Will Our Revolution Take Place In The Rain?

Ed Raymond

 Bill Gates, one of the Microsoft founders and now the richest man in the world at $76 billion, is now spending at least $36 billion of his sequestered cash in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on improving the 21st-century “civilization” around the world. Estimating the world’s problems from his office in his 66,000-square-foot home in Seattle, he evidently is not the same psychotic as many in the brotherhood of billionaires. He owns three houses, one airplane, and no yachts and enjoys playing bridge with the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet. But let us not forget, Bill Gates was a rapacious, arrogant, greedy CEO in the old days before his billions. In a way, Gates and Steve Jobs of Apple are similar cold cash psychotics. Jobs once described Gates’s greed: “The trouble with Bill is that he wants to take a nickel for himself out of every dollar that passes through his hands.”

The latest country to implode over income inequality is the Ukraine, allowing Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs to grab Crimea. A war between Russia and Ukraine over the “absorption” of Russia’s only large Black Sea port? I don’t think so. Anyway, we are just at the beginning of World War III, so how this whole mess between the rich and the poor is going to turn out, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, is “one of the real unknowns of all the unknowns.” Currently the only continent without revolutions is Antarctica. Even the poor are beginning to battle the rich in the Arctic. It would be easier to list the countries that are not having rich-poor violent protests and revolutions than vice versa.

  Why Do Nine Countries Have A Higher Minimum Wage Than The Richest Country?

Erwin Chargaff, born in 1905 in an Austrian-Hungarian town, was a prominent Jewish biochemist who settled permanently in this country in 1935. He was schooled at the Vienna University of Technology and earned a doctorate in chemistry in 1928. His banker father was ruined by the Great Inflation after WW I. He died in 1934. His mother was killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust in 1944. Chargaff spent his entire academic career at Columbia University, working on the composition of DNA. Acutely aware of wars and revolutions, he was always in trouble with his bosses and colleagues because he spoke truth to power. He was also well-known in political circles. He coined the ironic plus sarcastic phrase “In case of rain, the revolution will take place in the hall.” He lived to be 97. I thought his line was an appropriate title for this column. I think that we are headed for some kind of revolution in this plutocracy because of the sheer weight of numbers against the One Percent. When parents cannot feed their children, they will get food somehow. Then rain in the streets won’t matter.

In the 3/18/14 issue of the Washington Post, Jaime Fuller listed some of the numbers that should give the One Percent a shivering wave up the spine:

*** According to a Pew Research poll, 65 percent of Americans think the gap between the rich and the poor has dramatically increased in the last three years—and only three percent think it’s a good thing.

*** The thrift store boots no longer have straps. Upward mobility for almost everybody has been lost. A child born in the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1 in 20 shot to make it to the top 20 percent. Canadian, German, and French children are way ahead of ours in economic mobility.

*** We have 72 million children in the U.S., with 32.3 million in low-income families. Even Newt Gingrich has admitted on TV, “I think every Republican should be concerned about inequality. We have billionaires living in a city with 22,000 homeless children. Anybody who has a sense of decency has to be concerned.” Psychotic billionaires with a sense of decency? Where have you been, Newt? (Actually, about 1.6 million U.S. children experience homelessness every year.)

*** In the 32 years between 1979 and 2011, the average worker’s wages grew by six percent (ex. $20,000 to $21,200), the 95th percentile grew 37 percent (ex. $100,000 to $137,000), and earners in the One Percent gained 113 percent (ex. $1,000,000 to $2,130,000). A message from the 99 Percent: “Welcome to the poorhouse.”

 A Sense Of Decency, Income Inequality, Slavery, And The ‘Boys’ In The Bunkhouse

 The story “The ‘Boys’ in the Bunkhouse” in the March 9, 2014 New York Times by Dan Barry reveals how dangerous and infectious greed is in a free market where “disaster” capitalism is employed. This fascinating, horrible story begins in 1938 when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, allowing employers to pay a sub-minimum wage to workers with disabilities, based on their productivity when compared with workers with no disabilities. With my 36 years in education, I have seen many fundamentally disabled earn good money and become almost self-sufficient working in grocery stores stocking shelves and bagging groceries. I have seen them in hotels and motels cleaning, providing maid service, and doing janitorial work. I have seen them doing assembly line work, stuffing envelopes, boxing products, and doing many other jobs. 

But even with good intentions about the disabled, a turkey plant in Iowa turned into a living hell for almost forty years for over a thousand men, the “boys in the bunkhouse.” Sent from Texas on a contract deal, these men worked at a huge Louis Rich turkey plant processing 20,000 birds a day. They lived in an abandoned school house about six miles from the plant. Not too bad at first, but later the men had to use one hand to catch the roaches falling on their plates while trying to eat with the other.

Every morning they were roused out of bed at 3 a.m., served an inadequate breakfast, and bussed to the plant where they bled and eviscerated turkeys. Some men lifted 40-pound turkeys and hung them on shackles on a conveyor belt that took them to the killing room. Others would remove the heart, intestines, liver, gizzard, and spleens. The worst job was pulling the windpipe and crop according to company instructions: “Reach under neck skins and grab the windpipe and the top of the crop. Pull down until both windpipe and the crop come out and put them in the water trough.” Some of them did the same job for 30 years, earning a grand total of $65 a month.

 The Sub-Minium Wage For Mr. Wilkens–46 Cents An Hour

Their supervisors had no specialized training in the handling and treatment of the disabled, and they were never under Iowa’s social service system. As the years passed slowly for the men, they were increasingly neglected and abused and essentially were held in slavery for their entire working lives. They were never told about their disability rights. Time sheets were kept for the men. Some sheets were entered into evidence when Iowa Social Services finally took the company to court in 2007 on the treatment of the men. A time sheet for a Mr. Wilkins showed he worked 163 hours in one period and 139 hours in another and earned $1,041.09. But with deductions for food, shelter, and other “necessities,” he always received only $65. Some of the men through the 2007 court case were supposed to receive $100,000 each for their work and suffering. They are still waiting for the money.

Everyone in this country should read “The ‘Boys’ in the Bunkhouse.” Actually, each of them were awarded $7.5 million for a total of $240 million by an outraged Iowa jury. Another judge reduced the total amount to $1.6 million, the maximum allowed by Iowa law. The court case clearly shows the collusion between government neglect and business greed. One observer probably hit it right when he said, “It shows we are the land of the fee and the home of the slave.”

Why Does The Richest Country In The World Look Like A Third World Country?

We have people living in $150 million estates and others in cardboard boxes under bridges. We have the best health care and the worst health care. We have the rich living to 95 and the poor fighting to live to 60. We have adolescents who have traveled around the world on private jets and adolescents who have never traveled more than a mile from their homes in the ghetto.

We seem to be living again in the world of Charles Dickens, who, in the first paragraph of his novel “Tale Of Two Cities,” captured the revolutionary spirit of the 18th and 19th centuries: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

The numbers indicate we treat our children like many Third World countries, although we have the resources to provide equal opportunity to all. In 2013 the World Health Organization placed us 34th in the ranking of child well-being among the 35 best developed countries. We beat out Romania, a country that was defined by its horrible orphanages only a couple of decades ago. Just last year the state of Mississippi was still jailing children for being tardy to school or going to the bathroom without permission.

Do People Get What They Deserve?

The One Percent in this country, particularly the Wall Street crowd, has recently pontificated that they have earned every dime of their credit defaults and derivatives. They say that if they can give a politician a million dollars, they should be able to vote a million times because they are worth more. There is a just-world theory among some social psychologists that the rich seem to have bought: “This theory posits that the world is just. People get what they deserve.” They also believe that freedom is the highest value, even while the U.S. has one of the largest penal systems in the world, inflicts violence on other people all over the world, tolerates excessive gun violence, and leaves about 50 million people without health insurance or care.

Because Congress refused to extend unemployment insurance in December 2013 and still has not done so, we now have about 4.8 million workers who have run out of unemployment insurance. They have no income at all. Are they getting what they deserve? Evidently some members of Congress agree with the “just-world” theory.

We just can’t seem to learn anything from other countries about how to handle unemployment. While our economy is limping along on four cylinders instead of eight, Germany has recovered from the Great Recession after suffering a larger drop in Gross Domestic Product than we did. Here’s how the Germans handled this crisis, as reported by Glenn Hutchins of the New York Times.

In Germany, unemployment now is less than what it was prior to the recession, and long-term unemployment is negligible. Instead of laying off workers, Germany has a job-share model. If an employee’s hours are cut so that his income is reduced by more than ten percent, the government pays him a large portion of the wages he has lost—but he stays on the job. This allows German companies to immediately start producing their products at a high level if the recession lifts because the workers are still on the job. In the meantime, the worker spends about the same amount of money, keeping the consumer part of the economy humming along. We should adopt a similar program so that employers cut hours instead of firing or laying off workers. During recessions to decrease the number of unemployed, German businesses also provide internship and postgraduate job placement programs. 

We must also remember that German companies have boards of directors where management and labor are equally represented. This system ensures that companies help meet the needs of the community they operate in. Such an organizational pattern has proved to be successful. That’s why Volkswagen encouraged the union vote in Tennessee. The company believes the cooperative mode increases productivity—and profit.