More complicated than a lapel pin

I had not planned on writing about the ten year anniversary of the tragedy that befell our nation on September 11, 2001, but as I was out picking strawberries on this beautiful fall day I couldn’t help but revisit those days in my mind. September 11th was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten and in our stunned state we did our best to be excited with her. Inside though, we were horrified and on edge, not knowing if the attacks were over or if the terror was just beginning.

That afternoon I sat outside on the deck of a coffee shop with my sister. Usually on a sunny, calm afternoon Beluga Lake is busy with float plane traffic and the scheduled flights of the commuter planes taking off and landing within earshot of downtown. The quiet of that day seemed magnified. The horror of what it meant to the people in the twin towers, or on flight 93 hovered on the edges of our conversation, but it was too big to comprehend in that moment. It would take a while for the magnitude of it all to sink in.

Just a couple days after planes started to fly again I took a trip to Las Vegas to meet up with some family members for a mini-reunion. Las Vegas had never been a destination place for me, and it seemed like the wrong place to be going at such a time, but I had the tickets and it had been a long time since I’d seen my family, so I went. I was stunned at the sheer number of people there, although my sisters who had been there before assured me that it was quiet in comparison to their past visits. I was also stunned by the shops in all directions. Every single one had a display of United States flag paraphernalia for sale, from stars and stripes sun visors to Bin Laden Wanted Dead or Alive t-shirts. I was impressed and appalled at how quickly the marketers were in action, turning a national tragedy into an excuse to buy trinkets.

Within the first hour of all of us meeting up at the Luxor hotel and casino someone in our group bought a US flag lapel pin for each one of us. I couldn’t wear mine. At the time I couldn’t even articulate why it felt like the wrong thing for me to do. All I knew was that it felt too easy. I was in mourning and to me the lapel pin wasn’t a sign of mourning. It would have made more sense for me to wear black, or better yet be at home with my husband and children, holding them close.

Las Vegas isn’t my kind of place, so even if tragedy hadn’t just struck our country there’s a good chance that I would have been wandering around in a daze. But the noise, the gambling, the shopping, it all felt misguided. I fear that I wasn’t good company for those few days.

What I kept waiting for, and never got, was for someone to suggest to the United States citizens that we band together for the good of our country, not by consuming more, not by spending more money, but by cutting back. There was a moment when that message would have been received. Great strides could have been made on making our country energy independent or better yet on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels altogether.

All that happened on that day ten years ago still fills me with sadness. In addition to that though, I’m filled with sadness by much of what has happened (or not happened) since then. The lives that were lost on that day should never be forgotten. Neither should the lives of the Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have died in the aftermath. Who pays them tribute? Their lives are no less valuable that those of the American’s who died on September 11, 2001, or less valuable than those of our service members who have died fighting for the country they love.

The issues and emotions surrounding September 11th are infinitely complicated. They cannot be summed up with lapel pins or a special Facebook status. And I have to wonder, are we safer than we were on September 1st, 2001? Have the wars and the lives lost brought any resolution? Will they ever? Wouldn’t our money and resources be better spent on making our country healthier and more self-reliant than we’ve ever been before? Or, is that even the goal?

 

Author: Teresa

From my house I can see glaciers, mountains, the amazing Kachemak Bay and occasionally a moose family or a bear (but not Russia.) I write--primarily but not exclusively fiction--and work part time in a library.

3 thoughts on “More complicated than a lapel pin”

  1. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense`, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    And:

    Certain Un – Alienable rights, Life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness- That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.
    Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

    Or is that even the goal you ask?

    A change in U.S. foreign policy would do more for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty, Than any amount of TSA’s sexual assaults on old ladies and children ever could.
    But that will only happen after its too late.

    Our government has been taken over by criminals, and outlaws that don’t give a care what you think.

    And the American general populace is too overfed, lazy, and stupid to do anything about it.

    That is a huge problem.

    Ghost

  2. from Dan Carlins common sense blog.

    Unbalanced Priorities
    Aug 04 2011 12:36pm

    I just completed (but have not yet released) Common Sense episode #204 (“Looking for a left Hook”) and already I am bracing for the angry response from the segment of my audience that always pulls their hair out when I delve into my thoughts about jobs and American prosperity. As I drove home from KBANDEN, I thought about several aspects worth discussing that I didn’t bring up on the show itself. That’s one reason this blog exists, so I want to use this entry to build upon the thoughts I discussed in that podcast.

    Let’s start with some basics. I am not an economist. I do not approach the problems of jobs and prosperity from the position of one. There are many schools of economic thought (all of them disagreeing) but I do not adhere to any of them specifically. Instead, I have some priorities, and I try to work through the issues logically using those priorities as a road map. My method is Socratic, and it is a traditional approach for a non-expert to use to address a subject with which they have no expert training.

    One of these priorities of mine is balance. Anyone who has studied world and U.S. History knows that the system of labor gets out of balance from time to time. There are many examples of the pendulum swinging too much towards either labor, or management/ownership throughout the eras. There were times that American workers were so powerless in the system that they were virtual wage slaves for their employers. Tales of “company towns” with the company stores where workers ended up owing their employers money at the end of every month were common at the turn of the 19th Century for example. In this era working conditions were often criminally dangerous (by the standards of today) and the long hours laborers were expected to work were borderline inhuman. Even children could be pressed into the workforce and faced conditions no better than their elders. It took the very best efforts of the American labor movement over many decades to mitigate the disparity in power between labor and ownership.

    But the imbalances could swing towards the other direction too. By the 1970s for example, the very labor unions that helped remedy the imbalances of the 19th Century were creating imbalances of their own in the U.S. economy. Union corruption became a big problem (both within the unions themselves but also as a part of their role as a “special interest” in the political system as a whole) as did the inflexibility and inefficiencies that unions often fostered in pursuit of worker protections and benefits. It was not in the best interests of the American people to have the labor system significantly imbalanced in either direction.

    Which brings me to the current state of affairs. I received an email yesterday from a libertarian listener who told me that even though he has always reflexively favored a completely “free market” with a policy of non-interference by the government, he was starting to become very nervous about how one-sided the power relationship between labor and ownership has become. The letter writer’s ideology told him that one approach was superior (his libertarian model) but his eyes could see that the results of our current policies (broadly similar to what he favored) were hurting Americans and he could not see the situation self-correcting. He saw the imbalance, and it made him nervous.

    Now, most of you have heard my Socratic approach used when dealing with this issue many time in past shows. I start from the obvious question of how Americans are supposed to compete for jobs with people who live in regions where the cost of living (and worker compensation) is much lower and where worker protections and benefits are less prevalent.

    Now, when I was a child, this issue was slightly different than it is today. Back then the question was; “How was a U.S. company going to compete with a foreign firm that can make products so much more cheaply than they can?” The worrier was the U.S. firm concerned over foreign imports of goods. Now the question is; “How can U.S. workers compete with the laborers in nations that can make things so much more cheaply than we can in the U.S.?” The role of the worried party has now shifted from the company to the workers. The (formerly U.S.) company has learned how to compete with foreign firms. They just expand operations to places where they can reap the same competitive advantages that the foreign firm was formerly enjoying over them. Problem solved…for the company. For the American labor force though, this is where the problems mushroom.

    By the current global competitive standards, U.S. workers are overpaid, overprotected (by things like occupational safety laws and the option to sue in court) and they receive too many other benefits (such as health care insurance). Some American political schools of thought would make the argument that in these cases, the market doesn’t lie. When U.S. labor wage, protection and benefit standards fall to a point where they are similar to the nations offering the best labor “deal” for the companies, then the U.S. workforce will have found its natural level again. It will then again be competitive. Or so the thinking goes. Is this really what any of us want? To have American wage and benefits levels come down to a “global norm” more in line with a developing nation than a post-industrial one?

    In the back of my head, I can hear the arguments of the classical economics theorists. They would probably ask me what I expected…was I really saying that workers should be paid more than their economic worth? Once upon a time, the idea of the iron law of supply and demand for wages made sense. That economic dictum stipulated that labor made gains in wages and compensation in times of scare surplus labor, and lost gains in eras of plentiful labor. The fluctuating amount of labor competition created periods where both labor and management could derive advantage. The globalization of the world labor force has destroyed the iron law because it eliminates the potential for labor to ever be scarce. A particular field, job or discipline might see a temporary shortage of qualified people (such as a nursing shortage for example) but the general global labor pool will always be flush.

    Now, many of these same economic theorists will point out that technological change made such changes in the labor market inevitable. What they ignore when they say this is that there were (and are) many opportunities to, like is done with a Bonsai tree, trim and prune and shape the framework for this new emerging system (in fact such “trimming” is done every day.). The virtual shrinking of our planet due to things like the Internet and other communication and technological innovations was going to happen (and was happening) anyway. Nothing would have prevented that reality from occurring , and no one favoring a free and open society would ever wish such a thing to happen. But the WAY this transformation known now as “globalization” was handled…how it was molded…the rules and parameters that were laid down…all that stuff was a result of those who lobbied the people in decision-making roles over a decade or more. The corporate influence in Washington D.C. played a huge role in determining which path (out of many potential approaches) this globalization transformation took. The forces of labor played virtually no role in this process. That’s how imbalances in the system are created.

    I remember the debate over this new emerging era well. I was upset about this issue at the time and was debating the question in interviews with legislators and on the radio day in and day out as the actual votes affecting such things were held in Washington. It was clear at the time that big financial interests saw the opportunity to outflank First World standards (in everything from worker wages and benefits, to safety and environmental standards). “Globalization” became an easy way for companies that never liked things like minimum wage laws, worker protections and a litigious society to simply opt out of that “First World” system with few if any downsides. In fact, things are set up to maximize the benefits for the company. There are even tax incentives offered by the U.S. Government that encourage American companies to move operations outside the U.S.. Even a diehard champion of allowing the “invisible hand of capitalism” to solve all problems by itself might well have disagreements with a tax code that makes an already uncompetitive situation for American workers even worse.

    I have endured the criticism for many years now about my position on this issue. I can’t help but notice though, that everything I predicted and all the things I worried might happen 15 years ago have come to pass. I said “How will First World workers compete? How will this not be a race to the bottom hurting workers everywhere eventually?” I was assured that I didn’t know what I was talking about (I wasn’t alone though. A lone ally 15 years ago was U.S. Congressman Peter Defazio who joined me time and again on the radio to discuss the issue while my uncaring audience collectively yawned). I was given excuse after excuse about why my concerns were scare mongering, why First World workers would dominate the creative and innovative fields, why education would transform our old manufacturing -based system (based on working with our hands) into a 21st century one where Westerners worked with their minds. We would, I was repeatedly (and condescendingly) told, design the products, poorer, lower paid work forces would make them. Democrats and Republicans told me this at the time. Many of these people were accepting money from the entities that stood to benefit from anything that provided access to cheaper labor costs. Here we are, 15 years later, and the corporate world is thrilled with the system of global labor that we have, and whole classes of people in First World nations (especially the U.S.) are shell-shocked and reeling. The individual loss of personal prosperity has had a “trickle-down” effect on the government’s tax coffers making our debt problems that much harder to deal with. The loss of individual prosperity has become the loss of national prosperity. And not only does no one seem to have a feasible way out of this mess, no one is really even talking much about it at the governmental level. As I said in the show, “Jobs” will soon become the only word you hear out of our legislator’s talking-point repeating mouths…but they will not be addressing the question of what those jobs pay.

    So what can be done? The subsidiary effects on our society from Americans not making enough money are affecting everything from tax revenues to consumer spending. And while this problem would be difficult to solve under the best of conditions, the companies currently benefiting from being able to compensate and protect their workers at a level far less than American workers pour tons of money into our political system to see that these advantages remain in place. The Supreme Court keeps ruling that more participation (money) injected into our political system by corporations, far from being a corrupting influence, is in fact a good thing. Our political leaders have strong financial disincentives to deal with this question of American wages.

    A perfect example would be the most egregious of the perverse incentives the tax code provides for these corporations. Who could argue that U.S. taxpayers should continue to subsidize the move of corporate operations from the U.S. to elsewhere? It is a given that such a subsidy would be opposed by the vast majority of American voters if they had any say in the matter. But the fact that such policies exist and continue is evidence that they do not.

    Which brings us to a related point, an idea that far left liberals have been shouting about for years; the question of corporate power. Now, usually when I talk about the forces that have significant influence on our legislators I say “corporations and special interests” to denote that there are many other groups that have power in Washington that don’t fall into the typical corporation category. The gun lobby, the senior citizens organizations the trial lawyer’s association are examples of these. But the power of corporations has collectively grown to a point where they can resist all efforts by voters to change government policy affecting themselves in any meaningful way. If Americans decided they wanted to tweak the economic system we have to help American workers make more money (and we could elect people who would push through such actions) could it be done over the opposition of the corporate entities (and their many intellectual surrogates in the Media and think tanks) that prefer the current status quo? Is the nation-state still more powerful than the combined power of our largest businesses? I don’t know the answer to that.

    But perhaps even caring about such a question is a function of my world view. I have never bought into the idea that corporations are what the constitutional framers of the United States meant to include in their designation of “The People”. The late 19th century Supreme Court ruling that created that reality has always seemed an absurd leap of logic to me. To me, the people of the United States have the right to alter the “carrots and sticks’ in the economy to “promote the General Welfare”. Lord knows, our leaders have done this constantly since our founding and still do it now. But who they do it for is the key question in this day and age. If the plight of America’s workers were foremost in their minds, the choices they make and the legislation they craft would be very different than what it would (will) be if the interests of the corporations are their priority.

    All I am asking for is the former.

    What legislator in their right mind would get up publicly and openly and argue against that?

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