Make America What Again?

What with the shit-show we’ve got going on right now as a nation — concentration camps on the border, a wag-the-dog escalation to a war of choice with Iran, a serious bump in hate crimes and people identifying as Nazis and white supremacists, a climate crisis that will destroy life as we know it starting to kick in for real, a nationwide election coming up that will undoubtedly be fucked with by hostile foreign actors while the beneficiaries insist nothing’s wrong, and a legislature unable, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to do anything but confirm hardcore conservative federal judges to lifetime sinecures, just to skim the surface — it’s easy to understand the widespread longing to go back to the way things were under the Obama Administration. To get things back to normal so we can all go back to living our lives without having to worry that the demented narcissist with the nuclear football will bring about Armageddon in a fit of pique or even just to avoid jail time.

I get it. I really do. I also would like not to live my life in a fog of existential dread, in which every action is pointless because, Rapture or not, the end is probably nigh for the American experiment and possibly human civilization and what can possibly matter anymore?

But even were it possible to return to whatever passed for normal before — and it isn’t — such a return is not even desirable, both on its own merits and especially in light of the challenges we face as Americans and human beings who live on the rapidly-warming, ecologically-imbalanced, and soon-to-be-downwardly-spiraling Earth.

I’ll explain.

Continue reading “Make America What Again?”

A Preliminary Case for a Universal Basic Income

From comments I made on someone’s facebook thread (lightly edited for clarity):
 
It’s a legit question how to pay for a UBI. Now, I’m no economist, but I do have some notions. First is, yes, upping the rates on the highest tax brackets. You know, like we did during the golden age from the ’40s til the ’70s. Not only does it raise revenue from top earners, it disincentivizes taking earnings that high, because why do it if the government’s just going to take most of it? So the incentive is to reinvest that money in the company that earns it, by building and buying stuff, and to pay employees more. Which pushes money down the socioeconomic chain to people who will spend it on goods and services rather than betting/investing in derivatives markets, which is where way too much money is these days. The multiplier effect suggests that money pushed down into circulation creates more value/money than money put into derivative investments, which increases GDP and, as a result, the tax base.
 
There is also the question of what the alternative to UBI is. Sure, you can say the answer is to keep doing what we’re doing. But technology has put us in a position where that’s not going to work anymore. We don’t need so many factory workers, because robots can do the job more efficiently, just like we don’t need so many grocery checkers, because self-check machines do the job more efficiently. The old way of doing things is undergoing a sea change, which we can fight, or adapt to. Put briefly, there won’t be enough jobs in the traditional sense for everyone who wants one. Now, this can mean good things. For instance, an explosion of new IP, since artists and creatives of all kinds will be freed to pursue their work without worrying about keeping a roof over their heads. But also a revolution in entrepreneurial undertakings. Right now, to start a business you need to have enough of a cushion/nest egg to pay your bills til the business gets off the ground and starts earning enough to sustain you. With UBI, more people are freed up to take more chances entrepreneurially, which means tapping the potential of the American people more deeply than ever before. I personally happen to believe in the American people a great deal, so I see this as a good thing.
 
There are also the long-term benefits to consider. Study after study shows that lifetime achievement and contentment are higher in people who grow up in economically stable/prosperous households. They commit less crime, are healthier and happier, and are, as a rule, more productive.

Continue reading “A Preliminary Case for a Universal Basic Income”

Why I’m Voting for Kshama Sawant

UnknownI’ve been meaning to write this for a few weeks now. And while mail-in ballots have been out long enough that some folks have undoubtedly already cast their votes, I still think it’s worth chiming in to say that I whole-heartedly support Kshama Sawant’s bid for re-election to the Seattle City Council.

This is not to say that I whole-heartedly agree with her every position and precept. And to be clear, I am in no way affiliated with her campaign (though I am personally acquainted with some folks who are). I haven’t volunteered or worked for them, and though I still intend to donate money, I have not yet done so.

But whatever our (minor) differences of opinion on policy, I find a lot to like about Councilmember Sawant, both in terms of her accomplishments and in terms of the policies she’s currently pursuing.  Continue reading “Why I’m Voting for Kshama Sawant”

Making Gratuities Gratuitous

Depending on who you ask, tipping as practiced in the contemporary United States is either a crassly exploitative transfer of economic risk from a business to its employees which leaves them vulnerable to wage theft, sexual harassment, and economic uncertainty or a great way to earn a good living working part time for cash in hand — much of which is untaxed — leaving time to pursue any number of artistic or academic endeavors while sleeping in every day and getting paid for being likable.

As someone who spent the bulk of his adult life working front of house in restaurants and bars, I think I can say pretty definitively that both of those things are true. Continue reading “Making Gratuities Gratuitous”

How Good Does a Sandwich Have to Be? Wage Theft, Paseo, and the Industry

The best sandwich I ever had was from Paseo. In fact, every sandwich I ever had from Paseo was the best sandwich I ever had (the fact of it being the sandwich I was eating now giving it the winning edge over sandwiches I had already eaten and could therefore only remember with wistful fondness). I may or may not ever have a sandwich that good again, and I mourn for all the people in the world who will now never get to eat one, or eat one again. If you ever ate at either location, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, well, you’ll just have to take my word for it (or, you know, read one of the many valedictions and cris de coeur posted in the last couple of days since the company shuttered both their Fremont and Ballard locations, apparently without even notifying their employees).

It was hard to find, even if you knew where it was, unless you went there at lunchtime, when you could spot it from blocks away thanks to the line out the door, rain or shine. It was not uncommon for the place to close before dinner because they had run out of food.

But man oh man, when your wait was done and the plate with your name on it came up, what heaven awaited: tender, slow-roasted pork on the most perfect sandwich bread (crusty enough to hold together, mostly, but doughy enough to sop up all that juicy flavor) topped with just enough cilantro, peppers, and onions to give it a slight vegetal crunch. It was enough to send your umami circuits into sustained platform orgasm, the flavor lingering on your palate like the taste of a lover’s sweat.

Now it’s gone, I regret not eating there more often in recent years (I worked as a bartender in Fremont for six years; since I’ve moved (and moved on), I don’t get down to Fremont much). Given those lines out the door (and the $1.5-2 million a year in sales), I figured it would be there forever, and was as surprised and dismayed as anyone by the news of its sudden closing.

I was not surprised (though I was dismayed) to read about the lawsuit by four former employees alleging discrimination and wage theft.

*Before continuing, a disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and even if I was, the trial has yet to begin (it’s scheduled for next October). I did, for what it’s worth, spend twenty-six years working in bars and restaurants.* Continue reading “How Good Does a Sandwich Have to Be? Wage Theft, Paseo, and the Industry”