Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CHALLENGE -- Peoples' Elections in Carrboro

We have an amazing opportunity in Carrboro over the next 18 months. When as many as six positions on the Board of Aldermen could be up for grabs. Beginning with the Special Election on March 19.

If anyone, including your preferences, truly wants to serve, they will have more than ample opportunity. So, let’s use these series of Elections to do more than just engage in Carrboro politics as usual.

Let’s use these next 18 months to encourage the widest, broadest and deepest conversation possible about the state of our town, and the direction in which it is heading.

In that regard, I have a challenge to all those who make up the political establishment in Carrboro. Stand back. Let the people have that conversation. Without imposition by you. Let them make their own choices. Without direction from you.

Do not nominate, do not endorse, do not lobby, do not campaign. Do not close ranks to anoint an heir. Rather, step back. And encourage as many different people as possible, with as many different views as possible, to nominate themselves as candidates. And then campaign, only for themselves.

So that we can all encourage the most open debate possible about the future of our town. Without any in positions of influence giving any indication as to preference. So that the people of Carrboro can hear, can ask, can decide, without feeling they are being railroaded in any particular direction.

To those organizations which normally endorse, I say this: send out your questionnaires, hold your forums, publish the results. And then leave it at that. Let the people make up their own minds.

To the rest I suggest this: hold your tongues, and your pens. No letters to the media. No posts on blogs in support. Please move out of the way, and create space for those whose voices are not normally heard; let them ask their questions, let them create the conversation, rather than the ‘professional’ talking heads.

Carrboro prides itself on being a progressive town. So Carrboro, let’s demonstrate progress with the democratic process. Let’s give it back, lock, stock and barrel, to the people. Vox Pop in Carrboro.

Carrboro, 'Establishment' and Itch

Dan Coleman will be missed in Carrboro. I have a couple of sisters who lived in Australia. I've already written to Dan offering what help I can with his transition. But I know that he will enjoy his new adventure in Australia.

Which means. A vacancy will soon be opening on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. And my mind turns to matters of political ‘establishment,’ the righteousness of challenge in a community, and what makes me itchy.

Now. Let's get clear. There is a political ‘establishment’ in Carrboro. This is not necessarily a bad thing. So, why the itch?

Well, I get itchy at any appearance of an 'establishment' coronation.

I get itchy at any sense that one has to be a part of an homogenous 'establishment' to make progress. That the primary attribute of a candidacy should be that one has worked one's way up the ladder of 'establishment,' allowing its members to get comfortable with one.

I get itchy at the suggestion that a community is, indeed, homogenous. When patently no community is homogenous.

I get itchy when members of an 'establishment' have attributed to them phrases like so-and-so "is a good fit." Like there is only one fit. Like one size fits all in our community. Any community, and especially Carrboro, is made up of many different shapes and sizes.

I get itchy when an 'establishment' gives one the impression that it feels that its role in government should be more that of pressure group than consensus-building mediator for the whole community.

I don't mind so much the idea that an ‘establishment’ within government challenges. We should, all of us, always be challenged to do better. Not least by our government.

But I get itchy when an 'establishment' within government itself is not regularly challenged. And I'm not sure government in Carrboro is challenged. Not outside of certain well-set parameters. And not by anyone outside the 'establishment.' Not in any serious way.

There is not any community, anywhere, which cannot find itself performing better as a consequence of regular, genuine and meaningful challenge.

The problem (and it is a self-defeating and self-perpetuating problem), the problem is that challenge won't be forthcoming from the ranks of the 'establishment.'

And yet, challenge won't make any progress unless it is embraced by that 'establishment,' for no better reason and often with no qualification other than the fact that it is well-meaning and well-articulated challenge.

I wonder if Carrboro has not become more of a playground for imports to engage in social engineering experimentation, rather than an engaged, an engaging and an all-inclusive community.

I wonder if more of Carrboro does not speak out simply because it feels overwhelmed.

I wonder if it is not time for a conversation in our community about whether it is, as a whole, at ease with the direction of the community.

And whether, perhaps, that conversation might not more easily be instigated by an Alderman less wedded to the establishment and to its prevailing social engineering.

What's the worst that can happen? A in-depth conversation takes place. The result is, actually, we're fine with the way things are going. Service rendered by conversation, and by Aldermen. And the community of Carrboro draws closer.

We all win.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tyranny - In All Its Forms

When a national government abuses its temporary electoral advantage to introduce measures that oppress and intimidate ordinary folk, is this tyranny, or is it merely prudent security, in a time of upheaval and danger?

When a state government finds itself in control of both its executive and legislature, and uses the moment to introduce legislation which limits the ability of the opposing party to garner votes, is this tyranny, or is it merely the ebb and flow of fair political gamesmanship?

When an apartment complex, known for being a haven for newly-arrived immigrants, decides it would rather cater to college students, and so ‘upgrades,’ and charges the hard-up immigrants $5,000 each for the privilege, is this tyranny, and backdoor eviction, or is it merely responsible and necessary repair and maintenance?

When the co-op at which you work, which is supposed to support openness, transparency and democracy, manipulates the governance structure to close down channels of communication and inclusive decision-making, is this tyranny, or is it merely good business practice?

And when neighbors, who have been reported incessantly to the Police for holding crack parties in the early hours of the morning, attack your car in retaliation, is this tyranny, or is it merely an acceptable expression of frustration with their disadvantage?

For my sins, I class them all as tyranny. As steps which remove from good folk the voice to which they are entitled. And as such, I speak out equally against all of them.

For those sins, and as of today, I am driving a brand new car, which has engraved all over its hood and side, in foot high letters, the words “Bitch, snitch, faggot.”

A time for reflection.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Middle Class Is Dead

As we approach President Obama’s Second Inauguration, why do I have this overwhelming feeling that the Middle Class is dead? In both the UK and the US. And that the major political parties in both countries are complicit?

It’s a feeling which has been nagging at me for some time now. But it began to crystallize this past week when I read a series of newspaper articles:
  • We are told that the US economy is almost back to its ‘historic’ regular annual growth of 3%, with stocks about to break through to a new record. Yet, unemployment among we mere minions remains high.
  • At the grocery co-op where I have now worked for seven years (silent scream), sales reach new heights, week-by-week, and talk of three new stores electrifies the air – but my annual pay raise remains a pittance.
  • All around us, we are told that the union-created US Middle Class is dying. But the 1% continue to thrive.
  • Daily we read of the billions of dollars in settlements that banks are having to pay in penalties for their various malfeasances leading up to, through and after the Great Banking Crash of 2008. Yet, bank stock prices shudder only a ripple. Huge bonuses are back. Dodd-Frank has no teeth. And no-one cares.
  • I regularly read the culture sections of The New York Times, and various fashion and lifestyle magazines, just to see what are the trends. And what I see is fashion extolling the virtues of glamour – in the middle of a recession which still bites for ordinary working folk. Luxury cars. Property in the Hamptons, going for gazillions. Who is this aimed at? Because, for sure, it isn’t intended for me and my mates.
Then, my eye alights on a piece written by Adam Davidson in the NYTimes. Adam almost always comes up with cultural and economic analyses that start out spot-on, and then completely lose themselves in spot-off.

On this occasion, he is wondering what is causing the change in consumer buying habits. He has noticed that the predilection of the Middle Class in the Seventies and Eighties to buy in cheap and in bulk (Sam’s Club, Costco) is dwindling. To be replaced by a tendency to buy more expensive, more consumer-friendly and more specialized. He cites local and organic produce and Tide-Pods.

Right. We’re on my territory now. He has my attention. But then his reasoning goes all to heck. Adam claims that the reason is that the Middle Class, due to the recession, are still having to work long hours, and do not have time to buy in bulk any more. Nor to separate their own portions of food and detergent. So, it is worth the extra pennies to have someone else prepare the portions. And, at the same time, no-one can afford to be ill. So, we eat healthier.


No, Adam. Sorry mate. I know. I see it every day. I work in a store that specializes in organic and Do-It-Someone-Else portions. The folks doing the latter are not Middle Class. They are a step up. Not quite 1%. More 3-4%. Annual salaries of $200,000 - $400,000. In jobs which service the 1%. Primarily computer or web-related.

They don’t buy this stuff because they are overworked. They buy this stuff because they are nouveau riche ponces. And they are showing off. To themselves. And because they can.

Bulk-buying is dying because these new, hmm, what shall we call them, I know, Middle Upper Class. Or MUC (Muck). The new MUC wouldn’t be seen dead in Costco. Let alone Sam’s Club.

The folks who buy cheap are ordinary working folks. Because it’s all they can afford. And they don’t buy bulk, because they don’t have that much cash at any one time.

Well. Seeing as we’ve just got past the Twelve Days of Christmas, I’ll say this observation led to a personal epiphany. I’ll spare you the yelling, screaming and staining of the living room walls. And leap straight to the thoughts that followed.

And bear in mind I’m still thinking as I write. As Daniel Day-Lewis said in ‘Lincoln’ (may that terrible and contrived disaster win only Razzies) – “I’m too lazy to stop writing”:

The 1% drive the economies of the US and the UK. I’m not talking trickle-down. So keep your hair on. Bugger all trickles down. That’s the point. But what it is that the 1% does, accounts for most of the dollar amount in the economy. Frankly, in economic terms, Great Britain has been reduced to the City of London, surrounded by a rather quaint tourist attraction called ‘England.’

The same is true (at least for the moment) with the emerging economies in the rest of the world. BRIC, and the countries close behind them – Bangladesh, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, et al.

These are the folks buying the $1.2 million Bugatti hatchbacks, for the wifeys to take the kids to the faux grocery store. These are the people shopping at Bal Harbor. Buying villas in the Caribbean. And driving the fashion world’s obsession with old-style glitter and glamour.

Now, these folks need services. And those (everything from computer services to fashion to airline pilots) are provided by the new MUC. These guys and gals can’t swim with the sharks. They can’t donate millions. Or buy jetliners. But they can ape the lifestyle.

So, they buy the expensive brand fashion copies from Saks Fifth. They do Porsche, not Bugatti. And they want all that personal service that makes them feel grand.

Enter the old Middle Class. We poor buggers who are still struggling to pay off student loans. Teachers losing their jobs through budget cuts. Doctors getting hit by Medicare belt-tightening. College graduates mowing lawns to pay the bills. And some, who have accepted this might be a permanent change. And are going self-employed. Dreaming up niches to serve the new MUC. But at a much lower pay grade. Personal physical and motivational training is a favorite.

After that, what’s left? Well, the working folks. The working class. But, I hear you say, what of aspiration? What of all this talk by political parties on both sides of the Atlantic about wanting to support folks in their aspiration to work hard, play fair, pay in, get out, climb up, better life for kids, landing on Mars?

Bollocks. Not going to happen any more. And the pols don’t want it, either.

In the US, the myth is that the Middle Class there was created by the unions. Not so much in the UK. But the end result on both sides of the pond was the same. Out of the bipolar societies that existed prior to the Industrial Revolution (rich, poor, and some grasshoppers), grew a Middle Class, which was needed to provide middle management to run industries. White collar. Skilled blue collar. And the services to support them. Family GP. Family lawyer. Family banker – yes, they used to exist. Etc.

The essence of the survival of the Middle Class was the recognition that they aspired to a lifestyle working folk could not afford, ever. But they couldn’t pay for it up front in cash, as did the rich. And so developed the whole concept of pay in now-get out later services. Especially for public services, like education, pensions and now, health.

But those days are over. Forget how we got here, or why. But the 1-4% don’t need pay-in. And they don’t want to pay the taxes to give it to others. But, I hear you say, surely they want to keep the Middle Class happy, because they represent market and labor? Not no more.

The 1-4% can find both elsewhere in the world. Industry is dying in the US. It was declared rigor mortis some time ago in the UK. The 1-4% no longer need overpaid, underworked white collar or skilled blue collar.

But surely the pay-in schemes still exist? Nope. They are under daily attack from budget cuts, at both national and local level. I owe an apology to FB mate, Chris Telesca, with whom I fenced the other day about Obamacare. After which I read that, under Obamacare, insurance premiums for the self-employed and middle-level payees (the classic Middle Class) are about to go up by double digit percentages. And this wasn’t foreseen – or worse still, deliberate?

Without a doubt, the next step in ‘fiscal prudence’ will be the re-introduction of means testing. Which will almost certainly reduce the provision of pay-in services only to the very needy. In turn, bringing the old Middle Class down to the level of other working folk. Which leads me now to re-label the old Middle Class as the new Upper Working Class.

What of the unions? The folks who created and surely would now protect the US Middle Class? Well. As goes manufacturing industry, so go the unions. And unions in the US are becoming ever more irrelevant. But don't the Democrats rely on them during Presidential Elections? Nope. Not any more. Two successful election efforts by Barack Obama put paid to that myth.

But hang on, what about all those political parties (cf. British Tory rebrand) yelling about Jobs, Family and Education for the Middle Class? Oh yes. You can have a college education. But unless you intend to sell out to MUC (at which point law firms, investment bankers et al will happily pay off your loan as a golden ‘hey there’), then you’re stuck in penury for most of the rest of your working life.

Jobs? Why would any government spend money from the dwindling public piggy bank to create uncompetitive jobs? When they can get election cash from the 1% in return for tax breaks to allow the 1% to export jobs to Myanmar?

Family? Ha. Take a good long look at how benefit reform is helping Middle Class families in the UK. For sure (and I applaud it), there may be better and more sensible coverage for the disadvantaged, without the welfare trap. But the Middle Class are getting razed.

Their ‘benefits’ are being taken away, one-by-one. Child benefit has already gone. And in the past few months, a new scheme began, under which every single employee is having to fork out a monthly amount for their own private pay-in pension plan, to supplement the state pension.

Expect this formula to become the template for benefit ‘reform’ in the US.

Ah ha. I hear you say. But what about the Democrats? They’ll fight for the Middle Class. They will continue to work to keep in place a system that allows social mobility from working to Middle Class. No, they won’t.

First, the money isn’t there. Secondly, the votes aren’t there. We just had the most polarized Presidential and Congressional Elections since 1864. All the talk was of the 1% buying the result. Well, that didn’t happen. But what did happen was that, against the flow, Romney got 47% of the vote. And Congress remained Republican – and Tea Party. This wasn’t the work of the 1%. This was the work of the 3-4%, silently, but determinedly, voting to maintain their newfound lifestyle.

The new MUC, risen from working folks and the old Middle Class, safe in their gated communities, educated but not worldly-wise, nouveau riche but not noblesse oblige. Guilty. Self-contained. Selfish. They don’t want to share. They don’t like giving back. They don’t like taxes. And they don’t give a fig for maintaining the Middle Class, or offering a leg-up for the working folks. And here’s the rub. They will only become more potent as a voting base.

I don’t care about Dems saying that Hispanics and Asians are natural Dem voters. No, they aren’t. Everything about their culture will have them working their asses off to see their offspring aspire to MUC. If you want to know what America might look like with third generation Hispanics and Asians, try Singapore, South Korea or Texas.

The Dems are going to be fighting hard to maintain any voting base they can find. And there is the dagger in the heart of the Middle Class. Why would Dems want to support and extend a new reality that has folks aspire to leave the working ranks and join the Republican MUC?

It is my view that you will see Dems increasingly working towards keeping their voters as a client base. As the British Labour Party did in the Seventies and Eighties. Oh. It will be wrapped up all pretty in language about re-discovering our purpose. Putting working folks first. But what will transpire is a Democratic Party focusing its advocacy on directing the reduced public purse towards those same working folk, and away from the Upper Working Class.

If you allow a situation where the UWC can no longer receive benefit or the leg-up needed to meet aspiration, they slip back down the salary scale, to find themselves shopping at Dollar General, with every other working person. And that’s where the Dems of the future will want to keep them.

So. Even though we may have a short-lived hiccup of Republican hand-wringing. Which we already have had in the UK. But Dave Cameron chose hugging a hoodie over wringing his hands. We will move to a bi-polar political situation where a right-wing, tax-hating Republican Party (or British Conservative Party) will regularly face off against a newly-energized, worker-loving/trapping social Democratic Party (or British Labour Party of old). And the Middle Class will be a footnote in the history books.

So. What to do? For myself. I learn from Occupy. Or my lesson with Occupy. Forget the system. Don’t waste time trying to bring it down. Who cares? Become self-sufficient, and live outside of the system as much as possible. Oh. And hope that your self-penned pop song does viral …

Friday, January 11, 2013

2020 Vision Goal #5: Weaver Street Market and Gentlefolks' Co-op

The new Orange County, NC smoking ban leaves the smoking workers and customers of the South-East's largest and most popular grocery co-op in something of a quandary.

Apparently, smokers might no longer be able to dash onto the sidewalk or back porch for a quick drag (pun intended). What to do? What to do?

I have the answer. According to the ban, one can continue to smoke near the co-op if it becomes a private club. So. Goal #5 for WSM 2020 Vision -- turn all WSM premises into private strip clubs.

I'm buying the baby oil, glitter and skintight, spandex, day-glo orange, muscle thongs as we speak ...