Category Archives: Employment

Priorities of the Time: Peace

For as long as anyone can remember violence and conflict have been part of daily life: humanity appears incapable of living peacefully together. There are the brutal cries of war, the vile acts of terror, homicides, rapes and assaults of all kinds. People everywhere long for an end to such conflicts, and are crying out for peace and understanding, to live in a just world free from fear.

Creating a world at peace not only demands putting an end to all forms of armed brutality, it also entails building peace within communities, in the workplace, educational institutions and the home, in the natural environment and, most importantly, it requires the inculcation of harmony within all of us. Each of these areas of living are interconnected, the prevailing condition in each affecting the stability and atmosphere of the other.

The task before us is to identify and change the prevailing divisive modes of living for inclusive ways that facilitate peace and cultivate tolerance. Peace itself is part of our essential nature: when the conditions of conflict are removed, peace between groups and within individuals arises naturally.

We are Society

Society is not an abstraction; it is a reflection of the consciousness of the individuals that make up any given community. As such, the responsibility for the nature of a town, city, school, office, country, region, etc., rests largely with those who live within its boundaries. I say “largely” because the corporate and state bodies that fashion the structures and promote the ideals of the day bear a large part of the responsibility. Specific values and conclusions are daily poured into the minds of everyone, virtually from birth, conditioning the consciousness and behavior of people around the world; the media (including the internet), institutionalized education and organized religion being the main outlets for such propaganda.

Variations on the nature of such conditioning are determined by circumstances of birth and background: the religious, political, socio-economic belief systems, the values of the family, the region and/or the country. All ism’s are inhibiting and divisive, and as the Dalai Lama says in A Human Approach to World Peace, when they are adopted people lose “sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a single human family.” Freedom of thought and independent creative thinking is denied, conformity expected. And can there be peace when the mind is imprisoned within the confines of a doctrine, no matter how lofty?

Whilst it is true that a symbiotic relationship exists between society and the individual, fundamentally the external world in which we live is a reflection of the internal life of humanity. Violent, disharmonious societies are the external manifestation of the inner turmoil, discontent and fear that many people feel.

The business of War

The loudest, ugliest form of violence is war, the machinery of which is a huge global industry greatly valued by the corporate state. It is a business ostensibly like any other, the difference being its products are intended to kill people and destroy everything in their path.

Like all businesses, weapons manufacturers operate to generate profits: wars are big business for arms companies, and therefore highly profitable, desirable even. International arms sales (dominated by America, with 34% of the total) according to the BBC “is now worth about $100bn.” By contrast, to end world hunger, which currently crushes the lives of around a billion people globally, would cost a mere $30 billion per year. And we wonder why there is no peace – how can there be peace when such gross injustice and inhumanity persist?

Profit, whether financial remuneration, status or power, is the principle motivating force within the working methodology of the global economic system. It is an unjust model that promotes a range of divisive, therefore violent values, including selfishness, competition and ambition. It thrives on and continually engenders dissatisfaction, and can there be peace when there is discontent?

Enormous wealth and power for a handful of men flow from the Ideology of Consumerism, leading to unprecedented levels of inequality in income/wealth, influence, education, health care, employment opportunities, access to culture and freedom to travel. Inequality is a fundamental form of social injustice: peace will never be realized where social injustice exists. Nor can peace be known when hunger, poverty, and exploitation, flowing from (financial) vulnerability, stalk the land destroying the lives of millions throughout the world.

Removing the obstacles to peace

Extreme inequality is a vile stain on our common humanity; inequality between the hideously wealthy, who have everything but want more, and the desperately poor, who have nothing, can barely feed themselves and live lives stunted by suffering; inequality between the economically secure and habitually complacent, and those who work until they drop yet can barely pay the rent. The hierarchy of injustice is crude at the extremes, variable in the middle and toxic throughout. It feeds anger and resentment and crushes peace.

Together with a ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality, global inequality fuels insecurity and fear, both psychological and physical, leading to tension, anxiety and depression. It fosters bitterness, crushes hope and strengthens false notions of superiority and inferiority. This in turn reinforces the prevailing fear and a strengthening spiral of suspicion, intolerance and unease is set in motion, thereby denying the quiet manifestation of peace.

The realization of peace is inextricably related to the introduction of a new socio-economic order based on values altogether different from the existing model. A socially just system that reduces inequality, encourages cooperation instead of competition, and facilitates equal access to well designed accommodation, good quality health care and stimulating education. Where social justice exists trust develops, relationships evolve, peace comes into being.

At the heart of any alternative system should be the inculcation of the Principle of Sharing; sharing not only of the food, water, land and other natural resources, but of knowledge, skills and opportunities. Sharing encourages cooperation between people from different backgrounds, allowing understanding and tolerance to grow. Tolerance of those who look different, pray and think differently, and understanding that humanity is one, that the human condition is universal no matter one’s circumstances or worldview. That we share one home, which we are all responsible for, and that in every corner of the world men, women and children want the same things: to live in peace free from fear, to build a decent life for themselves and their families and to be happy.

When we share, we acknowledge our common need, our shared humanity and our universal rights. Through sharing, a more equitable world can evolve; sharing, together with cooperation, tolerance and understanding are key elements of the time, and when expressed individually and collectivelyallow for peace to naturally come into being. Complementary to such Principles of Goodness, forgiveness and the absence of retaliation or retribution are essential in establishing peace. As is well documented, punishment without rehabilitation and compassion is a recipe for despondency, more violence and further acts of crime. Such actions have dogged humanity since records began, as has war, and while there have been tremendous advances in technology, medicine and science, the consciousness of humanity seems to have changed very little, we remain violent, selfish and fearful. As the Dalai Lama puts it, “there is no doubt about the increase in our material progress and technology, but somehow this is not sufficient as we have not yet succeeded in bringing about peace and happiness or in overcoming suffering…the basic human problems remain.”

The overcoming of these ‘basic problems’ and the realization of peace both flow from the same root: the recognition of mankind’s essential unity, and the cultivation of a sense of “universal responsibility”. Fragmentation and dishonesty of mind must be resolved, fear and desire understood. The current modes of living inflame these negative tendencies and make what already appears difficult, even more so. Discontent and desire are constantly agitated, social and national divisions inflamed, and an atmosphere of insecurity created. At the same time a reductive image of happiness and security is portrayed through mainstream films, TV and other media outlets. It is a hollow construct based on pleasure, the fulfillment of emotionally rooted desires and material satisfactions, none of which will ever create lasting happiness or inner peace. Peace does not lie inside walls of division, whether formed of concrete or constructed out of some ideological doctrine, but, like lasting happiness, reveals itself when there is total freedom from desire.

Work, Shame, and Art

The story broke of former Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens working at Trader Joe’s, despite the fact that Mr. Owens himself was more than happy to move on, the story spread as people suddenly discovered that actors have to pay the bills like everyone else.  The actress Tamara Braun summed it up on her Instagram:

What I also know is that being an actor, musician, writer, dancer, photographer or artist/creative of ANY kind is REALLY HARD. Most have other types of jobs while pursuing their craft. Unless you come from family money it is practically impossible not to. I have had MANY jobs to pay the bills while pursuing my career.

It really is strange that Geoffrey Owens’s story spread so widely because tabloids and rumor mills have been pointing out that actors take other jobs for years.  Twenty years ago there were stories that Lee Majors was working in a school cafeteria to survive (actually he was helping out at his daughter’s school).  Despite appearing on Seaquest DSV and still being recognized as Lana Lang from the Superboy series of the early 90’s, actress Stacy Haiduk admitted to driving for Uber.  Alan Ruck explained the situation in an interview:

So here I am, working at a Sears warehouse, and because Ferris Bueller had been out already, people were clocking me and going, “Do you know you look like this guy in this movie?” And I was, like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not me. It’s not me. I’m not that guy.” Because I didn’t want to get into it. I thought that they’d probably go, “You were in the movies and then you wound up here? We should just beat you for being stupid!”

There is a larger issue here that leads into the unspoken bias as to which jobs are considered acceptable and which ones are not.  The entertainment industry is a billion dollar business, but the Arts, in general, are not considered an acceptable career (until artists have a proven return on investment).  If a former actor ended up working as a banker or a lawyer, or some other high paying professional class career, there would not be any shaming, but because the retail and service industries are generally “unskilled” (another shaming term) they are vocations considered to be a step down from a previous level of success.  It is even worse for artists who have not yet broken in because despite years of training and honing of talents, most artistic disciplines are not considered “marketable skills.”  So in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, artists of all types take whatever jobs we can find to pay the bills.

An unfortunate necessity, and a cold hard reality, but there is a deeper issue that has been overlooked.  A lot of people, in their eagerness to defend Owens and other artists, have come out and spoken about the “honor” of work, and we should all be grateful that we have it.  While it is generally a good trait to be grateful for what blessings we have in our lives, especially compared to so many other people around the world, I have never considered work to be honorable or something we should be grateful for.  It is a brutal process whereby we must cede a third of our lives to a disinterested Other under threat of starvation.

The professional classes need to learn that for many people, but most especially for artists, we do not seek personal realization or validation from our job.  That is what our creative work is for.  Artists have chosen to adopt a life on the margins, knowing that we may never be successful at doing what we love, yet we do it anyway.  The real question is this: These are the people who create the art and tell the stories that give meaning to so many, or at the very least offer a bit of an escape from the relentless marketization of our lives; why are they forced to those margins in the first place?  It recalls the words of author David Graeber who once said: “Where is the next John Lennon?  Probably packing boxes in a supermarket somewhere.”

Despite Caving on Superdelegate Votes, Democratic Leaders Stick With Old Wine in Old Bottles …

The challenge by progressives to Democratic party leaders for November’s midterms—and the 2020 presidential election—is to tone down the anti-Trump focus and play up domestic planks as did the Great Depression’s president Franklin D. Roosevelt (“FDR”) to solve the nation’s critical domestic needs. Campaigners do not want to waste time and energies in yet another party defeat because the party continues to abandon the interests of millions once under its “big tent” in catering to the interests of banks, big business, and the rich.

*****

So Democratic party’s leaders finally surrendered to its progressive wing’s demand to disallow the 716 superdelegates bloc to vote on the first ballot for a presidential nominee in 2020. That took two years at hard labor for progressive movements to wear down the Democratic National Committee (DNC) movers-shakers from using this Machiavellian tactic to stop a super-popular candidate from blocking its hand-picked pro-corporate nominee.

To move the party back to its base and prioritize today’s domestic needs that campaigners can offer voters will require fighting the DNC cabal’s long-practiced backroom tricks and threats. A few days before the Chicago annual meeting of members was the cabal’s 30-2 vote reversing the rules committee’s two-month-old ban on taking donations from union leaders in the fossil-fuel industry. That will keep the doors open to company contributions constantly influencing Congress.

DNC members apparently overlooked this deed in also passing a procedural-reform package including both same-day registration and party change, open primaries, toughening conflict-of-interest rules and financial oversight of DNC finances, and adding an Ombudsman committee for complaints.

For progressives, that means the next and greatest hurdle in both the November midterm elections for Congress and the 2020 presidential contest is to wear down the DNC’s resistance to planks still packing stadiums and halls for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ hugely popular platform planks: Medicare-for-All, $15 minimum wage, tuition-free public colleges, expanded Social Security, and a federal public-works jobs program. They are the same kind of vote-getting planks created and implemented by the famed Great Depression president, Franklin D. Roosevelt (“FDR”) for a mostly destitute and despairing nation.

But the DNC cabal’s opposition has been fiercely opposed to such plans, especially Medicare-for-All. DNC and Congressional minority leaders—Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Schumer—reap thousands in annual donations from the health-care industry. Small wonder then that last year, Pelosi insisted that “Americans aren’t ready for Medicare-for-All.” In July, her hedge was that if the Democrats win the House in November, “Medicare-for-All” proposals “should be evaluated.”

The cabal’s stance is criminal, given that millions of uninsureds will die in that stall. By May, some 45,232,000 were uninsured because of cost, many because they could no longer afford Obamacare, thanks to Congressional Republicans killing its subsidized mandate and/or the insurance industry’s constant increases in premiums and deductibles.

Yet the Reuters-Ipsos June/July poll of nearly 3,000 respondents showed that 70% support Medicare-for-all (Democrats: 85%; Republicans: 52%). Current cost estimates for the program show health-care savings of $2 trillion dollars over a 10-year period over the present for-profit system because of significant low-overhead in federal administration of the program.

Increasingly disappointed in the last few years in the Democratic party’s choices of losing candidates for Congressional and president, campaign volunteers are going to be increasingly absent. Many veteran campaigners hoped the cabal would be almost totally focused on fixing the nation’s critical domestic needs, as was FDR rather than foreign adventuring.

We veteran canvassers have a greater sense of voters’ values and demands than the party’s indoor leaders and technocrats. And we have the slammed doors or welcoming greetings to prove it. Most householders on our walking lists are unlikely to vote for Congressional or presidential candidates serving Wall Street, the industrial complex, or super-conservative “centrism.” We know we’ll hear about Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors or the critical need to attack Russia, Iran, North Korea, or China before they attack us.

What we heard on the doorsteps even in the 2015-16 presidential election was Americans’ yearning for a new FDR to address most American’s vital domestic needs, not endless wars continually supported by the party on behalf of multinational corporations. Didn’t 139 House Democrats just vote to allocate $717 billion for military spending?

We expect to be braced now on doorsteps on why the party doesn’t support Bernie’s platform or his presidential candidacy when he’s still ranked as America’s most popular politician and attracts standing-room crowds because of those planks.

Some householders may be politically savvy enough to ask why Pelosi is still House minority leader and pouring the DNC’s old wine into old bottles, something even Democratic cohorts are discussing in weighing her replacement after the midterms.

But she still remains the powerful voice of the cabal—and is a top fundraiser. As such, she wrote a six paragraph letter to Congressional colleagues the day before the DNC’s general meeting with pointed orders for the midterms. Four paragraphs dealt with fighting the Trump regime. True, “working people” are mentioned five times in her demand that incumbents focus on delivering a “strong economic message for the people.” But she carefully avoided planks about Medicare-for-All, a $15 hourly wage, and ludicrously urged the impossibility of eradicating political corruption, and closed with:

As November rapidly approaches, we must also stay focused on delivering our strong economic message to hard-working families across America that we are fighting For The People: working to lower health care costs and prescription drug prices, increasing workers’ pay through strong economic growth by rebuilding America, and cleaning up corruption to make Washington work.

She’s supported by the cabal’s latest tactic against progressives, the “New Democrats,” organized to preserve major donations from Wall Street, Big Pharma, big corporations, and the military-industrial complex. Its political-action committee (NewDemPAC) has raised $2.7 million. They counted on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to pick and fund its midterm candidates.

Support comes from neo-liberal groups and institutions, especially the Clintons’ Third Way Democrats, to carry the centrist dogma of super-caution in times when FDR-like bold actions are essential. The Third Way is touting 12 super-small planks to rebuild the economy: an American Investment Bank for small businesses and an Apprenticeship America plan to fund 100 apprenticeship programs.

The Third Way’s president defended these two top planks as the means “to stand up and launch a serious, compelling economic alternative to Sanderism.” Yet 40% of American families fret over paying for food, housing, increasing utility rates, and health care. An FDR assuredly would quickly expose Trump’s second-quarter boast that the GDP (gross domestic product) is at 4.1 percent, and his lies about a booming economy. Too many Americans are not experiencing it and echo the cry of “You can’t eat GDP. GDP doesn’t pay the bills.”

How are we volunteers to tell householders and renters that these ”New Democrat” programs are “serious, compelling economic solutions” to their basic problems?

Obviously, though this right-wing group has spent thousands on focus groups and “listening” tours around the country for those planks, their audiences must have been the well off. They’re deaf to the real needs attracting most voters in the Rust-Belt states to candidate Donald Trump and the millions flocking to Sanders’ rallies. It’s doubtful they care that 57% of Democrats and 51% of U.S. millennials view socialism positively, according to a July 30-August 5 Gallup poll. Or why such voters yearn for a new FDR to implement Sanders’ planks.

FDR was a powerful, experienced, and practical problem-solver as president. His leadership rescued the nation from its darkest hours of the Great Depression and grateful millions rewarded him with four terms in the White House.

Fresh from governing and working hard to rescue New York state, FDR was a jaunty 51 when he moved into the White House in 1933 with a pragmatic “brain-trust” staff experienced in relief work and practical economics. They hit the floor running.

In the first 100 days, they set up “New Deal” programs despite howling opposition from a terrified Democratic cabal and those in Congress, and the colossal power of big business, and the “banksters.” All of them learned no one could intimidate or deter Roosevelt in his near-impossible mission, not even Churchill, Stalin, or Hitler.

He and his team started by tackling the financial industry’s depredations with a bank “holiday,” followed by a tough law (Glass-Steagall) forbidding them to play the stock market. Another law refinanced home loans. A new agency (Securities & Exchange) finally policed Wall Street. Farmers got crop subsidies, preventing the nation from starving. Millions of unemployed got jobs fixing long-neglected and vast infrastructure needs (Works Progress Administration) so the nation got dozens of dams and the Tennessee Valley Authority for cheap power and flood control. Millions of idle youths got jobs doing environmental work (Civilian Conservation Corps).

FDR’s second term gave the elderly Social Security and brought unions protections for wages, hours, and collective bargaining (the National Labor Relations Board).

He primed the public pump both with temporary public debt and hiking taxes on the rich, actions petrifying today’s DNC cabal because of its heavy dependence on big donors bent on preserving the status quo of low taxes and few federal regulations.

The New Deal “investment” cost $500 billion in today’s dollars, but was repaid by jump-starting a dying economy into a miraculous recovery before WWII. Treasury revenues climbed because of federal paychecks spent on food, housing, goods and services. That fed business profits, increasing taxes and bank reserves for loans to those businesses and industries. Improved highways and ports moved commerce faster and farther which, in what’s called the “multiplier effect,” created jobs.

In short, led by FDR, the Democratic party was then in tune with the times and priorities of most Americans. As one old-timer recently remarked: “Roosevelt was so popular that the party wouldn’t have had to spend a dime campaigning.”

If he were in charge today, he would stump the country with specific plans crafted by a “brain-trust” and immediately implement them by Executive Order if a frightened Congress balked at fast-tracking such bills into law.

Every Congressional candidate for the November midterm elections would be “strongly urged” by an FDR to rescind the recent corporate tax-cut of 21% if it’s to be paid by cutting $2 trillion from Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and public schools. At the least, they would be told to either block making those cuts permanent after the 2025 sunset or face another Executive Order forcing 95% of those cuts be invested in factory startups and wage increases.

A new FDR team also would be creative enough to block tax havens and money moved to international banks. Those cunning and greedy current actions to stratify profits rob the Treasury of billions in federal revenue.

In addition, they would fight for a $15 per hour wage in 2018, not 2025 because most Americans’ wages are not just stagnant, but dropping while living costs are rising and layoffs are increasing. The July PayScale study reported a decrease in 80 percent of industries and overall by 0.9% from this year’s first quarter.

Indeed, workers are earning 1.4% less than a year ago when measured against today’s Cost of Living (COLA) rate? No state has a minimum wage yet of $15 per hour. In 15 states alone, it’s still $7.25. In Georgia and Wyoming, it’s $5.15. But, then, if none in the DNC’s elitist cabal has ever had to survive on $5.15 or $7.25 per hour, why would they consider advocating wage hikes or increases in Social Security cheques to match the COLA rate?

Additionally, an FDR would make short work on the campaign trail of Trump’s claim that June’s unemployment rate was 4%. Such a statistic involves 6,600,000 humans and the 359,000 who’ve given up looking for work in times when manufacturing has “suddenly leveled off.” If robots are expected to cut manufacturing jobs by a third in the next decade, it means a jobless rate of 39,021,210, a catastrophic number compared to the Great Depression’s highest year (1933) of 12,830,000 when FDR took office.

He and his team would counter such a disaster again by the “multiplier effect” by resurrecting both the WPA and CCC, along with a federal guaranteed annual paycheck, again paid for by temporarily increasing the federal debt and raising taxes for U.S. companies moving overseas or “going robotic.”

Despite these immense and highly visible domestic challenges, the cabal’s actions to ignore them depend heavily on planks chiefly demonizing Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t war hawks. Media critic Norman Solomon notes: “…polling shows that few Americans see Russia as a threat to their well-being. That they’re far more concerned about such kitchen-table issues as healthcare, education, housing and overall economic security.” A recent Hill/HarrisX poll also shows 54% of Americans favor a second Trump-Putin meeting and that 61% believe “better relations with Russia are in the best interest of the United States.”

Loss of special-interest contributions has been one major threat. But Bernie showed how to raise millions by “volume” of $27 contributions from individuals.

Moreover, the DNC’s choice of a presidential candidate cost them the 2016 election because some 35% of eligible Democrats failed to vote. They balked either because a plutocrat regarded them as “deplorables” of fled to third parties like the Greens or Trump as the lesser evil. Too many of the cabal’s recent actions show the same disregard for millions of ordinary voters, the definition of insanity: doing the same things and expecting different results.

The battle lines between progressives and the “New” elitist Democrats have yet to be hardened. It’s never too late for campaigners and candidates to convince the DNC leaders to pour new wine into new bottles to bring back millions of voters they’ve ignored for the last three decades. That means seeking out new FDR types for Congress in the midterms and the White House in 2020.

As for the thousands of volunteers counted on to get-out-the-vote (GOTV), we’re tired of wasting time, creativity, “foot-power,” and money working for candidates continuing to ignore actions addressing the nation’s vast domestic needs. Give us another FDR and immediate action on Bernie’s planks or we’ll vote with our feet.

A Shameful Legacy: “Race” and the Railroad Industry in the United States

“Race” has always, historically speaking, been the Achilles Heel of the labor movement in the United States, the number one tool of the bosses and big capital to divide, contain, and crush working-class struggles.

In the history of the worker’s movement in the US there are few things as shameful as the legacy – decade-after-decade – of blatant in-your-face segregationist practices, codified discrimination, and race-hatred against African-American  railroaders. The latter story— the oppression and the resistance —is told in Eric Arnesen’s Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality. Among African American rail workers who have experienced and studied this rich history, Arnesen’s book is considered the authoritative reference, the Bible really, of an important, if often overlooked, history in the overall struggle for Black and worker’s rights in the US. (In addition to Brotherhoods of Color, I would recommend Philip Foner’s classic history Organized Labor and the Black Worker 1619-1973 an extraordinarily rich and comprehensive general history that takes up these issues and much more.)

The Railway Labor Act

The passage of the Federal Railway Labor Act of 1924 (RLA) registered important advances for railroad workers in that it was the first federal legal recognition of trade unions by craft. The RLA set up collective bargaining mechanisms that facilitated legally binding contract settlements and the adjudication of grievances, in exchange for rail labor organizations submitting to drawn-out federally “supervised” procedures that in practice gave up the right to strike.

Nevertheless, these concessions to rail labor reined in somewhat the unbridled prerogatives of the rail bosses over decades of on-again, off-again class war on the US rails from the great labor uprisings of 1877 through the struggles of the American Railway Union under the leadership of the legendary Eugene V. Debs.

The American Railway Union fought for the unification of all railroad workers – regardless of craft, race or ethnicity – into one big union. It won a big victory in the 1894 Great Northern strike but fell apart after the massive defeat in the Pullman strike later that year.

Those decades saw regular combat been rail capital and rail labor over worker’s rights, decent wages and living standards, working conditions and safety, the length of the working day, health and vacation benefits, and so on. The RLA, as it became institutionalized, also reined in the violence the rail bosses and their thugs and goons, backed by state and federal cops, National Guard, and armed forces, that was periodically unleashed against rail labor.

By setting up a significant government bureaucracy to oversee the adjudication of contract settlements and grievances, Washington and the rail carriers accomplished a major political goal of buying “labor peace” in the vast national rail industry at a time the United States was rising as a world power following World War I.

Another concession in the interests of rail labor was that the RLA also established the first federally protected pension system for any category of US workers, eleven years before the passage of the Social Security Act. The Railroad Retirement Board still exists to this day parallel to the Social Security Administration (and from which I personally draw my pension as a retired locomotive engineer).

The Institutionalization of Segregation

Perhaps the most pernicious consequences of the RLA was that it froze into place existing, narrow craft categories of workers, and, within that, a system of racist discrimination and the exclusion of non-“white” workers from the legally recognized craft unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods.”

It took decades of struggle in the yards, in the streets, in state and Federal legislatures, and continually in the courts, before the system began to weaken in the 1940s, under the impact of World War II labor shortages and the entry of masses of African American workers into the labor force and the massively expanding war industries. Further pressure mounted in the 1950s, as the Civil Rights Movement began to mobilize and fight, until the whole rotten structure collapsed in ignominy after the passage of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act. Over the next few years, Blacks finally began to get jobs, and union membership, as locomotive engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen and switchmen, electricians and machinists, office personnel, and other crafts beyond “their” craft as sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining car attendants. Women began to enter the operating crafts and other skilled rail jobs in relatively larger numbers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Massive Union Growth in the US

The great labor battles of the 1930s in the United States are downplayed in history textbooks and public education. In fact, this period was marked by a huge working-class and trade union upsurge across the US. The nadir of US labor organization was in the depths of the 1931-32 Great Depression. Union membership had been reduced to 1-2% of the employed workforce. Most of that pitiful number was within the semi-moribund, very conservative AFL craft unions. By 1937-38 the number of organized workers has risen to a full 35% of the US workforce, following a few years of explosive strikes and organizing campaigns under the banner of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) movement with successful drives to organize the steel, auto, trucking, and countless other industries. Nowhere has there been recorded such a massive growth in trade-union membership in such a short period as in the United States at that time.

Unfortunately, this mass organization of the US working class in the 1930s bypassed almost completely the railroad industry and the “whites only” craft-union structure of the “Brotherhoods” that had been codified under the RLA a decade earlier. The craft structure was reinforced, with its segregationist core intact.

The CIO

The CIO did not exclude African-American workers and actively recruited them. In the course of the decade’s great labor battles, such as the Flint Sit-Down strikes of 1936-1937, the battle to organize US Steel and the entire steel industry, and much more, Black and Caucasian workers often organized, mobilized, and fought together and even politically radicalized, to an extent, together. Caucasian workers had to adjust their perspectives and outlooks and confront their prejudices to a degree as they faced the reality that African-American workers had already become a mass presence in US industry. Their numbers and concentration, as well as their evident and obvious capacity for industrial work and a fierce determination to struggle for decent-paying union jobs in the face of race prejudice and segregationist practice was becoming politically unstoppable. Race-baiting was an ever-present political tool of the bosses who fought tooth and nail against trade union advances. Many workers became conscious of these divide-and-conquer tactics and began to rethink their world outlooks.

The Women’s Emergency Brigade organized during the Flint Sit Down Strike of 1937.

Roots of the Civil Rights Movement

Brotherhoods of Color shows that the source and ultimate responsibility for the racist practices and policies that confronted Black workers throughout the 20th Century lay with the private rail carriers and the federal and state governments that catered to their needs and profits. Nevertheless, it must also be said that often these industry and state authorities used the racist and mean-spirited attitudes of the rail unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods” as a cover for inaction or hostile action against Black workers, who were fighting a permanent defensive war to preserve the relatively skilled jobs they had managed to secure.

These AFL-affiliated craft unions, legally recognized under the RLA, contained bylaws and “covenants” that openly excluded Black workers, making them essentially “white job trusts.” The “Brotherhoods” were, at times, even more racist and reactionary than the formal policies of the carriers and government bodies and agencies who regularly came under enough political and legal pressure from Black workers and their allies among labor radicals and civil rights and worker’s rights lawyers, to occasionally give lip service (and usually little else) to fair labor practices.

Brotherhoods of Color meticulously documents the legal battles doggedly fought by civil rights and worker’s rights attorneys in the generally hostile territory of the criminal justice system that predominated at that time. That system, as a whole, acted to uphold and defend – decade after decade – the prevailing system of de jure or de facto segregation and keep Black workers and their attorneys in an endless legal labyrinth. Nevertheless, working through the rigged “legal system,” trying to wring any concessions possible was the main approach of the more conservative Black and liberal organizations like the NAACP.

They took advantage of every contradiction between the fine words of US law and its sordid reality and snail’s pace when it came to race and sex discrimination. Even favorable court rulings here and there were rarely, if ever, implemented in practice. Slick government, carrier, or “Brotherhood” lawyers always managed to drag things out.

This legalistic road was nowhere a sufficient basis for change. It was rather more of a marker and registration for the ebb and flow of the grass-roots struggle against job discrimination and segregation which became unstoppable by the 1960s. Arnesen writes:

Just as proponents of educational desegregation learned in the 1950s, court-imposed solutions were costly, time-consuming, and imperfect. Employment discrimination cases slowly wound their way through the judicial system in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, addressing local variations as well as other obstacles that the ‘white’ craft unions threw in the way of African-American railroaders. Without a doubt, these cases established important principles that undermined the legitimacy of racist practices. In effect, though, they eroded only at a glacial pace both existing and new practices designed to thwart the job rights of black fireman and brakemen.

The struggles documented in Brotherhoods of Color became one of the mightiest rivers flowing into the ocean of the mass Civil Rights Movement emerging in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s. The political culmination was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which gave the legal death knell to the segregationist practices that were institutionalized at the time of the Railway Labor Act. After the 1964 legislation the resistance of the craft unions collapsed virtually overnight and a period, sometimes fraught with tension but with steady gains, saw the beginnings of genuine job opportunities, union membership, and advances for African American workers in the freight and passenger rail industry.

Even in the period when Black workers were largely confined to crafts of sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining attendants, Black-led unions representing these workers on the job were organized. The strongest was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) which became, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, a powerful, prestigious organization in Black communities across the United States. The BSCP received a charter from the AFL in 1925 and, for years, unsuccessfully petitioned for the desegregation of the racist “Brotherhoods.” The BSCP was in the forefront of Black rights struggles across the US.

For example, it is not well known that the central organizer of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was E.D. Nixon, President of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the BSCP and the NAACP who convinced a courageous 26-year-old Martin Luther King (older prominent local preachers were reluctant to step forward) to take public leadership of what became the turning-point action that became the major spark of the mass movement across the South that soon materialized. The legendary Rosa Parks, whose conscious, well-organized decision to refuse to sit at the back of the bus set off the boycott, was a secretary at the NAACP office employed by BSCP worker and organizer E.D. Nixon.

Randolph had the courage to threaten a mass March on Washington in early 1941 demanding an end to segregation in the armed forces as well as that the massively expanding war industries hire and promote without discrimination Black workers. President Franklin Roosevelt was not happy but issued Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination in war industries under federal contracts. This succeeded in get the March on Washington called off. Randolph later became the honorary chairperson for the famous 1963 March on Washington.

But the real heroes in Brotherhoods of Color are the rank-and-file workers, themselves, fighting to preserve their jobs against the carriers, the state governments, and the racist “Brotherhoods.” Arnesen gives them their voice and records their efforts, their many defeats and some victories which, when all is said and done, contributed mightily to the historic breakthroughs of the 1960s.

The overall history documented comprehensively by Arnesen does reveal clearly that all advances, small and larger, won were a byproduct of independent mass action or the threat of it from below.

Crucially, it should be emphasized that the space to do this was increased materially in the first half of the 20th Century in the World War I era, and, even more in the buildup to US entry into World War II. The centrality of the rail industry, the conversion to massive war production on the eve of World War II translated to a hunger for labor power on the railroads in particular and US industry in general. Black workers, already a massive layer of the working class in the worst, and worst-paying, jobs, and their representatives and advocates, saw the opening to fight for decent jobs, paying union-scale, in the rapidly expanding war industries. For example, during World War I thousands of Blacks were hired as construction and maintenance laborers on northern rail lines. In fact, Black GIs returning from World War II and the Korean War, and the African American nationality as a whole in these post-war periods, were in no mood for settling into the old segregationist and humiliating status quo.

Stop the Whitewashing of Our History

In my 30-year railroad career, working as a brakeman-switchman, hostler, and locomotive engineer in Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York, for first the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and then for Amtrak, I saw a transformation in the number of African-American and then women in the operating crafts. I remember being in the cab of the locomotive in the middle of some godforsaken stretch of Illinois countryside, or pulling a 150-car coal train from Chicago’s giant Proviso Yard to the gates of a northern Indiana power plant, listening to the stories of some of the first Black engineers that the carriers were forced to hire – and the craft unions gave up trying to exclude. These brothers related to me the bullshit they had to put up with initially, even as things began to get better and prejudices began to break down.

It would be very educational and useful if our unions today would confront this blot on our history and dignity as organizations of labor. This is long overdue. And not only for moral reasons.

I maintain that we need to know the history of our unions if we are going to transform them into instruments of struggle for the coming battles facing the working class in the United States today, in this new gilded age of obscene social inequality and squalid oligarchy in the United States.

This whitewashing of history really slapped me across the face when I received in the mail in 2013 a booklet celebrating the 150th Anniversary of my union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which is now a division of the Teamsters Union, and its predecessors the Brotherhood of the Footboard (founded in 1863) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. There was not a single word in that small book about the segregationist, “whites only” bylaws and “covenants” that prevailed for 100 years!

I had once personally confronted BLET President Dennis Pierce about this, in a friendly way, when he attended a retirement party thrown by our Division 11 in New York City. Brother Pierce told me he was “appalled” at what he saw in the archives, including “whites only” covenants, but when I asked him why the history booklet sent to each member, glorifying the history of our union, there was not a single word on the decades-long blatant racism he fell back on the lame and cowardly rationalization that to include it in the 150th anniversary booklet and literature would be “divisive”! As if the real “division” were not the racist practices themselves.

Old Lessons, Current Realities

While the legacy of racist discrimination in the railroad industry – and in US social relations in general – have been dealt heavy blows in the past several decades, race hatred and demagogy remain a reference point for ultra-rightist forces and their allies (who are invariably anti-union) and a cutting-edge component in the current social and political polarization in US politics. These voices are trying to get a hearing for their reactionary viewpoints in the working class and our greatly weakened trade-union movement.

Since the financial crisis and so-called Great Recession of 2007-08 there were subsequent devastating attacks on the value of labor, employment, wages, and living standards under both Democratic and Republican White Houses and Congresses. The relative and slight uptick in GDP numbers today (famously manipulated and manipulatable), the balloon of the stock market, and slight increases in industrial production and manufacturing have been typically hyped by President Donald Trump – “this is the greatest economy in the history of America.” The actual economic figures (which are always “readjusted”) are significant and interesting mainly around the question of their sustainability. One key question: What will be the unintended consequences of the unfolding clashes over trade and tariffs between the United States, China, and the European Union? What will be the spillover effects, economically and politically, in Asia, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa?

Another curious fact that stands out for now is that wages for working people continue to stagnate and trend downward, with minor exceptions, despite the official low unemployment figures. Labor shortages in fast-food and other large-scale wholesale and retail operations such as Amazon, Walmart, and so on, along with militant drives by unorganized workers to fight for $15 an hour, have forced these outfits to grant some wage concessions.

Similarly, rank-and-file teachers, almost independent of their weak unions, forced state house to grant some wage relief (that is raises) with no strings attached in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Brotherhoods of Color is well-written and comprehensive. I recommend it not only for its rich evocation of the past but because it contains many lessons for rail and other US workers of whatever “race” or skin tone, for the present and future. Workers, who are being drawn into today’s struggles and will by the millions be drawn into the giant, inevitable class battles that lay ahead in the USA.

On “Bullshit Jobs”

Referring to cultural Marxism, especially the Frankfurt School, Noam Chomsky once said, “I don’t find that kind of work very illuminating… The ideas that seem useful also seem pretty simple, and I don’t understand what all the verbiage is for.” While I think there’s much of value in the so-called Western Marxist tradition—for instance, I’m partial to Georg Lukács (more so than to Adorno and others in the Frankfurt School)—I have to admit I strongly sympathize with Chomsky. But his criticism generalizes, and is even truer in other areas: since well before the mid-twentieth century, a large amount of work in the humanities has been prone to unnecessary and sometimes incomprehensible verbiage. Later this tendency came to be associated with postmodernism, for it was most pronounced in the writings of such luminaries as Derrida, Lacan, Kristeva, Deleuze, and Foucault, as well as their hordes of epigones. By the end of the twentieth century, a vast field of “Theory” had reached maturity, encompassing much of philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis, and literary, film, and cultural studies.

As an anthropologist, David Graeber works in this broadly conceived “interpretive” tradition (I call it that because it consists essentially of endless cultural and social “interpretations” or “theories,” often playful and highly verbose conceptual exercises). He has an advantage over many of his peers in that, while not a particularly great writer, he can at least write clearly and informally enough to be widely read. Presumably this lucidity helps account for his fame—as do, more importantly, his heterodox ideas, his ability to capture a cultural mood even in the titles of his books (Debt, The Utopia of Rules, Bullshit Jobs), and his impressive productivity. Perhaps he’s too productive: while reading his latest book, I couldn’t help thinking it would have packed a greater punch if he had shortened it by a third. It meanders and meanders, repeats and repeats, and, well, I didn’t understand what all the verbiage was for.

But that’s the intellectual game, after all. Unless they’re unusually disciplined and conscious of avoiding self-indulgence, intellectuals are prone to spewing “bullshit” without end, showing off their verbosity because that’s how the game is played. Graeber is at least more disciplined and serious than most of them, especially (most of) his fellow “theorists” in the humanities.

The full title of his book is Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. I wasn’t able to find the “theory,” unless it be that bullshit jobs do in fact exist. And Graeber marshals abundant evidence to test and confirm that theory. The most entertaining, and probably the most valuable, parts of the book are the many testimonies he presents from poor souls who spend their lives in a bullshit job, which is to say a job they think shouldn’t exist because it contributes nothing to the world. The numbers of people who believe this are incredibly high. One poll in the United Kingdom found that only 50 percent of people with full-time jobs were sure their job made a meaningful contribution to the world, while 37 percent were sure theirs didn’t. A poll in Holland put the latter number at 40 percent. Even jobs that aren’t bullshit, like nurses and professors, are being increasingly bullshitized, as paperwork, meetings, and other administrative duties crowd out more meaningful tasks like taking care of patients and teaching. (Nurses reported to Graeber that as much as 80 percent of their time is now taken up with meetings, filling out forms, and the like.) Considering these facts, as well as the existence of many second-order bullshit jobs (jobs done in support of those directly engaged in bullshit), Graeber estimates that well over half of all work being done in society could be eliminated without making any real difference.

What sorts of jobs are we talking about? Not most lower-tier jobs: not street cleaners, bus drivers, repairmen, restaurant workers, store clerks, gardeners, construction workers, etc. These people make a contribution to the world. Graeber suggests a rough five-fold classification of bullshit jobs. First are flunkies: jobs that exist “only or primarily to make someone else look or feel important.” This includes doormen, many receptionists (those who have hardly anything to do and find the job oppressively dull), some HR assistants, and the like. Second are “goons,” jobs that have an aggressive element but “exist only because other people employ them.” For instance, most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers, corporate lawyers (“I contribute nothing to the world and am utterly miserable all of the time,” one said), and national armed forces, which exist only because other countries have armies. “If no one had an army, armies would not be needed.” As for PR specialists, one of them probably spoke for many when he opined that every person who works in or for the entire advertising industry simply “manufactur[es] demand and then exaggerat[es] the usefulness of the products sold to fix it.” He concluded, “If we’re at the point where in order to sell products, you have to first of all trick people into thinking they need them, then I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that these jobs aren’t bullshit.”

Third is the category of “duct tapers,” people whose jobs exist only because of a glitch in the organization, “who are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist.” Often this includes underlings who have to fix mistakes made by incompetent superiors. Or do nothing but deal with customers irate because something went wrong. Fourth are “box tickers,” who allow an organization to be able to claim it’s doing something it actually isn’t doing. One testimony is from a guy who was Senior Quality and Performance Officer in a local council in the United Kingdom; most of what he did involved ticking boxes, “pretending things are great to senior managers, and generally ‘feeding the beast’ with meaningless numbers that give the illusion of control. None of which helps the citizens of that council in the slightest.”

The fifth category is taskmasters, people who do nothing but assign work to others, create bullshit tasks for others to do, or supervise bullshit. Middle management frequently falls under this category, as when managers oversee workers who could perform just as well, or sometimes better, without oversight. “I just got promoted to this job,” one manager says, “and I spend a lot of my time looking around and wondering what I’m supposed to be doing.” That’s a common complaint: being forced to supervise people who don’t need supervision. (Readers of Harry Braverman’s classic Labor and Monopoly Capital won’t find this complaint surprising at all.) Frequently positions with the word ‘strategic’ in their names—Strategic Dean, Vice President of Strategic Development, Strategic Officer—are bullshit. “All I could do,” one such person said, “was come up with a new strategy that was in effect a re-spin of already agreed-upon strategies.” But these people are given their own staff, which they have to try to find work for.

Graeber’s classification system is somewhat interesting, though, as he acknowledges, it leaves out a lot. One huge area of bullshit it leaves out he doesn’t mention at all: bullshit academic research. Surely the large majority of academic research makes essentially no contribution to the world, except to pad CVs and advance careers. Endless conferences, “calls for papers” sent out for yet another conference, thousands upon thousands of scholarly articles published every year most of which are read by hardly anyone (more often simply glanced over). Much of the writing isn’t only irrelevant and uninteresting, superficial and unchallenging, but even perverse: again, one thinks of postmodernist obscurantism, relativism, and idealism. In the case of postmodernism and, more generally, the idealism (and centrism) of bourgeois scholarship and journalism, the bullshit serves an obvious purpose for the establishment: it distracts from structures of class and power, obscures understanding of how society works, and does nothing to advance left-wing dissent. (I discuss these matters in depth here, and also on my website.)

Graeber devotes a couple of chapters to what it’s like to work in a bullshit job and why people so often report themselves miserable. According to bourgeois psychological theories, after all, it might seem that some of these jobs are great. You hardly have to work, you have barely any real responsibilities, you can spend hours playing computer games or surfing the web. You can (in many cases) be almost as lazy as, supposedly, you want to be just by virtue of being human. But of course humans are not, in fact, lazy by nature, creatures who have to be driven to work, as bourgeois ideologies proclaim. They want to work, but on creative and enjoyable tasks. Their fundamental desire is not to slack off but to have a meaningful life, full of purpose, creativity, exploration, and love, a life of contributions to the world. To work in an utterly pointless job, therefore, day in and day out, month after month, can be maddening, soul-killing torture. It seems that the respect and prestige these people might be accorded can make it even worse, heightening their sense of being frauds or parasites.

Many of the testimonies Graeber has compiled are both sad and hilarious. Most are too long to quote here, but I’ll quote one, from a security guard:

I worked as a museum guard for a major global security company in a museum where one exhibition room was left unused more or less permanently. My job was to guard that empty room, ensuring no museum guests touched the…well, nothing in the room, and ensure nobody set any fires. To keep my mind sharp and attention undivided, I was forbidden any form of mental stimulation, like books, phones, etc.

Since nobody was ever there, in practice I sat still and twiddled my thumbs for seven and a half hours, waiting for the fire alarm to sound. If it did, I was to calmly stand up and walk out. That was it.

One might think of this guard’s job as a literal realization of the metaphorical meaning of thousands of positions filled by tens of millions of people. The colossal waste of human potential is beyond comprehension.

The natural question, aside from how to change this terrible collective situation, is how all these worthless jobs started proliferating in the first place. Why aren’t we all working fifteen-hour weeks? If we got rid of the pointless jobs and the pointless aspects of the real jobs, the resulting work could easily be taken care of by our working fifteen- or twenty-hour weeks. In fact, back in 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted that in a hundred years the problem of scarcity would have been solved, and the major problem of the age would be to find ways to prevent ourselves from going insane with boredom. So what happened?

This is a complicated historical question that gets to the heart of how capitalism has evolved over the last century, so it isn’t to Graeber’s discredit that he doesn’t fully answer it. He first dispatches two answers conservatives give: that the world has become so complicated we need all these jobs, and they aren’t really as pointless as they seem; and that even if there are bullshit jobs, it’s only because government regulations have led to a growing number of useless bureaucrats. These answers are on the intellectual level of most conservatism, and Graeber refutes them with ease. With one piece of evidence. He points out that between 1985 and 2005 the proportion of administrators and their staff in American universities shot up even though the number of teachers per students remained largely constant. Teaching and writing certainly haven’t become so complicated they suddenly need far more administrators and staffers—so why the bullshitization of universities? It isn’t because of the big bad government either, since the number of administrators at private institutions has increased at more than twice the rate it did at public ones. So there goes the “libertarian” notion of government wastefulness. “In fact,” Graeber comments, “the only reasonable interpretation of these numbers is precisely the opposite: public universities are ultimately answerable to the public, and hence, under constant political pressure to cut costs and not engage in wasteful expenditures.”

Graeber’s own answer is that capitalism has changed its character since the days when it somewhat approximated conditions of perfect competition. When capitalism was mainly about producing things competitively, the argument that free-market enthusiasts give against the notion that corporations would ever hire unnecessary workers to do bullshit jobs made sense: maximizing profits meant paying the least number of workers the least amount possible. To hire a large number of redundant workers would be absurd. But, as Graeber argues, the logic of the economy has changed in the last forty years, with the rise of financial capitalism and the FIRE sector (including insurance and real estate). The main object now is not to produce goods competitively but to distribute large sums of money, to distribute the proceeds from enormous amounts of debt, to create money (by giving loans) and then move it around in very complex ways while extracting fees with every transaction. “The results often leave bank employees feeling that the entire enterprise is…pointless.”

So, “when a profit-seeking enterprise is in the business of distributing a very large sum of money, the most profitable thing for it to do is to be as inefficient as possible.” It can then find pretexts to take more cuts, even acting against the interests of its clients, and using its profits to hire more people and grow bigger. There seems, indeed, to be a tendency inherent in large bureaucracies, whether corporate or political, to expand, to suck up more resources as an end in itself. Graeber gives a name to the “new” dynamic that has emerged in capitalism: managerial feudalism. It’s supposed to be analogous to the creation of hierarchies of nobles and officials in medieval Europe through a process of devolution called “sub-infeudation,” in which a king would grant land to a duke, who would use the resources from that land to support a huge retinue of courtiers and vassals, many of whom would be granted their own plots of land that could support their own retinues, and so on down to local knights and lords of the manor.

“The rise of managerial feudalism has produced a similar infatuation with hierarchy for its own sake.” Managers manage other managers, each with their own staff; various levels of managers market things to one another, especially in “creative industries” like publishing, the visual arts, and film and television. It’s particularly bad in the latter industry, where there are untold numbers of producers, sub-producers, executive producers, consultants, etc., “all in constant search for something, anything, to actually do.” But even in more traditional manufacturing industries, white-collar workers are hired seemingly for the sake of having more white-collar workers. Graeber uses the example of the Elephant Tea factory outside Marseilles, France. Years ago it was bought up by Unilever, which pretty much left its old organizational structure intact. Meanwhile the workers, on their own initiative, managed to speed up production by more than 50 percent, markedly increasing profits. So what did Unilever do? Rather than hiring more workers or buying new machinery to expand operations, it hired a bunch of white-collar bureaucrats to wander around trying to think of something to do. “They’d be walking up and down the catwalks every day,” an older worker said, “staring at us, scribbling notes while we worked. Then they’d have meetings and discuss it and write reports. But they still couldn’t figure out any real excuse for their existence.” Finally they just suggested that the company shut down the whole plant and move operations to Poland—whereupon the workers took over the factory and kicked their employers out.

Even when corporate executives are presented with ways to automate tasks that white-collar employees are doing by hand, they often resist. One testimony was from a guy who was hired by a large bank to do risk management, which meant he was able to have a panoramic view of the bank’s internal processes and suggest fixes for incoherencies, vulnerabilities, and redundancies. He concluded that, conservatively, 80 percent of the bank’s 60,000 employees were unnecessary, because their jobs either could be performed by a program or were in support of “some bullshit process” to begin with. But when he presented executives with programs that would solve inefficiencies, he always faced severe hostility. Not a single one of his recommendations was ever adopted. “Because in every case,” he said, “fixing these problems would have resulted in people losing their jobs, as those jobs served no purpose other than giving the executive they reported to a sense of power.” In case after case that Graeber reports, it was clear that the higher-ups prided themselves on their bloated staffs.

The notion of managerial feudalism is evocative, and Graeber is clearly onto something with his suggestion that “there seems to be an intrinsic connection between the financialization of the economy, the blossoming of information industries, and the proliferation of bullshit jobs.” What exactly that connection is, though, is hard to tease out. The precise mechanisms are hard to tease out. His “iron law of liberalism,” formulated in Utopia of Rules, is also apropos: “any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.” Such reforms have been abundant in the neoliberal era, and they have certainly contributed to the explosion of bureaucracy, in both the private and public sectors.

But Graeber neglects to mention the more deep-rooted forces that have made bullshitization a steadily growing phenomenon since at least the time of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Ever since management began to take control of production away from workers, to centralize knowledge in its own ranks and reduce the worker to mere appendage of the machine—but an appendage that has to be closely monitored and supervised—whole layers of unnecessary bureaucracy have existed. Much of the bureaucracy has existed only to control and monitor the direct producers, to strip power from them and keep it in the hands of capitalists or their agents. In other words, its purpose has been largely political, not directly economic or “efficiency”-related.

At the same time, it became ever more necessary to control markets and the public mind, through political and advertising propaganda. Hence the rise of the public relations industry from around the time of World War I. And hence whole new layers of massive bureaucracy, which have continued to expand for a hundred years. Meanwhile, government bureaucracies expanded exponentially in order to improve society’s “legibility” to the state and administer it for the benefit of capital. Corporate capital and the state constantly strengthened their ties, effectively intertwining, collecting practically infinite amounts of data on the population for the usual purposes of surveillance, control, and profit-making; and the processing of such data inevitably was used to justify further growth of bureaucracies, even beyond what was strictly necessary. All this was happening long before the neoliberal era, though it attained new heights of wastefulness under the impact of “deregulation,” privatization, financialization, globalization, and the information economy.

It’s significant, too, that the proliferation of bullshit jobs is itself a form of population control, of keeping people subordinate in hierarchical structures, socialized into submission, atomized and alienated from one another. African-American men are kept under control by being locked up in prisons, while whites are funneled into pointless jobs where they can be supervised and indoctrinated. The system hasn’t been consciously designed for this purpose, but the reason it’s able to expand is that it serves the interests of power-structures.

So is there any way out of our bullshit society? Can it be reformed so that half the work being done is no longer pointless? Graeber doesn’t focus on this question, since his book is supposed to be about diagnosing the problem rather than proposing solutions, but he does suggest that Universal Basic Income would help. Unlike many reforms that social movements are proposing, UBI would likely reduce the size and intrusiveness of government, not increase it. If everyone automatically received, say, $25,000 or more a year, huge and intrusive sections of government could simply be shut down (even if social welfare programs continued or expanded). Millions of bureaucrats would lose their jobs, but they would also receive an annual income allowing them to pursue other projects that interested them.

“A full Basic Income would eliminate the compulsion to work, by offering a reasonable standard of living to all, and then either leaving it up to each individual to decide whether they wished to pursue further wealth, by doing a paying job or selling something, or whether they wished to do something else with their time.” Bosses might start treating their employees better, since it would be a less frightening prospect for them to quit, and conditions in crappy low-paying jobs would have to improve in order to attract workers. Many pointless jobs would cease to exist, since few people would want them. The social changes would be so radical and far-reaching it’s impossible to fully anticipate them.

Graeber doesn’t delve into the technicalities of UBI, but he’s right it’s a proposal worth seriously thinking about. It could be a step on the road to even more radical changes.

All in all, Bullshit Jobs is a good book that’s worth reading, despite its irritating prolixity and meandering structure. It usefully highlights and names a major social malady that afflicts tens of millions but that few people talk about, except in informal conversations among their fellow sufferers. We should all be talking about the meaningless-jobs crisis and proposing solutions that will end the rampant spiritual misery it has caused. UBI, if designed well, could be a huge step in the right direction. But ultimately, I don’t see any thoroughgoing cure except an end to capitalism itself, which is to say a (necessarily protracted) revolution that finally establishes the old socialist ideal of economic democracy. Democracy is the only real cure for all of humanity’s current ailments.

Professional Societies: Corporate Service, or Public Services for You!

They call themselves non-profit professional societies, but they often act as enabling trade associations for the companies and businesspeople who fund them.  At their worst, they serve their paymasters and remain in the shadows, avoiding publicity and visibility.  When guided by their better angels, professional societies can be authoritative tribunes for a more healthy and safe society.

I am referring to the organizations that stand for their respective professions – automotive, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers; physicians; architects; scientists; and accountants.  The people working in these occupations all want to be members of a “professional” association, not a “trade” association.

So let’s start by distinguishing how a “profession” is supposed to differ from a “trade.”  First, profit is not to be the end-all of a profession and its practitioners. Moral and public interest codes of ethics are supposed to be paramount when they conflict with maximizing sales and income.

The National Society of Professional Engineers’ code of ethics stipulates that an engineer has a professional duty to go to the appropriate authorities should the engineer be rebuffed by employer or client who was notified of a dangerous situation or product.

Physicians have a duty to prevent the trauma or disease which they are trained to treat. A half-dozen physicians in the 1960s aggressively pressed the auto industry to build more crash-protective vehicles to prevent trauma casualties they had to treat regularly.

A profession has three basic characteristics.  First is a learned tradition – otherwise known as going deep and keeping up with a profession’s literature and practices.  Second is to continue a tradition of public service.  Third is to maintain the independence of the profession.

How do professional societies measure up? Not that well. They are too monetized to fulfill their public service obligations and retain their independence. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has had a notorious history of following the technological stagnation of the auto companies. Their standards almost never diverge from what is permitted by GM, Ford et al.  Indeed, the SAE’s standards committees are mostly composed of company engineers whose employers provide funding and facilities for any testing.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is waist-deep in the automation and artificial intelligence drive.  You’ll not hear from that Society about the downsides, collateral risks and undisclosed data by the companies in this portentous area.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has not distinguished itself regarding the safety of gas and oil pipelines, allowing industry lobbyists to take over the federal regulator without as much as a warning whistle.  This history was exposed years ago by a retired DuPont engineer, Fred Lang.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) knows about the scores of vulnerable plants resisting regulatory efforts to safeguard their premises from sabotage that could destroy a nearby town or city.  Ask Rick Hind, former legislative director for Greenpeace, about this evasion (See: “Chemical Security Testimony by Greenpeace’s Rick Hind”).

The American Medical Association (AMA) received peer-reviewed studies by Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine pointing to at least 5,000 patient deaths per week from preventable problems in hospitals – from malpractice to hospital-induced infections.  Despite this clear medical emergency, the AMA refuses to move into high drive against this epidemic.  Mum’s the word.  Where the AMA shouts out is against the law of torts and the civil justice system that, every once in a rare while, hold negligent or criminally behaved physicians accountable to their victims.

Possibly the most complicit profession facilitating, covering for, and explaining away corporate greed and deception is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Too many corporate accountants specialize in complex cooking of the books for their corporate clients.  The Wall Street crash in 2008-2009 is a major case in point. Donald Trump knows about such accountants from his business career of obfuscation.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), after a long period of submissiveness, woke up to the energy waste/pollution crisis of modern buildings and developed standards with labels to give builders incentives toward more responsible construction. But by and large, it remains a profession, apart from modern technologies, which has left its best days back in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g., the classic cities of Europe).

Now what about the scientific societies? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has led the way for nuclear arms control and other weaponized discoveries of the warfare state. On the other hand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — by far the largest membership organization and publisher of Science magazine — has been utterly timid in putting muscle behind its fine pronouncements.

The large street protests by scientists in Washington, after the Electoral College selected Donald Trump, were started by young social and physical scientists. They stood up for scientific integrity and conscience and opposed Trump’s defunding of such governmental organizations as the National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These scientists’ efforts have been met with some success.

What most Americans do not know is that many of the state and federal safety/health standards are taken in considerable measure from the weak “consensus” standards advanced by professional societies. These societies, so heavily marinated with their respective industries, see their important role of feeding their industry standards into state, national, and international standards which are enforceable under domestic law or treaty.

Maybe these societies continue a learned tradition at their annual meetings, workshops, and in their publications.  But they far too often fail to maintain their profession’s standards of independence (from commercial supremacy) and commitment to public service.

These professional societies, and other associations not mentioned here, need to be brought out of their convenient shadows into the spotlight of public scrutiny, higher expectation, and broader participation.

Professional Societies: Corporate Service, or Public Services for You!

They call themselves non-profit professional societies, but they often act as enabling trade associations for the companies and businesspeople who fund them.  At their worst, they serve their paymasters and remain in the shadows, avoiding publicity and visibility.  When guided by their better angels, professional societies can be authoritative tribunes for a more healthy and safe society.

I am referring to the organizations that stand for their respective professions – automotive, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers; physicians; architects; scientists; and accountants.  The people working in these occupations all want to be members of a “professional” association, not a “trade” association.

So let’s start by distinguishing how a “profession” is supposed to differ from a “trade.”  First, profit is not to be the end-all of a profession and its practitioners. Moral and public interest codes of ethics are supposed to be paramount when they conflict with maximizing sales and income.

The National Society of Professional Engineers’ code of ethics stipulates that an engineer has a professional duty to go to the appropriate authorities should the engineer be rebuffed by employer or client who was notified of a dangerous situation or product.

Physicians have a duty to prevent the trauma or disease which they are trained to treat. A half-dozen physicians in the 1960s aggressively pressed the auto industry to build more crash-protective vehicles to prevent trauma casualties they had to treat regularly.

A profession has three basic characteristics.  First is a learned tradition – otherwise known as going deep and keeping up with a profession’s literature and practices.  Second is to continue a tradition of public service.  Third is to maintain the independence of the profession.

How do professional societies measure up? Not that well. They are too monetized to fulfill their public service obligations and retain their independence. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has had a notorious history of following the technological stagnation of the auto companies. Their standards almost never diverge from what is permitted by GM, Ford et al.  Indeed, the SAE’s standards committees are mostly composed of company engineers whose employers provide funding and facilities for any testing.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is waist-deep in the automation and artificial intelligence drive.  You’ll not hear from that Society about the downsides, collateral risks and undisclosed data by the companies in this portentous area.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has not distinguished itself regarding the safety of gas and oil pipelines, allowing industry lobbyists to take over the federal regulator without as much as a warning whistle.  This history was exposed years ago by a retired DuPont engineer, Fred Lang.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) knows about the scores of vulnerable plants resisting regulatory efforts to safeguard their premises from sabotage that could destroy a nearby town or city.  Ask Rick Hind, former legislative director for Greenpeace, about this evasion (See: “Chemical Security Testimony by Greenpeace’s Rick Hind”).

The American Medical Association (AMA) received peer-reviewed studies by Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine pointing to at least 5,000 patient deaths per week from preventable problems in hospitals – from malpractice to hospital-induced infections.  Despite this clear medical emergency, the AMA refuses to move into high drive against this epidemic.  Mum’s the word.  Where the AMA shouts out is against the law of torts and the civil justice system that, every once in a rare while, hold negligent or criminally behaved physicians accountable to their victims.

Possibly the most complicit profession facilitating, covering for, and explaining away corporate greed and deception is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Too many corporate accountants specialize in complex cooking of the books for their corporate clients.  The Wall Street crash in 2008-2009 is a major case in point. Donald Trump knows about such accountants from his business career of obfuscation.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), after a long period of submissiveness, woke up to the energy waste/pollution crisis of modern buildings and developed standards with labels to give builders incentives toward more responsible construction. But by and large, it remains a profession, apart from modern technologies, which has left its best days back in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g., the classic cities of Europe).

Now what about the scientific societies? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has led the way for nuclear arms control and other weaponized discoveries of the warfare state. On the other hand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — by far the largest membership organization and publisher of Science magazine — has been utterly timid in putting muscle behind its fine pronouncements.

The large street protests by scientists in Washington, after the Electoral College selected Donald Trump, were started by young social and physical scientists. They stood up for scientific integrity and conscience and opposed Trump’s defunding of such governmental organizations as the National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These scientists’ efforts have been met with some success.

What most Americans do not know is that many of the state and federal safety/health standards are taken in considerable measure from the weak “consensus” standards advanced by professional societies. These societies, so heavily marinated with their respective industries, see their important role of feeding their industry standards into state, national, and international standards which are enforceable under domestic law or treaty.

Maybe these societies continue a learned tradition at their annual meetings, workshops, and in their publications.  But they far too often fail to maintain their profession’s standards of independence (from commercial supremacy) and commitment to public service.

These professional societies, and other associations not mentioned here, need to be brought out of their convenient shadows into the spotlight of public scrutiny, higher expectation, and broader participation.

“May Day” Militancy Needed To Create The Economy We Need

The Popular Resistance School will begin on May 1 and will be an eight-week course on how movements grow, build power and succeed as well as examine the role you can play in the movement. Sign up to be part of this school so you can participate in small group discussions about how to build a powerful, transformational movement. REGISTRATION CLOSES MIDNIGHT APRIL 30.

Seventy years of attacks on the right to unionize have left the union movement representing only 10 percent of workers. The investor class has concentrated its power and uses its power in an abusive way, not only against unions but also to create economic insecurity for workers.

At the same time, workers, both union and nonunion, are mobilizing more aggressively and protesting a wide range of economic, racial and environmental issues.

On this May Day, we reflect on the history of worker power and present lessons from our past to build power for the future.

May Day Workers of the World Unite, Melbourne, Australia, in 2012. By Johan Fantenberg, Flickr.

In most of the world, May Day is a day for workers to unite, but May Day is not recognized in the United States even though it originated here. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs for the first May Day in history. It began in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed at their convention that workers themselves would institute the 8-hour day on May 1, 1886. In 1885 they called for protests and strikes to create the 8-hour work day. May Day was part of a revolt against abusive working conditions that caused deaths of workers, poverty wages, poor working conditions and long hours.

May Day gained permanence because of the Haymarket rally which followed. On May 3, Chicago police and workers clashed at the McCormick Reaper Works during a strike where locked-out steelworkers were beaten as they picketed and two unarmed workers were killed. The next day a rally was held at Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of workers by police. The rally was peaceful, attended by families with children and the mayor himself. As the crowd dispersed, police attacked. A bomb was thrown—no one to this day knows who threw it—and police fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing several civilians and wounding forty. One officer was killed by the bomb and several more died from their own gunfire. A corrupt trial followed in August concluding with a biased jury convicting eight men, though only three of them were present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. Seven received a death sentence, the eighth was sentenced to 15 years, and in the end, four were hanged, one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned six years later. The trial shocked workers of the world and led to annual protests on May Day.

The unity of workers on May Day was feared by big business and government. That unity is shown by one of the founders of May Day, Lucy Parsons, who was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American Descent. Parsons, who was born into slavery, never ceased her work for racial, gender, and labor justice. Her partner was Albert Parsons, one of those convicted for Haymarket and hanged.

Solidarity across races and issues frightens the power structure. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland severed May Day from its roots by establishing Labor Day on the first Monday in September, after pressure to create a holiday for workers following the Pullman strike. Labor Day was recognized by unions before May Day. The US tried to further wipe May Day from the public’s memory by President Dwight Eisenhower proclaiming “Law and Order Day” on May 1, 1958.

Long Shoreman march in San Francisco on May Day 2008 in the first-ever strike action by U.S. workers against U.S. imperialist war. Source: The Internationalist

Escalation of Worker Protests Continues to Grow

Today, workers are in revolt, unions are under attack and the connections between workers’ rights and other issues are evident once again. Nicole Colson reports that activists on a range of issues, including racial and economic justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights, a new economy of worker-owners, transitioning to a clean energy economy with environmental and climate justice, and a world without war, are linking their struggles on May Day.

There has been a rising tide of worker militancy for years. The ongoing Fight for $15 protests helped raise the wages of 20 million workers and promoted their fight for a union. There are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour. Last year there was also a massive 36-state strike involving 21,000 mobility workers.

Worker strikes continued into 2018 with teacher strikes over salaries, healthcare, pensions and school funding. Teachers rejected a union order to return to work. Even though it included a 5 percent raise, it was not until the cost of healthcare was dealt with that the teachers declared success. Teachers showed they could fight and win and taught others some lessons on striking against a hostile government. The West Virginia strike inspired others, and is followed by strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. These strikes may expand to other states, evidence of unrest has been seen in states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Puerto Rico because courage is contagious.

Graduate students have gone on strike, as have transit and UPS workers and low-wage workers. The causes include stagnant wages, spiraling healthcare costs, and inadequate pensions. They are engaged in a fight for basic necessities. In 2016, there wasn’t a single county or state in which someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.

Workers are also highlighting that women’s rights are worker’s rights. Even before the #MeToo movement took off, workers protested sexual harassment in the workplace. Workers in thirty states walked off the job at McDonald’s to protest, holding signs that said “McDonald’s Hands off my Buns” and “Put Some Respect in My Check.”

Last year on May Day, a mass mobilization of more than 100,000 immigrant workers walked off their jobs. This followed a February mobilization, a Day Without Immigrants. The Cosecha Movement has a long-term plan to build toward larger strikes and boycotts. There will be many worker revolts leading up to that day.

The Poor People’s Campaign has taken on the issues of the movement for economic, racial, environmental justice and peace. Among their demands are federal and state living wage laws, a guaranteed annual income for all people, full employment, and the right to unionize. It will launch 40 days of actions beginning on Mother’s Day. Workers announced a massive wave of civil disobedience actions this spring on the 50th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, at a protest where they teamed up with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for Black Lives.  Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in cities across the country.


Unrealized Worker Power Potential Can Be Achieved

The contradictions in the US economy have become severe. The wealth divide is extreme, three people have the wealth of half the population and one in five people have zero wealth or are in debt. The U.S. is ranked 35th out of 37 developed nations in poverty and inequality.  According to a UN report, 19 million people live in deep poverty including one-quarter of all youth. Thirty years of economic growth have been stagnant for most people in the US. A racial prism shows the last 50 years have made racial inequality even wider, with current policies worsening the situation.

May 5 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of economic philosopher, Karl Marx, the failure of US capitalism has become evident.  Over the last fifty years, in order for the few to exploit the many, labor laws have been put in place to weaken workers’ rights and unions.  Andrew Stewart summarizes some of the key points:

First, the National Labor Relations Act, signed by FDR, that legalized unionization. Or more precisely, it domesticated unions. When combined with the Taft-Hartley Act, the Railway Labor Act, and Norris-La Guardia Act, the union movements of America were forced into a set of confines that reduced its arsenal of tactics so significantly that they became a shell of their pre-NLRA days. And this, of course, leaves to the side the impact of the McCarthy witch hunts on the ranks of good organizers.

In addition, 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws that undermine the ability of workers to organize. And, the Supreme Court in the Janus case, which is likely to be ruled on this June, is likely to undermine public unions. On top of domestic laws, capitalist globalization led by US transnational corporations has undermined workers, caused de-industrialization and destroyed the environment. Trade must be remade to serve the people and planet, not profits of the few.

While this attack is happening, so is an increase in mobilizations, protests, and strikes. The total number of union members grew by 262,000 in 2017 and three-fourths of those were among workers aged 35 and under and 23% of new jobs for workers under 35 are unionized. With only 10 percent of workers in a union, there is massive room for growth at this time of economic insecurity.

Chris Hedges describes the new gig economy as the new serfdom. Uber drivers make $13.77 an hour, and in Detroit that drops to $8.77. He reports on drivers committing suicide. One man, who drove over 100 hours a week, wrote, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” This while the former CEO of Uber, one of the founders, Travis Kalanick, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. The US has returned to pre-20th Century non-union working conditions. Hedges writes that workers now must “regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists.”

Solidarity across racial and economic divides is growing as all workers suffer from abuses of the all-powerful capitalist class. As those in power abuse their privilege, people are becoming more militant. We are seeing the blueprint for a new worker movement in the teacher strikes and Fight for $15. A movement of movements including labor, environmentalist, anti-corporate advocates, food reformers, healthcare advocates and more stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This shows the potential of unified power.

In recent strikes, workers have rejected proposals urged by their union and have pushed for more. Told to go back to work, they continued to strike. The future is not unions who serve to calm labor disputes, but unions who escalate a conflict.

The future is more than re-legalizing unions and raising wages and benefits, it is building wealth in the population and creating structural changes to the economy. This requires a new economy where workers are owners, in worker cooperatives, so their labor builds power and wealth. Economic justice also requires a rewoven safety net that ensures the essentials of healthcare and housing, as well as non-corporatized public education, free college education, a federal job guarantee and a basic income for all.

The escalation of militancy should not demand the solutions of the past but demand the new economy of the future. By building community wealth through democratized institutions, we will reduce the wealth divide and the influence of economic inequality over our lives.

The Military Industrial Complex Strikes Again: War Spending Will Bankrupt America

Why throw money at defense when everything is falling down around us? Do we need to spend more money on our military (about $600 billion this year) than the next seven countries combined? Do we need 1.4 million active military personnel and 850,000 reserves when the enemy at the moment — ISIS — numbers in the low tens of thousands? If so, it seems there’s something radically wrong with our strategy. Should 55% of the federal government’s discretionary spending go to the military and only 3% to transportation when the toll in American lives is far greater from failing infrastructure than from terrorism? Does California need nearly as many active military bases (31, according to militarybases.com) as it has UC and state university campuses (33)? And does the state need more active duty military personnel (168,000, according to Governing magazine) than public elementary school teachers (139,000)?”

— Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2015.

Mark my words, America’s war spending will bankrupt the nation.

For that matter, America’s war spending has already bankrupted the nation to the tune of more than $20 trillion dollars.

Now the Trump Administration is pushing for a $4.4 trillion budget for fiscal year 2019 that would add $7 trillion to the already unsustainable federal deficit in order to sustain America’s military empire abroad and dramatically expand the police state here at home.  Trump also wants American taxpayers to cover the cost of building that infamous border wall.

Truly, Trump may turn out to be, as policy analyst Stan Collender warned, “the biggest deficit- and debt-increasing president of all time.”

For those in need of a quick reminder: “A budget deficit is the difference between what the federal government spends and what it takes in.  The national debt, also known as the public debt, is the result of the federal government borrowing money to cover years and years of budget deficits.”

Right now, the U.S. government is operating in the negative on every front: it’s spending far more than what it makes (and takes from the American taxpayers) and it is borrowing heavily (from foreign governments and Social Security) to keep the government operating and keep funding its endless wars abroad.

This is how military empires fall and fail: by spreading themselves too thin and spending themselves to death.

It happened in Rome. It’s happening again.

Not content to merely police the globe, in recent decades America has gradually transformed its homeland into a battlefield with militarized police and weapons better suited to a war zone.

Since taking office, President Trump—much like his predecessors—has marched in lockstep with the military. Now Trump wants $716 billion to expand America’s military empire abroad and billions more to hire cops, build more prisons and wage more profit-driven war-on-drugs/war-on-terrorism/war-on-crime programs that eat away at the Fourth Amendment while failing to make the country any safer.

Even the funds requested for infrastructure will do little to shore up the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, railways, highways, power grids and dams.

No matter how you break it down, this is not a budget aimed at perfecting the Union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting general welfare, or securing the blessings of liberty for the American people.

No, this is a budget aimed at pandering to the powerful money interests (military, corporate and security) that run the Deep State and hold the government in its clutches.

So much for Trump’s campaign promises to balance the budget and drain the swamps of corruption.

The glaring economic truth is that at the end of the day, it’s the military industrial complex—and not the sick, the elderly or the poor—that is pushing America towards bankruptcy.

As investigative journalist Uri Friedman puts it, for more than 15 years now, the United States has been fighting terrorism with a credit card, “essentially bankrolling the wars with debt, in the form of purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds by U.S.-based entities like pension funds and state and local governments, and by countries like China and Japan.”

The illicit merger of the armaments industry and the Pentagon that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against more than 50 years ago has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation’s fragile infrastructure today.

Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars.

That does not include the cost of maintaining and staffing the 1000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe.

Incredibly, although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined.

In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

War is not cheap.

Although the federal government obscures so much about its defense spending that accurate figures are difficult to procure, we do know that since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $1.8 trillion in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (that’s $8.3 million per hour).

That doesn’t include wars and military exercises waged around the globe, which are expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053.

Mind you, these ongoing wars—riddled by corruption, graft and bumbling incompetence—have done little to keep the country safe while enriching the military industrial complex—and private defense contractors—at taxpayer expense.

Just recently, for example, a leading accounting firm concluded that one of the Pentagon’s largest agencies “can’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spending.”

Just consider the fact that it costs American taxpayers $2.1 million per year for each soldier deployed in Afghanistan.

Imagine what you could do with that money if it were spent on domestic needs here at home.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen any time soon, not as long as the money interests in Washington keep calling the shots and profiting from the spoils of war.

War has become a huge money-making venture, and America, with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers. Not only does the U.S. have the largest defense budget, it also ranks highest as the world’s largest arms exporter.

The American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope, one dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth.

For example, while erecting a security surveillance state in the U.S., the military-industrial complex has perpetuated a worldwide military empire with American troops stationed in 177 countries (over 70% of the countries worldwide).

In the process, billions have been spent erecting luxury military installations throughout the world.

For example, the U.S. Embassy built in Iraq, dubbed “Fortress Baghdad,” covers 104 acres and boasts a “city within a city” that includes six apartment buildings, a Marine barracks, swimming pool, shops and 15-foot-thick walls. Camp Anaconda in Iraq, like many U.S. military bases scattered across the globe, was structured to resemble a mini-city with pools, fast food restaurants, miniature golf courses and movie theaters.

While most Americans can scarcely afford the cost of heating and cooling their own homes, the American government spends $20 billion annually just to provide air conditioning for military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In essence, what we’re doing is “we’re air conditioning the desert over there in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places,” noted retired brigadier general Steven Anderson, a former chief logistician for Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

Think about that for a minute.

There’s a good reason why “bloated,” “corrupt” and “inefficient” are among the words most commonly applied to the government, especially the Department of Defense and its contractors.

For instance, a study by the Government Accountability Office found that $70 billion worth of cost overruns by the Pentagon were caused by management failures. To put that in perspective, that equates to one and a half times the State Department’s entire $47 billion annual budget.

Fraud is rampant.

A government audit, for example, found that defense contractor Boeing has been massively overcharging taxpayers for mundane parts, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in overspending. As the report noted, the American taxpayer paid:

$71 for a metal pin that should cost just 4 cents; $644.75 for a small gear smaller than a dime that sells for $12.51: more than a 5,100 percent increase in price. $1,678.61 for another tiny part, also smaller than a dime, that could have been bought within DoD for $7.71: a 21,000 percent increase. $71.01 for a straight, thin metal pin that DoD had on hand, unused by the tens of thousands, for 4 cents: an increase of over 177,000 percent.

Price gouging has become an accepted form of corruption within the American military empire.

And if you think gas prices at home can get high, just consider what the American taxpayer is being forced to shell out overseas: once all the expenses of delivering gas to troops in the field are factored in, we’re paying between $18-30 per gallon for gas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Incredibly, despite reports of corruption, abuse and waste, the mega-corporations behind much of this ineptitude and corruption continue to be awarded military contracts worth billions of dollars.

The rationale may keep changing for why American military forces are in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, but the one that remains constant is that those who run the government are feeding the appetite of the military industrial complex.

What began in 2001 as part of an alleged effort to root out al Qaeda has turned into a goldmine for the military industrial complex and its army of private contractors.

Just consider: the Pentagon in 2008 spent more money every five seconds in Iraq than the average American earned in a year.

Yet Congress and the White House want taxpayers to accept that the only way to reduce the nation’s ballooning deficit is by cutting “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare?

As Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, under a military empire, war and its profiteering will always take precedence over the people’s basic human needs.

Simply put, we cannot afford to maintain our over-extended military empire.

Money is the new 800-pound gorilla,” remarked a senior administration official involved in Afghanistan. “It shifts the debate from ‘Is the strategy working?’ to ‘Can we afford this?’ And when you view it that way, the scope of the mission that we have now is far, far less defensible.”

Or as one commentator noted, “Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.”

Inevitably, military empires collapse.

As Cullen Murphy, author of Are We Rome? and editor-at-large of Vanity Fair writes:

A millennium hence America will be hard to recognize. It may not exist as a nation-state in the form it does now—or even exist at all. Will the transitions ahead be gradual and peaceful or abrupt and catastrophic? Will our descendants be living productive lives in a society better than the one we inhabit now? Whatever happens, will valuable aspects of America’s legacy weave through the fabric of civilizations to come? Will historians someday have reason to ask, Did America really fall?

The problem we wrestle with is none other than a distorted American empire, complete with mega-corporations, security-industrial complexes and a burgeoning military. And it has its sights set on absolute domination.

Eventually, however, all military empires fail.

At the height of its power, even the mighty Roman Empire could not stare down a collapsing economy and a burgeoning military. Prolonged periods of war and false economic prosperity largely led to its demise. As historian Chalmers Johnson predicts:

The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.

I would suggest that what we have is a confluence of factors and influences that go beyond mere comparisons to Rome.

It is a union of Orwell’s 1984 with its shadowy, totalitarian government; i.e., fascism, the union of government and corporate powers, and a total surveillance state with a military empire extended throughout the world.

As we have seen with the militarizing of the police, the growth of and reliance on militarism as the solution for our problems both domestically and abroad affects the basic principles upon which American society should operate.

We must keep in mind that a military empire will be ruled not by lofty ideals of equality and justice but by the power of the sword. Those in the military are primarily trained to conduct warfare, not preserve the peace.

Here’s the kicker, though: if the American empire falls and the American economy collapses—and with it the last vestiges of our constitutional republic—it will be the government and its trillion-dollar war budgets that are to blame.

Of course, the government has already anticipated this breakdown.

That’s why the government has transformed America into a war zone, turned the nation into a surveillance state, and labelled “we the people” as enemy combatants.

For years now, the government has worked with the military to prepare for widespread civil unrest brought about by “economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”

Having spent more than half a century exporting war to foreign lands, profiting from war, and creating a national economy seemingly dependent on the spoils of war, the war hawks long ago turned their profit-driven appetites on us, bringing home the spoils of war—the military tanks, grenade launchers, Kevlar helmets, assault rifles, gas masks, ammunition, battering rams, night vision binoculars, etc.—and handing them over to local police, thereby turning America into a battlefield.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is how the police state wins and “we the people” lose.

More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned us not to let the profit-driven war machine endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

We failed to heed his warning.

As Eisenhower recognized in a speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, on April 16, 1953, the consequences of allowing the military-industrial complex to wage war, exhaust our resources and dictate our national priorities are beyond grave:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Dow Jones Plunge Reveals a Morally Sick System

Time to ‘fess up: I don’t understand economics. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that I’m not supposed to understand it either. As with some weird cult, maybe economic “laws” are only revealed to initiates. Or maybe no one really understands economics; it’s just some are better at pretending they do.

Either way, today’s mystifying Guardian story about dramatic falls in the Dow Jones seems to be saying that the plunges happened because the global economy is doing too well. All very paradoxical.

But one paragraph conveys a nugget of information that even I can understand:

The plunge, initially triggered by fears that strong US employment numbers would lead to wage demands and rising inflation, represents the first two-day drop of 1,000 points or greater for the Dow since August 2015.

I read that as meaning: turbo-charged neoliberalism is now so conditioned to ignore any demands from us – the people who make things, aka workers – that even our employment is a threat.

In short, the global economic elite needs a significant proportion of us unemployed, or part of the precariat, to keep all of us weak. That way, the system can continue on its relentless path to making us even more exploitable. If too many of us start working, the global economic system adjusts: that is, it starts laying us off again.

That sounds pretty sick to me. And unsustainable.

But then again, what do I know about economics?