Labor Day: Put America Back to Work

Thanks to Gail Jonas

The Democrats are running scared and triaging their Congressional majorities for salvageable seats, according to the Sunday New York Times lead story. The President may be confined to quarters, but they are going to impress Michele Obama, last seen by photo yesterday with two really nice heads of fennel fresh from the White House garden, into campaign work.

Let’s hope that the Democrats don’t send her out to talk about victory gardens. Combined with her husband’s “be patient” counsel after the bad unemployment news last week, I’d almost feel obliged to start building a Hooverville by the Washington Monument, or at least toss around a medicine ball by the White House in remembrance of one of America’s greatest humanitarians and technocrats who saved Europe from starving after the First World War, but couldn’t bring himself to save his own people from the ravages of the Great Depression.

The present occupant of the White House is no Hoover, I guess, though I do reserve the right to second-guess myself another time.  After all, the President has avoided telling us that prosperity is just around the corner, which nobody believed in 1932 and no one believes now. Yet his approach to our grave economic situation seems almost as passive and bloodless as was Hoover’s.

Patience is no answer to the problem of 25 million unemployed. There is nothing on the horizon from factories to banks, workplaces and federal programs that has the remotest chance of putting 25 million Americans back to work within the next five years. The unemployed are suffering terrible damage with the promise of more. Whole chunks of people’s lives are being written off for which there is no recompense, no recovery. Some years back a sociologist compared the annual wages of people from identical backgrounds and work histories. The only difference among them is that one group had spent a year in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. Decades later, the one year gap in their job records had left the Vietnam veterans earning less than those who were identical to them, save for the fact that they did not spend a year of their lives fighting the Vietnam War.

Imagine the impact of this recession as it rips through people’s work lives, makes short work of people’s careers, prevents other people from starting, and diminishes their livelihoods.  Imagine their lives as a series of little Vietnams. Where does patience fit in, exactly?

This Administration is running backwards. Its response grows more pallid and miniscule by the day.

Perhaps like Hoover, there are just some things it cannot bring itself to do.

It is obsessed with technocratic tinkering.  It searches high and low for creating incentives, trying in other words to get other people to put people back to work. Now the Administration is testing every little string that has ever been tethered to the bow of economic growth since the days of JFK in hope of finding one or more that can help us hit the target of job creation.

Investment tax credits, payroll tax holidays, and other short-term remedies are being put on a wish list for release this week by the White House, according to weekend press reports. Doubtless simulations have been run measuring their possible impacts, but common sense suggests that this tweaking doesn’t have a chance of really solving the problem of 25 million unemployed. Indeed, one wonders if these new options are being offered simply to bolster the Democrats’ November chances, or whether they are Obama’s versions of Hoover’s medicine balls thrown around to renew America’s hope.

Banks and big businesses are sitting on mounds of cash. Money is cheaper than at any time in recent memory; in fact, you could say that for big firms and banks, it is virtually free. The Fed and the federal government are pressing banks to loan more to small businesses, but lack of business confidence is slowing down loan demand perhaps even more than bankers’ reticence to lend. How can “incentives” move business people who may be making fairly sensible decisions not to invest, expand, rehire and undertake new risks? Fears of higher taxes are the least of business worries.

The President and his fellow White House technocrats are treating the American economy as if it were one rather large, temperamental machine that given the right mix of new inputs, a richer mix of fuel, a better grade of ore, a higher quality steel will produce the output once more that our country needs to return to prosperity. They believe that they can still adjust the machine based upon the same law-like assumptions that made the American economic engine purr throughout the post-World War II period.

Perhaps they are wrong.  The machine, as many economist wonder, may be broken. Or our belief that we could understand it in its complexity and get good results by simply tinkering with the machine’s inputs may be mistaken.

But these strike me as very fine, indeed precious points, a kind of creeping medievalism in our midst, if now in technocratic drag. Best said, they are beside the point: No situation in which 25 million people are unemployed is tolerable, and it requires no deep understanding of the economic system to understand that people need work, and incomes from work, in any event. We need not sweet reason or tinkering. We need to put people to work.

President Obama and his team are flunking the biggest policy test of all. They are searching to get the economy “right,” as good technocrats or bad technocrats.  (I think like John Boehner that Obama should fire Geithner and Summers, but suggest he wait until after the November massacre.) The method, if not the metaphor, should be medical rather than technocratic: like a good doctor, Obama should treat the obvious symptoms, alleviate pain, and help the patient to full recovery, even if as often happens to doctors that he doesn’t have all the facts or even a good diagnosis. The symptom is mass unemployment. The obvious cure is putting people to work.

Getting it “right” is putting people to work, in a practical and in a profound moral sense. On this Labor Day, I say let’s put people to work and let’s see where it takes us. What business will not do, the government must.  And this Administration does the country a grave disservice by persevering in its belief that either business or its tinker-toy incentives will do the job.


I don’t know, maybe I am just getting too curmudgeonly, but I am really, really tired of hearing about national electoral politics as if it was something real and not just a clever show to delude the mass media audience and sow confusion and despair. After all, what does “democracy” mean in the context of “election results” coming out of mysterious black boxes that routinely contradict exit polls?

The PTB are putting on this expensive show as a massively glorified version of “professional” wrestling. Issues are not solved at the ballot box to any significant extent. Real issues are consistently resolved in back rooms in the favor of the richest and most threatening interests, period. False issues that play on peoples worse natures is all that is allowed in mass media. No real there.

There is no functioning democracy in America, just a nasty struggle for power by any means available, including always the threat or commission of some form of mass violence. It has not been this bad in the past. It doesn’t need to be this bad in the future if we organize to assert our, the “public’s,” interests. We don’t need what we are being sold, war and toys forever. We need food, shelter, health care and education. We are going to have to decide to grow up and get used to the idea that the PTB are not going to provide these things. Our survival, not to mention our “pursuit of happiness,” is not going to served by continuing with business as usual.

Social deterioration in the service of mass marketing has progressed to the point where we can call it commercial totalitarianism under the banner of “One Market Under the God of Money.” At this point we are a subject people left to occupy ourselves with our diminishing and deteriorating toys. Like most of the population of the world we are ruled by those with the least restraint in using criminal means to promote their power, the sociopathic pursuasion. Congratulations America. We are now in a position where we can start to think in terms of solidarity with the rest of the worlds people instead of buying into the induced fiction that we are superior to them and are therefore justified in robbing and murdering them so we can afford to buy more toys.

Supine America is being transformed into a society dedicated to producing mercenaries for the bank’s wars of conquest and profiteering. Unemployed? Join the Army. Sorry to be blunt, but those who love their children can not indulge in fantasies. They must deal with realities.

One of those realities is that the only road open to good people is to organize resistance at the very local level while being careful to avoid transferring power to leaders, and other charismatic folk, who will be manipulated and turned against the people who trust them.

Organize with your neighbors now. Reject personalized leadership. Start with just having candid conversation that is protected from abuse by egomaniacs by strictly egalitarian rules of conduct. Normal conversation will not work as its function is to maintain the comfortable fiction of a less threatening “normal reality.” If we are not to invite the thinking of the oppressors into our conversation wholesale we must structure our conversation to optimize the promotion of new, creative ideas and minimize the influence of rank and competitiveness. Essentially it is a simple matter of taking turns and seeing that all have a chance to speak. Our masters are only comfortable to the extent that we are fighting each other rather than them. National electoral politics has just become another means to divide us in order to rule us tyrannically.

Local politics is a different matter entirely and I encourage everyone to participate to promote candidates and measures that we can make real contact with and that can make improvements in our lives.

Right now, in our mental slumber, it can be said that for us that the future has been cancelled for lack of interest. So wake up, get uncomfortable and seek the help of ones neighbors in trying to sort out the lies from the lived truth.

Happy labor day.


OK Dave, let’s do it! Start forming Quaker style dialogue meetings. Basic ground rules (in addition to any the individual groups may adopt. Short meetings at convenient times. Hour an a half max. Participants take turns, limit length of time (some groups may find it necessary to set arbitrary limits since the art of conversation is lost here) for each turn, have a twenty second or so silence at the end of each turn, do not speak directly to what the prior person says but speak, hopefully, from your own heart, have fun. Start with as few as three, but when group gets to eight split geographical and affinity considerations. When two or more groups are meeting, on say Monday nights, they choose delegates to a Tuesday evening meeting with a panel of six representatives. As the number of groups grows keep adding days so that a Wed delegate meeting (attended by as many primary group members as possible) might be representing thirty to fifty people meeting on Monday. All primary meetings are INCLUSIVE of all willing to play nicely. If grown out successfully a Friday delegate meeting would be representing between one and two thousand participants, perhaps, for instance the entire population of Anderson valley. Interregional delegate meetings could be held in a central (Boonville fairgrounds?) venue. Total transparency.

Meetings at various levels would be able to take various actions they discovered through dialogue to solve actual problems, but the emphasis would need to be on training folks away from the authoritarian thinking imposed on them by the institutions of Imperial America and toward collective, as opposed to individual, self discovery.

Ready to go at any time on this. None of the above should be considered closed to innovation as long as the experience is egalitarian dialogue for the fun, and it is a fun game (particularly with controversial topics).

Let’s talk. I am home most days here in Boonville, but could make it to Ukiah.

Viva la Revolucion!



    There are already Transition groups meeting in our county. The Willits group has been the leaders so far in making things happen for several years. I just heard of a new group meeting here in Ukiah started by Leeya Thompson, and one out on the coast. Suggest contacting Doug Mosel and others there in AV around food… which is the key to transitioning.

Hi Dave,

I am aware of the efforts you talk about. I know some of these people personally. I am also aware that there is more smoke than fire there. All of these groups start from the premise that some vanguard group will successfully mobilize ordinary folks to move in the right direction. There is a long and sordid history of this sort of lame thinking. It is analogous, I think, to someone building a vehicle but forgetting to put the wheels on. Great vehicle going nowhere.

The ignorance, and more-so the intellectual isolation that has been imposed on the US population, is the twenty trillion pound gorilla in the room. All the successful insurgencies (like the insurgency by the American colonist) that I know of BEGAN with intensive bouts of counter oppressive education. Would there have been an American Revolution without the pubs? Without folks figuring out things on their own and deciding what to do about it.

To continue on promoting the idea that membership organizations can create successful movements is extremely outdated. The last really successful organization to confront oppression was the IWW. The destruction of the IWW created the playbook for subsequent generations of plutocrat warriors to conduct the class war of today. They have ridden this assaultive approach right through to the present day and have made a mockery of the Constitution and even the idea of human and civil rights. Remind yourself that you are ALLOWED TO LIVE only because you have yet to make it onto some assassination list as a “terrorist sympathizers.” What freedom we exercise is only by dint of permission from authority, and is not freedom at all, but rather, the toxic mimic of freedom.

The fundamental gear missing in the machinery of freedom is the inability of people to converse productively about pressing issues on the basis of shared knowledge and experience rather, as designed by the dominant class, on the basis of identity politics and/or irrational conflicts seeded into the public consciousness.

The authorities are treating us as dumb animals. Or, in line with Kissinger’s famously quoted statement about US soldiers, actually consider us to be subhuman dumb animals. Time to start talking to each other, without the sponsorship of leaders, just as plain folks and neighbors committed to the idea that we are not just dumb animals and share a collective fate. Either that or the oppressors are right about us and therefore, why bother, let evolution have its way with our species and make room for the next (if ever) “intelligent species.”

Trying to beat todays problems with yesterdays tools is just foolish. New situations require new tools, and I don’t mean just new slogans and new membership organizations particularly those led by overeducated liberals with foundation funding. Not that I don’t love liberals. Some of my best friends are liberals. It is just that my head hurts from pounding it against the wall over what liberals do and say.

I remind myself that radical means going to the root. Trimming the branches is a delusional approach in our radically endangered world. We need to start something radically new.

I am proceeding as best as I can with this work and am always trying to find allies.


    I wonder if it’s not time for us oldie goldies to turn it over to the youngsters who are going to have to live in the coming world. I, too, have seen too many, and been a part of too many, idealistic-start-off-with-a-bang-big-energy groups that gradually deteriorated to monthly meetings of the choir and then poof. The last couple of local ones, though no longer meeting, catalyzed individual members who went on to do some very creative local projects. And I think the Willits group continues to show the way of consistently staying with it. But there is no sense of urgency, yet, that I think is needed to galvanize energy and action for the coming power down.

Dear Dave,

While it is true that, as a segment of society, youth has more at stake and should have the most prominent part to play in deciding their futures, it is also true that the group that really matters most is ALL of us. Segmenting a population into separate interest groups, using the propaganda establishment to dramatize differences and lead people to identify with the group that they are told they belong to, and thereby to exaggerate conflicts or even invent them is the chief method of oppression that we confront. Have they turned the term “American Muslim” into an oxymoron for the general public mind yet? This is a classic divide and conquer technique that is being used to convince as many as possible that they are involved in some sort of bizarre version of democracy instructed by social Darwinism.

No Dave, I do not agree with approaches to recovering our society from depraved rule that uses this segmenting of the population into competing identity groups, youth, gays, immigrants, unionist, Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheist, the elderly, Tea Parties, leftist, etc. as a starting point. That is the path away from universally inclusive mutual aid, which is what we really need in the time of unimaginable crisis and perpetual war. Our most important social weakness stems from generations of mass marketing to a population that it deliberately segments into ever smaller groups by manufacturing identities for them that become symbolized by particular brands and productds. Used as a means to pursue massive profits in an ever more commodified society it is already a problem. When this machinery and ways of thinking come to dominate national politics it becomes a catastrophe. When White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr candidly admitted, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” in referring to the invasion of Iraq, he betrayed how deeply this all-is-marketing-marketing-is-all thinking has affected national affairs. Citizens are not mere customers subject to marketing campaigns to enlist them as brand loyalist for war. Such people are subjects of a totalitarian regime.

All that said, I agree with you heartedly that the tendency we grey beards and tresses have to destructively dominate every group we join is a BIG PROBLEM. Thus I might say that any approach that fails to include youth as a primary source of inspiration and guidance is meaningless, or worse. Resuscitating the art of conversation means acting in ways that serve inclusiveness and not just giving it lip service. The Quaker Dialogue process fits the bill because it is very difficult for one group to monopolize the conversation. Of the various bigotries that plague our social interactions, I see the bigotry toward youth as currently the most destructive, even worse than the stultifying influence of sexism because it excludes the VERY PEOPLE that need to be listened to most.

Just getting people used to speaking in mixed neighborhood groups is an enormous challenge. Superficiality, triviality and personal problems tend to smother discussion as folks seek to evade the discomfort that comes from beginning to confront the lies that rule us. On the one hand we have a habit of vapidity and on the other we have fear of the “other.” Only meaningful sharing and personal revelation in an inclusive group can serve as an antidote to this social malaise that is killing us slowly.

Nice to converse with you in text. The next time I make it over the hill to Ukiah (a trip I have come to dread) I will check out your bookstore and perhaps meet you in person.