Paul Ilechko: “Lemonade”

 

 

Lemonade 

A summer day     hot as lemonade stand
and there she was    a mere child     learning

capitalism from first principles     a folding chair
and a rickety desk     a stack of paper cups

or possibly plastic     who remembers such
details at this distance     and the honeyed jug 

ice cold in the quivering breath of heatwave 
continual now for days without respite

and there we appeared     to spend our quarters 
assisting in the catechism of commerce 

of location  location  location     as she pounced
on the closure of the general store

on this holiday     that suffered through 
the dazzling whiteness     we also suffered 

sweaty and parched   we dismounted from
our bicycles     first in dismay     and then relief

now     some years later   we observe 
                                                 in our rear mirrors

not weather    but a prophecy     
                                          speeding to fulfillment.

 

About the Author: Paul Ilechko is the author of the chapbooks “Bartok in Winter” (Flutter Press, 2018) and “Graph of Life” (Finishing Line Press, 2018). His work has appeared in a variety of journals, including Manhattanville Review, West Trade Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, Otoliths and Pithead Chapel. He lives with his partner in Lambertville, NJ.

 

Image Credit: Digital Art made from “Iced lemonade: cool & refreshing” by Currier & Ives (1879) The Library of Congress

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ACE BOGGESS

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  PROPERTY
  By Ace Boggess

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(Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Ace Boggess is the author of two books of poetry: The Prisoners (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014) and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled (Highwire Press, 2003). He earned his B.A. from Marshall University and his J.D. from the West Virginia University College of Law. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, Atlanta Review, RATTLE, River Styx, Southern Humanities Review and many other journals. He currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia.

Editor’s Note: Today’s post contemplates the notion of ownership, stretching the reaches of that idea to love, to possession, to art and life. I know what it is to live a life in which “All I own fits in a box & a bag,” in which “For want of a dollar I’d insert one poem / into a vending machine for peanuts,” but “the mechanism / washes it back as counterfeit.” Press against this capitalist world, this material existence—where we are weened on ideas of ownership and worship of the Almighty Dollar—and you will discover that what really matters cannot be measured by these false gods. Take a moment to wonder—with me, with today’s poet— “How would it be to possess an interest in the sun” or “a lien on [your] lover’s breast,” and remember that “There’s so much nothing in the world: a man can’t even own that / without acquiring something in the loss.”

Want to read more by and about Ace Boggess?
Valparaiso Poetry Review
Blood Orange Review
The Aurora Review
Red Booth Review
Coe Review

Henry Ford, Socialist

Ford workers on the line assemble engines in a public domain photo from Henry Ford’s 1922 memoir, "My Life and Work." A caption reads, “Henry Ford turned the thinking of employers to reduction of unit costs—not wages—and helped them to see that it is bad business to destroy customers by reducing their purchasing power.”

Henry Ford, Socialist
By John Unger Zussman

Detroit was a great town for labor when I grew up there in the ‘50s and ‘60s. While I never worked on the assembly lines—my uncle’s steel warehouse had first dibs on my summer labor—I had friends who did. The work was stultifying, but the pay was good, and they socked away money for college.

The high pay was because of Henry Ford, and it was not an accident. Ford had no love of labor unions (or Jews, for that matter, but that’s another story)—quite the opposite. Yet in 1914, he stunned the business world by offering a wage of $5 a day—more than double the prevailing rate.

Ford’s bold move did more than attract skilled mechanics and workers to Detroit and reduce Ford Motor Company’s heavy employee turnover. It spearheaded the creation of a vast middle class, including blue- as well as white-collar workers. The canny Ford realized that, if he was going to sell his mass-produced cars, his own workers (and those of other companies) had to make enough money to afford them. “I believe in the first place,” he wrote in his memoir, “that, all other considerations aside, our own sales depend in a measure upon the wages we pay.” For seventy years, American industry and the American middle class grew in tandem.

That link has now been strained to the breaking point. For the last thirty years, the American middle class has been under assault. It started with the right’s beloved Saint Reagan, whose orgy of tax cuts and deregulation spawned not only the savings and loan crisis but also a massive transfer of wealth from workers to the rich. Real middle-class incomes have stagnated since Reagan. “Morning in America”—to the extent it was ever more than a campaign slogan—was confined to the wealthy.

Corporations—no longer American but global—can afford to underpay or lay off American workers because they are no longer dependent on them either as labor or as consumers. Automation and robotics have reduced the proportion of labor costs in manufacturing. Advances in telecommunications and transportation allow corporations to relocate operations to locations where wages are lowest. And a growing global middle class provides a market of eager customers with money to spend.

All this represents capitalism in the 21st century, as companies find new ways to compete and find their market. But satisfying the market becomes almost irrelevant when big corporations can lobby the government to keep themselves solvent. Automakers make SUVs that become impossible to sell when gas prices rise, so they run to the government for bailouts. Oil companies reap generous tax breaks even when they make record profits. Food conglomerates collect extravagant farm subsidies even when their factory farming practices endanger the environment and produce food that makes us obese and sick. This is corporate socialism, showering benefits on people who decry socialism.

Nowhere has the link between wealthy corporations and the struggling middle class been severed more completely than in the financial industry. In the wake of the financial meltdown, the big banks have eliminated the need to have markets at all. Matt Taibbi’s recent exposé of the financial bailouts in Rolling Stone describes the feeding frenzy of free money and guaranteed profits that followed the financial meltdown of 2008.

In one of Taibbi’s classic examples of corporate welfare to the financial industry—though by no means the most egregious—the Fed offered loans to banks at near-zero interest rates, intending to buoy up their balance sheets and encourage lending to businesses and consumers. But because the Bush (and later Obama) administrations attached few strings to those loans, the banks simply took the money and bought Treasury bills, realizing a 2% risk-free profit for essentially lending the government back its own—that is to say, our own—money!

The strained link between corporate and middle-class prosperity is why we have another jobless recovery, why corporate profits and GDP and the stock market have been on a tear for two years while the middle class struggles. It is class warfare and we ought to call it that. Unfortunately, right-wing politicians and media—who somehow still dominate political discourse in this country despite the debacle of the Bush administration—have co-opted the term, crying “class warfare” whenever someone proposes that tax rates be returned to those of the “oppressive” ‘90s. They have somehow convinced the American middle class that their interests, as Bill Maher likes to point out, are the same as Steve Forbes’.

We need to take the term back. Class warfare is what we need to wage, and it ought to be our battle cry as we tell the American people who’s been waging war on whom.

No, Henry Ford was not a socialist. But he felt a responsibility to American workers. If he were alive today, he just might be on our side.

Additional links:

It’s telling that some of the best reporting on the financial meltdown has come from Taibbi’s groundbreaking reports in Rolling Stone, Planet Money and Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica’s features on public radio’s This American Life, and Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-winning documentary, Inside Job. Why have their startling revelations found so little resonance in the supposedly liberal mainstream media? Because mainstream media are big corporations too.

Update 4/21/11:

Astute reader Robert Mayer, professor of consumer studies at the University of Utah, observes that former secretary of labor Robert Reich makes similar points in his recent book, Aftershock. Reich has spoken out strongly to decry the right’s attack on the middle class. “After 1980,” he writes, “the pendulum swung backward.” Indeed.

Update 4/27/11:

A new study by the Congressional Research Office now confirms the extent to which the big banks borrowed at low interest rates from the Fed and then, instead of lending to consumers or businesses, simply turned around and bought Treasury bills. The report was requested by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has taken a lead role in exposing such practices.

Copyright © 2011, John Unger Zussman. All rights reserved.

CHARLES DERBER

CAPITALISM: BIG SURPRISES IN RECENT POLLS 

  

By Charles Derber

According to the conventional wisdom, the US is a center-Right country. But a new poll by Pew casts doubt on that idea. It shows widespread skepticism about capitalism and hints that support for socialist alternatives is emerging as a majoritarian force in America’s new generation.

 
Carried out in late April and published May 4, 2010,  the Pew poll, arguably by the most respected polling company in the country, asked over 1500 randomly selected Americans to describe their reactions to terms such as “capitalism,” “socialism,” “progressive,” “libertarian” and “militia.” The most striking findings concern “capitalism” and “socialism.” We cannot be sure what people mean by these terms, so the results have to be interpreted cautiously and in the context of more specific attitudes on concrete issues, as discussed later.

Pew summarizes the results in its poll title: “Socialism not so negative; capitalism not so positive.” This turns out to be an understatement of the drama in some of the underlying data.
 
Yes, “capitalism” is still viewed positively by a majority of Americans. But it is just by a bare majority. Only 52% of all Americans react positively. Thirty-seven percent say they have a negative reaction and the rest aren’t sure.
 
A year ago, a Rasmussen poll found similar reactions. Then, only 53% of Americans described capitalism as “superior” to socialism.

Meanwhile, 29% in the Pew poll describe “socialism” as positive. This positive percent soars much higher when you look at key sub-groups, as discussed shortly. A 2010 Gallup poll found 37% of all Americans preferring socialism as “superior” to capitalism.

Keep in mind these findings reflect an overview of the public mind when Right wing views seem at a high point – with the Tea Party often cast as a barometer of American public opinion. The polls in this era do not suggest a socialist country, but not a capitalist-loving one either. This is not a “Center-Right” America but a populace where almost 50% are deeply ambivalent or clearly opposed to capitalism. Republicans and the Tea Party would likely call that a Communist country.
 
The story gets more interesting when you look at two vital sub-groups. One is young people, the “millennial generation” currently between 18 and 30. In the Pew poll, just 43% of Americans under 30 describe “capitalism” as positive. Even more striking, the same percentage, 43%, describes “socialism” as positive. In other words, the new generation is equally divided between capitalism and socialism.
 
The Pew, Gallup and Rasmussen polls come to the same conclusion. Young people cannot be characterized as a capitalist generation. They are half capitalist and half socialist. Since the socialist leaning keeps rising among the young, it suggests—depending on how you interpret “socialism”—that we are moving toward an America that is either Center-Left or actually majoritarian socialist.

Turn now to Republicans and Democrats. Sixty-two percent of Republicans in the Pew poll view capitalism as positive, although 81 % view “free markets” as positive, suggesting a sensible distinction in their mind between capitalism and free markets. Even Republicans prefer small to big business and are divided about big business, which many correctly see as a monopolistic force of capitalism undermining free markets.
 
The more interesting story, though, is about Democrats. We hear endlessly about Blue Dog Democrats. But the Pew poll shows a surprisingly progressive Democratic base. Democrats are almost equally split in their appraisal of capitalism and socialism. Forty-seven percent see capitalism as positive but 53% do not. And 44% of Democrats define socialism as positive, linking their negativity about capitalism to a positive affirmation of socialism.
 
Moreover, many other subgroups react negatively to capitalism. Less than 50% of women, low-income groups and less-educated groups describe capitalism as positive.
 
So much for the view that Obama does not have a strong progressive base to mobilize. In fact, “progressive,’ according to the Pew poll, is one of the most positive terms in the American political lexicon, with a substantial majority of almost all sub-groups defining it as positive.
 
You may conclude that this all add ups to little, since we can’t be clear about how people are defining “capitalism” and “socialism.” But in my own research, summarized in recent books such as The New Feminized Majority and Morality Wars, attitudes registered in polls toward concrete issues over the last thirty years support the interpretation of the Pew data, at minimum, as evidence of a Center-Left country.

On nearly every major issue, from support minimum wage and unions, preference for diplomacy over force, deep concern for the environment, belief that big business is corrupting democracy, and support for many major social programs including Social Security and Medicare, the progressive position has been strong and relatively stable. If “socialism” means support for these issues, the interpretation of the Pew poll is a Center-Left country.
 
If socialism means a search for a genuine systemic alternative, then America, particularly its youth, is emerging as a majoritarian social democracy, or in a majoritarian search for a more cooperativist, green, and more peaceful and socially just order.
 
Either interpretation is hopeful. It should give progressives assurance that even in the “Age of the Tea Party,” despite great dangers and growing concentrated corporate power and wealth, there is a strong base for progressive politics. We have to mobilize the majority population to recognize its own possibilities and turn up the heat on the Obama Administration and a demoralized Democratic Party. If we fail, the Right will take up the slack and impose its monopoly capitalist will on a reluctant populace.

Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of Corporation Nation and Greed to Green. He is on the Majority Agenda Project’s coordinating committee (http://MajorityAgendaProject.org, info@majorityagendaproject.org).

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org