Thursday, August 22, 2013

American youths' summer of discontent: in Oklahoma and in London

Two stories, about American youth, in the summer of 2013, seem to book-end the kind of society that is emerging, and the extremes are not restricted to extreme sports. (See brief news reports below)
In Oklahoma, two youths shoot and kill an Australian student studying, on a basketball scholarship, because they are bored.
In London, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern was found dead in his office, after working three straight days without sleep.
Boredom juxtaposed with intense ambition...both ending in death of a promising young man, robbing the country and the world of the best of what the next generation has to offer.
And while the perpetrators of the Oklahoma shooting will be prosecuted as adults, 'to the full extent of U.S. law' and a public review of the extreme competition that underpins the exploitation of young men and women in unpaid internships, undoubtedly those internships will continue because they serve the profit motive of American business. So on the one hand, the legal system will be taking on another unnecessary case, (in Oklahoma) while the business system will wring its hands and continue to exploit when and wherever it can.
And the mixed messages from these two almost simultaneous reports will bring a few notes in a few commentaries, without in any significant way changing the conditions that led to both tragedies.
At the centre of both stories, young men face an uncertain future: of unemployment and cyclical human tragedies in Oklahoma, and of such intense competition and stress in the American banking system.
These are not the only potential avenues for American men; however, they point out the disparity that the world continues to struggle to reconcile, and not just in America. Some young people are dropping out because they are bored, a word that has been found on the lips of adolescents for decades, if not centuries, while others are over-committing because they 'want to make something of themselves' as the proverbial expression has it.
And we measure the bored kids as rejects, potential criminals and certainly a drain on the public purse, while we hold aloft the commitment, discipline and dependability of those who compete, even to death, as honourable, role models and symbols of the success of the capitalist economic system.
And as the numbers of both grow, in an economy that regards human "capital" as little more than another "raw material" for the purpose of conducting the capitalist business model, for profit, and the achievers continue to prove that they can "take" whatever the system demands in order to earn their place on the ladder of potential economic success and "freedom", cries of less government and 'if you get cancer, that's your problem not mine' can be heard from an aspiring political candidate for Senate in New Jersey.
There is a kind of schizophrenic quality to the message American is sending, in these two stories, and also in many other examples from the front pages of newspapers around the world. On the one hand, America has a tradition of ambition, energy, "making things happen" which has generated mountains of  products, university graduates and profits from those operations. On the other hand, feeling frightened, and overcompensating by more than half, America has built a fortress, and a military culture that knows no equal in human history, exemplifying how the male model of strength and superiority and competition, in the face of all circumstances, even those that do not respond to hard power, is the part of their national character and culture to which they revert when threatened.
And if nothing else these stories, and a plethora of others in the geopolitical arena, demonstrate that America feels threatened on almost all fronts.
First there is the obvious threat of terrorist violence being inflicted, or threatened, from any corner of the world.
Second, there is the displacement of American jobs, industries and both capital and the profits and taxes that capital produces, to other lands and other peoples who are willing to do the same work that Americans have traditionally done in their homeland.
Third, there is the mounting evidence that American students are not keeping pace with students from other countries in their learning of math and reading and critical thinking skills, rendering the competitive advantage which has sustained decades of American education as obsolete, and the students in the current crop as facing bleak prospects on the world stage, unless they over-commit.
Fourth, the American political system has ground to a halt, in Washington, having been purchased in the full light of day by those industrial lobbies that have the excess cash to afford such purchases including the pharmaceutical, insurance, military production and energy sectors.
Fifth, America and the world are facing bleak prospects on the environment front given the collision of short-term energy interests with the global climate deterioration based mainly on human production of CO2, without taking significant steps collaboratively to slow the deterioration for the benefit of all of our grandchildren.
Sixth, the reductionism of the American political debate to a Manichean dichotomy, as evidenced in the two stories that prompted this piece, leaves little or no room for middle ground in any political debate, and the media are complicit in the bi-polarity since ratings rise when issues are presented in black and white, without nuances of colour and tone.
Seventh, in this list, but not in importance, there is a rise of peoples who have lived under tyrannies, many of which were enmeshed with the U.S. for decades, if not centuries, and the U.S. as well as most other countries are not confident making choices of which side to ally with leading to the appearance and perception of chaos and a failure of leadership inside the U.S. and an appearance of both restraint and lack of resolve globally.
Eighth, military might has been replaced by financial muscle, as the dominating theme of world discussions and debates, rendering the intellectual and the collaborative and the compromises that are essential to resolve any dispute as "trash" as the engines of corporate profit and greed consume many of the start-ups that are touted as the real engine of creating jobs everywhere. And so the behemoths are the real winners, although along the way to their selective purchases, a few entrepreneurs manage to make a profit from their start-up. Many others, of course, last a few months, or a couple of years before they simply evaporate under the weight of both costs and competition especially from the behemoths.
Ninth, food production and costs are going in opposite directions given the climate changes and the slide of that industry into the behemoth model, leaving many small and local farmers struggling, although there is a healthy movement among small agrarian producers to reverses that trend, supported by the organic, non-polluted production efforts of many worldwide.
Tenth, the American financial sector experienced a significant meltdown in 2008, and exported that meltdown around the world, capitalizing on the nefarious and still largely unpunished greed on Wall Street, unregulated by a complicit Congress which individually and collectively worships at the altar of corporate profit which funds individual campaigns.
It is not a pretty picture, either domestically, or internationally, for American people and government to confront.
Nevertheless, confront it they must; and the rest of the world must not shut them out, although attempting to negotiate with the biggest bully at the table is often repulsive, if not outright dangerous.
Americans, both in London and in Oklahoma, have drunk the kool-aid of their own propaganda machine, rending some as rejects and others as role models. Perhaps a narrative that demonstrates the value, albeit still hidden and unproductive of those who are currently the rejects, along with the excesses of the "stars" in order to level the playing field might help the country, and thereby the rest of the world (because which country is not watching everything the U.S. says and does?)...and might serve to reduce the crime and health care bills while at the same time clipping the mountains of investor dividends that guarantee their holders tax-free exemption, having squirreled those dividends in off-shore tax havens.


By The Associated Press, on CBC website, August 21, 2013

With the simplest of motives — breaking up the boredom of an Oklahoma summer — three teenagers followed an Australian collegiate baseball player who was attending school in the U.S. and killed him with a shot to the back for "the fun of it," prosecutors said Tuesday as they charged two of the teens with murder.
As the boys appeared in an Oklahoma courtroom, a 17-year-old blurted out, "I pulled the trigger," then wept after a judge told him that Tuesday's hearing wasn't the time or place to sort out the facts of the case.
Prosecutor Jason Hicks called the boys "thugs" as he told Stephens County Judge Jerry Herberger how Christopher Lane, 22, of Melbourne, died on a city street.
Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Francis Edwards, Jr., 15, of Duncan were charged with first-degree murder and, under Oklahoma law, will be tried as adults. Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, of Duncan was accused of using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and accessory to first-degree murder after the fact. He is considered a young offender but will be tried in adult court.
"I'm appalled," Hicks said after the hearing. "This is not supposed to happen in this community."
Shot in the back

By CBC, from CBC website, August 21, 2013

The death of a 21-year-old intern working at the London office of Bank of America Merrill Lynch is focusing attention on working conditions for interns in the U.K.
Moritz Erhardt, 21, a German-born intern who was studying business at the University of Michigan, was found dead on the floor of his apartment after working three days straight without sleep, colleagues say.
- Unpaid internships exploit 'vulnerable generation'
- Interns face patchwork of rules, even on Parliament Hill
The bank has called Erhardt a “highly diligent intern at our company with a promising future” but refused to confirm how long he had worked before his death. It said it tries to offer interns “a positive experience” and uses internships as a way of getting to know graduates who are prospective employees.
But U.K. chat rooms were filling up with stories about the culture of long hours and brutal workloads in London’s financial district, including quotes from friends who said Erhardt "worked himself to death." He was in the midst of a 10-week internship.
Since the financial crisis, there are fewer jobs available and the most ambitious students are willing to accept long hours in return for the chance at a well-paid job, human resource experts say.

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