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Steering 0829wrp opt(Photo: Lukas 3z)We'll have to do something drastically different to employ people in the future. Our jobs are disappearing. The driverless vehicle is here, destined to eliminate millions of transport and taxi-driving positions. Car manufacturing is being done by 3-D printing. An entire building was erected in Dubai with a 3-D printer. Restaurants are being designed with no waitstaff or busboys, hotels with no desk clerks, bellhops, and porters. Robot teachers are interacting with students in Japan and the UK.

There are plenty of naysayers and skeptics, of course. The Atlantic proclaimed, "The job market defied doomsayers in those earlier times, and according to the most frequently reported jobs numbers, it has so far done the same in our own time." But this is a different time, with no guarantees of job revolutions, and in fact a time of unprecedented machine intelligence that threatens the livelihoods even of doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, the clergy, consultants, and lawyers.

Most of our new jobs are in service industries, including retail and personal health care and food service. The only one of the eight fastest-growing occupations that pays over $33,000 per year is nursing -- and even nursing may give way to Robotic Nurse Assistants. The evidence for downsized jobs keeps accumulating. A US Mayors study found that 'recovery' jobs pay 23 percent less than the positions they replaced. The National Employment Law Project estimates that low-wage jobs accounted for 22 percent of job losses but 44 percent of subsequent job gains. Business Insider, Huffington Post, and the Wall Street Journal all concur: the unemployment rate is remaining low because of low-paying jobs.

We're fooling ourselves by believing in a future with satisfying middle-class jobs for millions of Americans. It's becoming clear that income should be guaranteed, so that recipients have the wherewithal and incentive and confidence to find productive ways to serve society.

Published in Guest Commentary


Fracking 0826wrp opt(Photo: Joshua Doubek)A new study out today from Johns Hopkins in Environmental Health Perspectives revealed associations between fracking and various health symptoms including nasal and sinus problems, migraines and fatigue in Pennsylvanians living near areas of natural gas development. The study suggests that residents with the highest exposure to active fracking wells are nearly twice as likely to suffer from the symptoms.

This is the third study released by Hopkins in the past year that connects proximity to fracking sites with adverse health outcomes. Last fall, researchers found an association between fracking and premature births and high-risk pregnancies, and last month, found ties between fracking and asthma.

What's more, a 2014 investigation revealed how health workers in Pennsylvania were silenced by the state Department of Health (DOH) and told not to respond to health inquiries that used certain fracking "buzzwords." Documents obtained by Food & Water Watch last year indicate the DOH was inundated with fracking-related health concerns ranging from shortness of breath and skin problems to asthma, nose and throat irritation, which were ignored or pushed aside.

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Published in Guest Commentary


Pivot 0824wrp opt(Photo: Mechanics Magazine, 1824)Welcome to the world of Donald Trump's long-awaited “Pivot.” With a recent quasi-apology under his belt -- "I do regret it [the litany of insults] particularly where it may have caused personal pain” -- and a newly constituted Team Trump -- especially the media-savvy/friendly and very capable message massager Kellyanne Conway -- are you ready for the hugest and the greatest pivot ever?

The mainstream media has been craving it, only fearing that it might not materialize quickly enough. Obviously, the fading campaign desperately needs it. But will the public buy into it?

Over the past few weeks, my wife and I have been discussing "The Pivot." No, not how U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte recently pivoted away from his phony Rio robbery story and apologized; nor have we been extolling the skills of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, or other great National Basketball Association pivot men. Broadly defined, “The Pivot,” usually happens right after the primaries, as a campaign understands it needs to soften its message and broaden its appeal. Now, after a several months long run at letting Trump be Trump, his new campaign team, and The Donald himself, may finally be recognizing that there might not be enough blue-collar white men to carry him to victory, and he needs to do something different to appeal to independents.

So, Trump has replaced the campaign’s leadership, which has led, according to some pundits, to a shift in messaging, and tone.

Trump’s so-called pivot started with his making appeals for the African American vote. ABC News’ Candace Smith reported that “Trump, who shook up his staff in recent days, appeared to strike a different tone during his speech at the Charlotte Convention Center, reading from a teleprompter, as he has chided Hillary Clinton for doing and again making an appeal to African-American voters.”

Published in Guest Commentary


Salad 0824wrp opt(Photo: jeffreyw)Responsible reporters in the media normally transcribe political speeches so that they can accurately report them. But Donald Trump’s discourse style has stumped a number of reporters. Dan Libit, CNBC’s excellent analyst is one of them. Libit writes:

His unscripted speaking style, with its spasmodic, self-interrupting sentence structure, has increasingly come to overwhelm the human brains and tape recorders attempting to quote him.

Trump is, simply put, a transcriptionist's worst nightmare: severely unintelligible, and yet, incredibly important to understand.

Given how dramatically recent polls have turned on his controversial public utterances, it is not hyperbolic to say that the very fate of the nation, indeed human civilization, appears destined to come down to one man's application of the English language — and the public's comprehension of it. It has turned the rote job of transcribing into a high-stakes calling.

Trump's crimes against clarity are multifarious: He often speaks in long, run-on sentences, with frequent asides. He pauses after subordinate clauses. He frequently quotes people saying things that aren't actual quotes. And he repeats words and phrases, sometimes with slight variations, in the same sentence.

Some in the media (Washington Post, Salon, Slate, Think Progress, etc.) have called Trump’s speeches “word salad.” Some commentators have even attributed his language use to “early Alzheimer’s,” citing “erratic behavior” and “little regards for social conventions.” I don’t believe it.

Published in Guest Commentary


Modok(Photo: Eric Powell)During the Republican Party primaries, when Donald Trump skipped a debate to hold a fundraiser for veterans, one of the mega-wealthy people he touted from the stage that evening was Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, the CEO of Marvel Comics, and a big Trump supporter, who had given one-million dollars. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m guessing that Perlmutter may not have been aware that a few months later, Marvel would introduce a new villain to the world; M.O.D.A.A.K. aka Mental Organism Designed As America's King, a thinly disguised version of Trump.

According to The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng, in this year’s Spider-Gwen Annual #1, released in late-June, Marvel Comics “officially turned Donald Trump into a supervillain — a xenophobic, orange-haired, Captain-America-hating supervillain who is obsessed with the quality of his hands."

Esquire’s Peter Wade pointed out that “The horrifying monster … shout[s] xenophobic things at innocent people, telling them to get ‘back on your feet, foreign filth!’"

“But have no fear,” Wade notes, “Captain America soon appears to deliver a knock-out punch to Trump-MODAAK and saves America from certain doom, as the monster mutters a final, ‘Must make America—‘ and is destroyed.”

Entertainment Weekly reported that “The character was once known as technician George Tarleton, but he was subjected to horrifying experiments that transformed him into a big-headed being. In the alternate world of Spider-Gwen Annual #1, where Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacey was the one bitten by a radioactive spider, Modok too gets an alternate spin.”

Published in Guest Commentary


Milk 0822wrp(Photo: Stefan Kühn)Illinois Governor Rauner recently cut "Meals on Wheels" for seniors and at-risk youth services. Chicago residents were hit with a nearly 13% property tax increase. Some Chicago public schools could face 2017 cutbacks of an incredible 20 percent.

But six of Illinois' largest corporations together paid ALMOST ZERO state income taxes this year. Full payment of their taxes would have exceeded the $1.1 billion Chicago Public School deficit.

It's much the same around the nation, as 25 of the largest U.S. corporations, with over $150 billion in U.S. profits last year, paid less than 20% in federal taxes, and barely 1% in the state taxes that are vitally important for K-12 education.

Sticking It To Low-Income Mothers

Because of the missing corporate tax revenue, House Republicans have tried to break even by proposing cuts to programs that are essential to mothers and children, such as Centers for Disease Control health programs, family planning, contraception, and -- unbelievably, again! -- food stamps. It is estimated that almost two-thirds of the proposed cuts would largely impact low- and moderate-income families.

At the state level, the suffering residents of Louisiana are facing some of the steepest regressive tax increases, along with cuts to vital programs that investigate child abuse and provide pediatric day care. The maternal death rate rose dramatically in Texas after women's health programs were cut. In Kansas, where a Republican state senator has called Governor Brownback's lowering of taxes on the rich a "train wreck," 2017 cuts are targeting universities, Medicaid recipients, and the Children’s Initiatives Fund.

Published in Guest Commentary


TrumpPeace 0817wrp opt(Photo: CPAC)An old saying asserts that falsehoods come in three escalating levels: "Lies, damn lies, and statistics." Now, however, we've been given an even-higher level of intentional deception: Policy speeches by Donald Trump.

Take his recent highly publicized address outlining specific economic policies he would push to benefit hard-hit working families. It's an almost-hilarious compilation of Trumpian fabrications, including his bold, statesmanlike discourse on the rank unfairness of the estate tax: "No family will have to pay the death tax," he solemnly pledged, adopting the right-wing pejorative for a tax assessed on certain properties of the dearly departed. Fine, but next came his slick prevarication: "American workers have paid taxes their whole lives, and they should not be taxed again at death." Workers? The tax exempts the first $5.4 million of any deceased person's estate, meaning 99.8 percent of Americans pay absolutely nothing. So Trump is trying to deceive real workers into thinking he's standing for them, when in fact it's his own wealth he's protecting.

What a maverick! What a shake-'em-up outsider! What an anti-establishment fighter for working stiffs!

Oh, and don't forget this: What a phony!

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 17 August 2016 08:46

Taking the Wind Out of Trump's Energy Policy


Coal 0817wrp opt(Photo: Decumanus)Black letters against a yellow background. Black letters against white. White letters against black. On yard signs. On T-shirts. On baseball caps. All with the same message: “Trump Digs Coal.”

Donald Trump says there are “ridiculous regulations [on coal] that put you out of business and make it impossible to compete.” He says if he is president, he would reduce those regulations. Those regulations that Trump doesn’t like are enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect miners and the public.

In speech after speech in the coal-producing states, he has said, “We’re going to get those miners back to work . . . the miners of West Virginia and Pennsylvania . . .  [In] Ohio and all over are going to start to work again, believe me. They are going to be proud again to be miners.”  He also says the voters in coal-rich states “are going to be proud of me.”

As expected, his comments are met by extended cheers. However, other than splashing rhetoric to get votes, he doesn’t say how he plans to put miners back to work, nor does he address the issues of the high cost to create “clean coal,” or that a president doesn’t have absolute power to reduce federal legislation. But his words sound good to the mining industry in Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, the top five states in coal production.

Published in Guest Commentary


BPat 0815wrp opt(Photo: Bbsrock )y now, one would think that Pat Buchanan would have long ago been relegated to the trash heap of history. Buchanan, a senior advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, and who was once considered the go-to guy for paleoconservatives, seemed to have faded in importance from those heady days when he co-hosted CNN’s Crossfire, and gave the rousing and incendiary culture war speech at the 1992 Republican Party convention.

As The Australian’s Nikki Savva recently wrote, Buchanan “ran against the first George Bush for the Republican nomination, promising to build a wall or dig a giant ditch along the border between the US and Mexico. So it’s not a new idea. The same people cheering Trump now applauded Buchanan then — it’s just their numbers have grown.” Now, thanks to Donald Trump’s candidacy, and the band of white nationalists supporting him, Buchanan is in full pundefocating mode.

According to People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, Buchanan, the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority,” is all in with Trump’s claim that if he loses it will be because the election is rigged. And, furthermore, according to Buchanan, Trump’s loss could signal the beginning of a revolution in America.

In a WND column headlined “Yes, The System Is Rigged,” Buchanan – whose column is syndicated in a number of mainstream newspapers -- maintains that if the election “ends with a Clintonite restoration and a ratification of the same old Beltway policies, would that not suggest there is something fraudulent about American democracy, something rotten in the state?”

Published in Guest Commentary


Woody 0812wrp opt(Photo: Al Aumuller)In 1950, Woody Guthrie signed a lease for an apartment in a Brooklyn building owned by Fred Trump (the father of Donald Trump). Earlier this year, Will Kaufman, a Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Central Lancashire, visited the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Woody Guthrie Archives (http://woodyguthriecenter.org/archives/), to do research.

Kaufman pointed out that “Guthrie’s two-year tenancy in one of Fred Trump’s buildings and his relationship with the real estate mogul of New York’s outer boroughs produced some of Guthrie’s most bitter writings.” Kaufman maintained that Guthrie’s writing -- which haven’t yet been published – “should be, for they clearly pit America’s national balladeer against the racist foundations of the Trump real estate empire.” Particularly in light of Donald Trump declaring last year that his “legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy.”

Guthrie had dealt with racism and inequality in several songs, recognizing that racism wasn’t only manifested in the South. According to Kaufman, “songs such as ‘The Ferguson Brothers Killing,’ … condemned the out-of-hand police killing of the unarmed Charles and Alfonso Ferguson in Freeport, Long Island, in 1946, after the two young black men had been refused service in a bus terminal cafe.”

The song “Buoy Bells from Trenton,” “denounced the miscarriage of justice in the case of the so-called ‘Trenton Six’ – black men convicted of murder in 1948 by an all-white jury in a trial marred by official perjury and manufactured evidence.”

Guthrie, a strong and active supporter of the great Paul Robeson – an underappreciated African American icon -- “stood shoulder to shoulder with Robeson, Howard Fast and Pete Seeger against the mobs of Peekskill, New York, where American racism at its ugliest had inspired 21 songs from his pen (one of which, ‘My Thirty Thousand,’ was recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco).”

Published in Guest Commentary
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