift with which to smear him.
They knew and counted on the reality that most of the public do not delve deeply into the true meaning of things, and instead are all too eager to fall back lazily on shorthand terms. Conservative independents, to the extent they understood at all what the ACLU was about, had only to hear that the organization had the words “civil liberties” and “union” in it, and that Governor Dukakis was a “card-carrying member” of it, to jump to the conclusion that the man from Massachusetts with the foreign sounding name was practically a Communist, resulting in their bolting toward Vice President Bush. Governor Dukakis spent the rest of the campaign explaining himself regarding that and other blunders, and once he went on the defensive the campaign was over. Ever since then, mainstream Democrats have been careful to define themselves as Republicans Lite, rather than being card-carrying members of any organization other than Corporate America.
A public service announcement from the ACLU in reaction to the use in 1988 by the Bush campaign of the phrase “card-carrying member” as a smear tactic. Interesting to note the mentions of the ACLU defending Oliver North.
In good news for people who would still like to work within the Democratic Party but who see it as hopelessly beholden to corporations while cynically throwing identity politics bones to the left wing in order to appease them, candidates for local and state offices around the country who are endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are having success in elections since 2016. The DSA is not a political party. It is an activist movement within and sometimes without the Democratic Party, and it endorses candidates who push its policy goals such as a $15 an hour minimum wage and getting the corrupting influence of corporate money out of politics. Michael Harrington founded the DSA in 1982, and the organization had not seen much success until the past two years, when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders openly avowed socialist principles in his presidential campaign, for many people doing away with the stigma of socialism that Governor Dukakis had tried to wipe off himself in 1988.
Noam Chomsky in a 1989 speech analyzes the 1988 election “card-carrying member” smear.
Most of the peopleinspired to become members of the DSA by Senator Sanders’s example, even though he himself had never joined, were not yet born in 1988 when the Bush campaign found it incredibly easy and profitable to brand Governor Dukakis an extreme leftist and make it stick with the public. For these downwardly mobile Millennials, some of them highly educated and many of them underemployed, the myth of capitalism raising all boats is for suckers. These were the people who formed the core of the Occupy movement in 2011, and when the establishment in the Democratic Party pushed everyone to accept their Republican Lite candidate, Hillary Clinton, while using subterfuge to undermine Senator Sanders’s candidacy, leading ultimately to the debacle of the general election, some of these same politically active young Democrats turned to the DSA to work to change the Democratic Party from the grass roots on up.
As the 2018 mid-term elections approach, Cenk Uygur delivers an astute analysis of the Democratic Party establishment from a perspective to the left of the mainstream. As always in keeping a wary eye on politics and politicians, it is good advice to follow the money.
The national Democratic Party establishment is too compromised and seduced by corporate money to listen to what working class and middle class people in places like western Pennsylvania are concerned about, the same people who essentially cast protest votes for Orange Julius in 2016, as ill-advised as that may have been. The Democratic establishment will try to make the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on Orange Julius, and to a certain extent they should, but what they are missing in their tone deafness to the needs of Americans in places like western Pennsylvania and Flint, Michigan, and the dairy farms of Wisconsin, is the desire of citizens there to see Democrats demonstrating real intentions to implement policies once they are in office that will improve the lives of the majority, instead of just big money corporate donors. The national Democratic Party establishment is hopelessly out of touch with those citizens. Card-carrying DSA members, working with local and state candidates, understand positive change will only come by listening to and serving citizens directly, and ignoring the cumbersome Democratic Party establishment, which is interested only in perpetuating itself by offering the easy way out by criticizing the current president’s disastrous administration, and in replacing his corporate water carriers with their own.
It’s not easy leaving one home for another one far off, as anyone who has ever done it can attest. If moving thousands of miles away from family and friends is difficult now, when electronic communication allows people to keep in touch, it was even more difficult in past centuries, when leaving behind familiars often meant permanent dislocation without any further contact. The emigrants, particularly if they were poor, had to be brave to make the momentous decision to leave, and then again to establish a new home.
Economics and politics are the biggest drivers of emigration, even for those leaving the United States. American government agencies don’t keep exact numbers on the amount of people leaving the country, but estimates over the past twenty years are that the number of Americans living abroad either on a temporary or permanent basis have more than doubled, from four million to nine million. People who live abroad temporarily, but longer term than tourists, are considered expatriates. The status of expatriates is usually fluid, with some eventually becoming citizens in their adopted country, and some returning to the United States.
The Emigrants’ Last Sight of Home, an 1858 painting by Richard Redgrave (1804-1888).
As hard as it is to pin down statistics on American expatriates, it seems a reasonable inference from the increasing number of articles published online and elsewhere touting overseas retirement destinations that more Americans than ever are deciding to live abroad when they have a fixed, mostly predictable income. For some of these people, the political situation in the United States may play a role in their decision, as this country more and more resembles the banana republics derided in the past, with obscene income inequality, police state tactics employed by the governing class, and the mass of people working in a condition of debt peonage. Many of the countries listed as desirable retirement destinations are in Latin America, and the reasoning among retirees may be that since the United States has come to resemble those countries politically, at least the change for them won’t be that great on that account, and their money will go further.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, because for centuries the United States interfered in the politics and economics of Latin America, which it regarded patronizingly as its back yard. Latin American countries have lately been working to disengage themselves from the most sordid aspects of American interference, with the most extreme example being Venezuela. At any rate, Latin America is popular amongst expatriate American retirees looking to get the most out of their pension dollars. Europe is generally more expensive, with the more dysfunctional economies of southern Europe offering better deals. Southern Europe also offers warmer weather and high quality health care that is on a par with the rest of Europe. American retirees are more likely, therefore, to emigrate to the sunny beaches of Spain than the frigid fjords of Norway.
Director John Huston, an American expatriate for much of his life, in a cameo appearance early in his 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart. The film was about a trio of down on their luck American expatriates in Mexico. Poverty is a miserable existence anywhere, but it causes even more anxiety among those who are adrift from the support of friends, family, and familiar surroundings. The magazine articles for retirees typically mention a few destinations in southeast Asia, and hardly any spots in Africa or the rest of Asia. Presumably the heavy slant toward Latin America and Europe is because those places offer less of a culture shock to most Americans along with the aforementioned economic advantages and similar political climate. That slant also assumes the major part of the readers are of Caucasian European descent, which is not unreasonable considering American demographics, particularly of the middle class that can afford a comfortable retirement, or at least expects to do so if they can stretch their dollars overseas. Their numbers are increasing.
The propaganda in this country has long been that everyone in the world wanted to come here, and that we could pick and choose who got in. With some quibbles, that was mostly true for a long time. Now that may no longer be the case; now not as many people elsewhere may be attracted to these shores, while more people here may be looking elsewhere. For now, it is the people with dependable income, retirees among them, who are leaving. They are the brave ones, and as the political and economic situation in America swirls down a dark hole, and despite the ever more shrill propaganda about how everything is great, just great, more will surely follow to make their home elsewhere.
With Christmas past by several days now, many children will be enraptured by a new toy or toys if they were lucky enough to receive them. The trend now is for giving more technologically sophisticated toys even to small children, but a simple toy such as a rubber duck can give a small child many hours of joy through encouraging the use of imagination, while some complicated toys do everything for the child, who quickly becomes bored through passivity.
For such a simple toy, the rubber duck has become enormously popular since its introduction in the form we recognize today in the mid-twentieth century. Some rubber ducks squeak when squeezed and others don’t, but all are hollow with a weight in the bottom, so that they always float upright. Of all toys in America, perhaps only the teddy bear is more popular than the rubber duck. A teddy bear does even less on its own than a rubber duck, however, since some won’t float, and it certainly doesn’t know which end is up when it does float.
The world’s largest floating rubber duck, designed by the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, is towed in Los Angeles harbor in August 2014 as part of the Tall Ships Festival. Photo by Eric Garcetti.
The technology employed in making rubber ducks is some of the simplest in manufacturing, involving rotational molds, heat, and some hand painting. The toys are not made of rubber anymore, since that has gotten too expensive. Manufacturers instead use a non-toxic vinyl which will be safe for toddlers, who inevitably will chew on the toy. The paints also are designed for child safety. Like many manufacturing plants in the past half century, the ones for making these simple toys had moved overseas, primarily to China, until one company returned part of its manufacturing to the United States. That company struggled at first to find a factory and skilled workers, evidence of how quickly disused facilities and worker skills melt away without investment.
For all the stories in the news about how Silicon Valley technological companies like Apple and Google are leading the way for the American economy, and how the less educated workers who don’t fill that mold will just have to make do with minimum wage jobs in the service economy, flipping burgers at McDonald’s or driving Ubers, there are millions of workers who are not cut out to be software engineers but who nonetheless could use better paying jobs to help their families not merely stay afloat, but get ahead in the world.
In this clip from an early episode ofSesame Street,Ernie the Muppet sings “Rubber Duckie”, the 1970 song that set off a resurgence in popularity for the toy. These are people who may never invent the next big thing in computers or smartphones or driverless cars, but whose children possibly could if given a fair chance at a good education without sinking the family into poverty. In the last fifty years, while the rich in their opulent yachts have gotten ever richer, the working class has been cut adrift from the mainstream economy by the loss of good paying manufacturing jobs, and the middle class has been kept busy furiously kicking to keep from drowning. Not everything has to be complicated or technologically sophisticated to work well in the world. Sometimes all it takes to make people happy is a simple toy that knows enough to bob upright in the water and keep afloat with a plucky smile.