Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Middle Class Retooling

This article in the New York Times, published January 21st, talks about how Apple (and other electronics manufacturers) works to make their consumer electronics less expensive, and details the requirements of manufacturing as well as the requirements of American workers versus Chinese workers.

While I get that globalization and the like make it all the more difficult for such work to be performed by Americans (since the Chinese are willing to live in dorms and work 6 12-hour days a week in order to pay their families back home or not pay anyone but a bank account somewhere), the part that's so depressing about it is that it appears there's no end in sight.

Workers willing to work long hours for low wages is as old as history. They're always available, there will always be someone who'd prefer 12 hours a day in an air-conditioned building and a warm place to sleep versus starving to death. Well, mostly, anyway.

What will Americans do now? Foxconn hired 85,000 engineers (so-called) to oversee the 250,000 workers in the plant. These engineers don't need a BS to do their job, something the equivalent of an AA would do. While it might take 6 months for an American manufacturing firm to find this many engineers, in China it took three weeks to ramp up. Why?

Simple. Infrastructure. Which we don't invest in much anymore.

Even if you could hire this many employees to work a single building like this in the States, OSHA would disallow it on the basis of safety. Foxconn has had to hire traffic cops to guide employees coming and going from the building during shift change.

Essentially, what they're telling us is that, in order to make it in the middle class, you really need to rethink the idea of human dignity and worth. We really need to get back to the days when humans were simply interchangeable cogs in a great machine, hired for cheap when young, and discarded as soon as the part wears out or a cheaper, younger, hungrier version becomes available. Metropolis wasn't just a movie, it was the shape of things to come.

Side note: I wonder if we know what happens to former Foxconn workers? Anyone done that bit of reporting yet? We know that many of them kill themselves (or threaten to do so)...

As a consumer in a consumer society (and an Apple fanboy to boot), I know there are things that are expected of any modern person in America: you own a car, a cellphone, maybe a laptop or a pad computer - but some kind of computer and some sort of portable computing device. Many businesses are asking their employees to provide their own devices at work, and are building new wireless networks that are at once more simplified and more complex in order to both facilitate the employee bringing in their own gear, but also protecting company information. In the old days, policemen had to provide their own uniforms, their own nightsticks, even their own guns. (ammo was provided, generally) So it's good to know there's been progress in this regard.

So, as far as progress is concerned, we've managed to outsource much of our manufacturing, we're underfunding school systems, so fewer and fewer high-caliber people will be entering the workforce (and we won't need them anyway, so long as there's a China), we've built more prisons than anywhere else, and we keep building the armed forces larger and larger. We'll need people to pick crops (and the Hispanics are being scared off by our own draconian immigration laws, as well as the decline of such opportunities), serve food, wash cars, trim lawns, etc., etc.

Was this what the Founding Fathers had in mind? A great nation, wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, wherein 90% of the population will eventually (if current trends maintain) be living on the margins?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We Hate Us, and Nothing We Stand For

When the GOP runs its convention in the future and they decide who they want to run the country as soon as Obama implodes and vanishes (since that's what they're trying to make happen), we will then discover that Republicans can, after all, vote for someone with a strange religion, even if he's robotic and painful to watch, has no sense of humor, and actually believes that he was (at some point) in real danger of receiving a pink slip. Where's the danger when you're a multi-millionaire, right? If I was a multi-millionaire, losing my job wouldn't really hurt me all that much...

But what really gets us libs going is the idea that Romney is actually stupid enough to think he can win. Besides his extraordinary number of doofusy misstatements, he epitomizes the old joke about the guy whose stick up his ass has a stick up its ass. Meanwhile, his version of humor is kind of creepy - when he gets close to a woman on stage, he reacts as if she just grabbed his ass, you know, "ha. ha. ha."

Now that we've lost Hermain Cain as a human comedy punching bag, and Michelle Bachmann has to go back to saying insane things to smaller groups (while still being a congresscritter), we're stuck with Mittens, Newt, Santorum, Huntsman and Paul, all of whom think they can capture the undecided, independent voter.

Republican strategists haven't forgotten one key fact in their calculations - the independent voter is actually a liberal who hates the term. Kind of like closeted gay Republicans, the "independent voter" is actually a self-loathing liberal who has been trained by years of well-publicized misinformation that liberals and liberal causes are bad for the country, and yet would vote for them if presented individually on a ballot. When asked questions like, "would you prefer a public option in the Health Care Bill", seventy percent of the nation says yes, while half of that group calls the Democrats "Socialists." When asked if taxing the super-wealthy would be a good idea, that same seventy percent says yes, and the same half of that group refers to the Occupy Wall Street protests as "Class Warfare", as if class warfare is a bad thing.

This is the problem we face, and we still haven't found a way to change their minds. It doesn't help that the only reasonably leftie news source is MSNBC, and I don't get that, since I hate network TV. Most people like network TV, and that may be why so many people are so wildly disinformed. Every time I see someone defending the Iraq war, or indefinite detention, or whatever, in a fictional TV show (like NCIS, or Law And Order: SVU, or Bones), the person with the Liberal/Leftist point of view is always, ALWAYS, portrayed as a screechy conspiracy-monger who alienates everyone around them, or a scientific-type, knowitall weenie (and nerds are invariably annoying). Fair and Balanced doesn't exist in fictional shows, let alone in the newsrooms of America. Even video games have a highly one-sided view of the current states of war and conflict. Americans are always a force for good, even if what they're doing violates Geneva or would cause an even greater rift between us and whoever it is we're supposed to be "protecting." The last time I ever saw a truly thorny political football handled with a reasonable level of balance was Steven Soderbergh's Traffic.

Unless and until we manage to figure out a way to get people to listen without first having to say "will you just LISTEN TO ME", we are going nowhere as a force for much of anything, let alone good.

The only way we're winning this year is if the economy continues its snail-like pace towards improvement. If Obama ratchets up the rhetoric, and then actually follows through (the appointment of Cordray to the CFPB was a step in the right direction, though a very, very short step), things may improve. The signing of the NDAA was a sad blip on the radar, and I do hope he does something publicly to denounce the various provisions regarding the rapidly crumbling edifice of habeus corpus. But we are voting for him, right? Probably, anyway? Because we really really don't want Romney or Paul or Sanitorium in the White House, right?


Note: Some of the reason I have gathered enough hope to my bosom in order to write again is because I'm watching the DVD collection of The Wire my wife bought me for Christmas. If the "entertainment industry" is capable of producing this, what else is America capable of?