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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Train of Thought About Frogs and Stuff

1. Years ago, I had the privilege to hear an address by the writer Kurt Vonnegut and then to briefly meet him at a reception. He said that the challenge of his generation was to defeat Hitler and fascism, but the challenge of my generation would be to decide what people are for.

2. Right now, economic policy in this country is geared toward those whose dreams have already come true. If things haven’t worked out for you, we don’t want to hear from you. If things have really gone off the tracks, we expect you to literally disappear. We cheer at the thought of your demise at nationally televised political debates. There are no consequences. You don’t exist.

3. You know that old story about how you put a frog in boiling water and it jumps out, but if you heat the water slowly it stays in the pot until it dies? It isn’t true. The frog jumps out at some point.

4. The unemployment figures tell only a fraction of the story. Millions of working Americans increasingly feel overworked, put upon, disrespected. No options.

5. Rank and file Americans see what our elected leaders choose not to see. Are paid not to see.

6. We can’t maintain standards of living with an economy based largely on cycles of bubbles, borrowing and bailouts. At some point, we have to make stuff that somebody wants to buy. Americans should be paid a living wage to make it, so they can buy it.

7. If we were willing to pay about $65 more for an iPhone, for example, Apple could make them in the U.S. and still enjoy high profits and stock prices.

8. Brazil said to Apple what the U.S. said to the world for generations: You will pay a big tariff, a tax, to flood our markets with the stuff you want to bring in from overseas. Foxconn, the Chinese company that manufactures iPhones, iPads and iPods for Apple, has built a massive plant in Brazil, in cooperation with the government. Brazilians have shown so much enthusiasm that five more plants, each employing 1,000 people, are on the drawing board. Brazil may become the manufacturing hub of all Apple products sold in this hemisphere.

9. We never hear this kind of story from our leaders. We only hear that whatever is wrong is the fault of overcompensated American workers, who must be put in their place. We have no discussion of how it is that Germany is the economic engine of Europe but didn’t de-invest in its industrial base or its workforce.

10. Right now, we’re not in the game.

11. The governor wants a casino in every zip code, at the same moment the largest casino company in the world, Caesar Entertainment, is at risk of bankruptcy despite holding $29 billion in assets.

12. Each new mall knocks bricks out of the slightly older one down the road.

13. I know, high-tech. Long Island should become a high-tech cluster, like Silicon Valley, Boston or San Diego. Well-meaning people are pushing this, but I’ve been reading that same article for 25 years.

14. On the same day two weeks ago that Newsday published an editorial about our high-tech future, this headline appeared in the same edition: “Hauppauge Electronics Maker to Shed 50 Jobs.”

15. And on the same day from Rochester: “Kodak Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.” Kodak used to employ nearly three times as many people around Rochester than Grumman employed at its peak on Long Island. The Kodak workforce has been reduced by about 90 percent.

16. Long Island doesn’t have some of the pieces they had in the Santa Clara Valley, which already had a massive technology environment before it became Silicon Valley.

17. Good jobs and factories go to other places because we’ve created a system in which it is in the interests of American companies and their executives to do that.

18. Once, industrial giants showed public responsibility and patriotism as a noble obligation.

19. We can reward for building and not for dismantling.

20. It is time for corporation charter and governance reform.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net