Diarist Jon Perr let us know last week about the horrific spring of 2017 and its effects on voter turnouts. Unfortunately, in the years to come, things wouldn't get better, they'd get worse. Far, far worse. By 2020, thanks to the VILE acts, having been passed in 32 states after seeing Congressional and state representative districts being gerrymandered into absurdity, an increasingly emboldened Senate, House, and Presidency decided to fully play their hand and attempt to make America into the perfect haven for their corporate masters, passing several harsh laws that took an already deep chasm between the elites and the underclass of America and made it such an extreme caricature of itself that conditions in America became very, very grim.
What followed wasn't pretty, and had it happened a century ago, it might have ended differently. Unfortunately, in the modern world, with technology being what it is, all resistance effectively amounted to a flash in the pan. So how did it get there?
More on the Great Economic Schism of 2019, and the painful slide into corporatism that turned America upside-down -- and a personal look at southeast Michigan -- after the squiggle.
In mid-2018, emboldened by successes with respect to the Blue State Tenther Movement and the incarceration of the leaders of BARF, President Ted Cruz, along with a coalition of senators, state representatives, governors, and business owners that became known as The Cabal of Eighteen, sought to finally push through legislation that would, according to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), "break the back of the socialist labor movement and put an end to the farcical notion that the job market needs anything but job creators to make it operate."
Prior to the disturbing tamp-down that ended the Nullification Crisis of 2017, the political climate hinted at a possible swing towards more left-leaning policies as blue-staters nationwide began to make noise. Unemployment, previously hovering at around 8.8% nationwide, slowly began to fall in the run-up to President Cruz' eventual jailing of the leaders of BARF and the criminalization of the use of the Blue State Refund apps to estimate withholdings of federal taxes flowing from blue states to red states. By July of 2017, unemployment had fallen to 8.5% nationwide and was on a generally downward swing, however, shortly after President Cruz' announcement in October regarding his intent to prosecute those caught withholding taxes, the job gains stopped inexplicably and hovered, with unemployment stuck at 8.46% nationally.
What followed was a disastrous spiral and an employment crisis that, according to Paul Krugman, would meet or exceed the severity of the Great Depression in nearly every way. Cruz, along with seventeen other legislators at varying levels of government, met in secret at the Cranbrook House in Bloomfield Hills, MI over six days in late October to discuss, among other things, ways to finally put the thorn of organized labor down and, according to one of the CEOs that took part in the meeting, "make America into the free-market utopia it was meant to be." The group, known as the Cabal of Eighteen, consisted of members at several levels of government along with highly influential business owners. In terms of the lawmakers, the group consisted mostly of senators and house members, along with two governors, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Gov. Mary Fallon (R-OK). Those Congress members in attendance were Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), John Cornyn (R-TX), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Bill Huizenga (R-MI). Of the business owners who attended, the only one who was confirmed to be in attendance was Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart empire. The other seven members of the Cabal have, to this day, remained secret; it is not known whether they represented American business interests or global ones, or whether they were even American citizens.
Over the course of the six-day summit, the assembled group of lawmakers and elites crafted several laws, which as the first few passed would appear to make life easier on the underclass but would carry severe clauses that would actually make life substantially more difficult and dangerous, all the while continuing to funnel money to the top of the economic classes in the United States.
The first of these laws, passed in the first week of November of 2018, was known as the "Truth in Employment" law, and was the first step down a very short, painful road. The law, S. 1666, contained many provisions that on the surface, appeared to help job seekers; the most well-publicized of these was the requirement that job listings contain clear, unambiguous language regarding requirements and that hiring practices be transparent and open. Unfortunately, the law also contained serious loopholes that made it much easier to terminate someone's employment without cause, and tremendously reduced penalties for wrongful termination, even allowing companies to capriciously terminate someone's employment, have the event publicly recorded and broadcast, and still be largely immune from a wrongful termination suit.
After the passage of the Truth in Employment Act (TEA Act), unemployment actually ticked downwards, but this was largely due to the hiring rush for the upcoming Christmas holiday. By the end of December, unemployment was down to 7.2%, but by the second week of January 2019, unemployment shot back up to 8.8%, fueled by a massive wave of firings from national retailers as they unceremoniously let their holiday help go.
By the third week of January, the next law drafted by the Cabal had been passed, known as the Corporate Compensation Reform Act, or CCRA. While on paper, the law was intended to force CEOs and executives to disclose the sources of their incomes by name and close many loopholes with respect to corporate obfuscation of profits, the law actually made it worse. While it did have the effect of forcing CEOs to disclose more information, what ultimately happened was that the law simply revealed old, non-functional loopholes while creating new, more effective ones. To make matters worse, the CCRA included several clauses, attached as riders, that made employment even more difficult for the average earner. The biggest of these, known as the Recompense Clause (derisively known as the "Steal-Your-Home" clause) allowed an employer to terminate an employee for malfeasance or disobedience immediately -- and to seek remuneration from that former employee for the costs of hiring a replacement. Worse yet, the terms "malfeasance or disobedience" were very loosely defined and could trap nearly any employee at any time. Employees terminated under this clause frequently had no legal recourse if this happened, largely because of the weakened protections caused by the TEA Act.
In the wake of the passage of the CCRA, unemployment surged to record levels as capricious managers, executives, and business owners sought to remove anyone they didn't like from their employ. By March of 2019, U3 unemployment had reached a staggering 19.8%, while the broader U6 measurement defied reason at 32.6%. Nearly one-third of the U.S. population was either seeking work or had exited the labor force.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) went on record with the Washington Post at the end of March regarding the unemployment crisis:
"While I think that the unemployment figures released by the BLS are disappointing, I can't help but think that this will correct itself quickly. These figures ballooned out of control in the space of a couple of months -- I think that they'll largely drop off just as quickly as they came. My recollection is that the people who lost their jobs in this last wave simply weren't right for the positions they were in -- they can just as easily move to a position that better suits their skills," said Paul, speaking on the steps outside of Congress Tuesday. As of Monday, March 25, 2019, U3 unemployment in the US had reached 19.77%, with nearly 80 million people out of work. In Paul's home state, Kentucky, unemployment was assessed at a record 24.6%, with nearly one in four out of work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that taking into account the U6 measurement, Kentucky's total unemployed and underemployed account for nearly 40% of the state's population.The unemployment divide became starkly striated as well in the months to follow. While the first wave of terminations was fairly evenly distributed, racial and even ideological lines became starkly apparent. Statistics from BLS stated that amongst those who lost their jobs between April of 2019 and December of 2019, blacks were nearly eight times as likely to lose their jobs as their white counterparts. Hispanics were six times as likely, and Asians were twice as likely. BLS began to measure additional statistics to cope with the massive numbers of people losing their jobs, seeking to further distinguish between groups, adding things like body type, hair color, eye color, weight, and medical condition. Overweight people were three times as likely to lose their jobs, brunettes were one-and-a-half times as likely as blondes, and people with green or hazel eyes were, inexplicably, twelve times as likely to lose their jobs as someone with blue eyes (the baseline). The worst of the losses came with people who suffered from diabetes, with a full-blown type 2 diabetic being nearly thirty times as likely to lose their job as someone without diabetes. Religion played a part as well, with members of Islam nearly five times as likely to lose their jobs, Jews twice as likely, and Buddhists four times as likely. Agnostics and atheists, however, suffered the most, being twenty-four times as likely to lose their jobs.
Senator Paul's prognostication that the unemployment rate would contract proved to be false, as U3 unemployment stabilized at 21.2% nationwide in May and stubbornly stayed within a few tenths of a percent of that mark for the next six months. By the end of September of 2019, the economic divide had become so stark that the top 1% of taxpayers in the U.S. held nearly 80% of the wealth earned in the U.S. At this point, the next link in the chain came down. The national debate over immigration and those who "steal work" had reached a fevered pitch, which in turn fueled the debate over what to do with those who weren't working, either. Under the auspices of attempting to protect "real Americans who want to do real American work", Congress passed the Citizenship Protection Act on October 22, 2019. One of the most blatantly offensive and horrifying laws to be written since the Jim Crow Laws and the beginning of one of the darkest periods in American history short of the McCarthy era, the CPA was ostensibly designed to make it easier to deport undocumented immigrants and make it easier for citizens to take those jobs, but in reality, the law served as a means to completely disenfranchise and imprison anyone who found themselves out of work past a set period of time. Loopholes in the law allowed the independently wealthy to evade it, simply by filing monthly tax returns to prove that they were still contributing to the financial system.
Amongst the worst parts of the CPA was a section known as the Statelessness Clause, a horrifying statute that allowed officials to strip U.S. citizenship and immediately deport anyone who fit three criteria: that they did not possess a home address, they were over 18 and not attending school, and they had not worked in 18 months. Someone had to fit all three of these criteria to have their citizenship revoked, thus affording protection to many seniors, children, the sick, and disabled, but even with these protections, millions of Americans lost their citizenship in the six months following the passage of the CPA.
The problem came with what to do with the millions of people who suddenly found themselves without a country to call home, and Congress responded again, setting up a massive federal prison complex in the far north end of Alaska, destroying many natural habitats as well as displacing native Inuit tribes. Known derisively as The Poor House, it is the largest prison anywhere in the world, at over 150 square miles in size - larger than the boundaries of the city of Detroit. By May of 2020, over six million people had been "deported" to The Poor House; its boundaries would have to be expanded by 25 square miles in 2021 to accommodate the influx of people being shipped off to the prison. Ironically, the creation of the prison complex creates nearly 300,000 jobs to manage and lock down the place.
As for President Cruz, he ran for re-election and predictably won once again, thanks to the numbers of former citizens who now could no longer vote, and extensive voter suppression thanks to the VILE acts.
After Cruz' re-election in 2020, the final few pieces of legislation fell into place:
- In May 2020, the Fair Labor Standards Act and its subsequent amendments were slowly dismantled; the first portion of the statute to be repealed was the minimum wage portion of the law. Within less than three weeks after the repeal of the minimum wage, compensation levels plummeted nation-wide, with most formerly-minimum wage jobs dropping to Third World-levels. Wal-Mart, in particular, lowered its base wage standard to a mere $2.10/hr.
- In September 2020, legislation designed to replace the FLSA, known as the Standards and Practices In Labor Law Act (SPILL) was crafted and passed by Congress. A sham of a replacement law, SPILL equated labor unions with criminal organizations (as Commonwealth v. Pullis (1806) had done in Pennsylvania), removed overtime protections as well as age limitations, effectively enabling child labor in the U.S. once again, and established the precedent of employer grievances -- a complete perversion of the labor strike, where an employer could withhold pay from a specific employee or group of employees for nearly any reason, all the while forcing the employee to continue to work until management was satisfied.
- In January 2021, Congress and the President authorize the creation of the Federal Labor Enforcement Bureau, an organization that on the surface is intended to ensure proper adherence to labor standards and practices and provide a meaningful point of contact for employees to the federal government to air grievances. In reality, the FLEB is little more than an empty loop, with "caseworkers" who take down complaints and ultimately either do nothing with them or simply send them back to the company with personally-identifiable information so that the company can "take action" -- usually meaning the unexpected termination of the employee.
- In March 2021, Congress passed the Welfare Attenuation and Removal Act (WAR Act), a law that made it virtually impossible for anyone to receive government benefits of any kind. Additionally, it made it illegal for state and local governments to provide benefits to their citizens to replace the loss of benefits caused by the act. SNAP benefits disbursement fell by nearly 90% after the passage of the law, millions of seniors were thrown off of Medicare and Medicaid, and millions of individuals who formerly qualified for disability checks suddenly stopped receiving them. Among the most notable of these cases was that if Stephen Hawking, noted physicist and scholar, were an American citizen, under the new law, he would not qualify for disability benefits, even with his extensive loss of motor function due to ALS. As a direct result of the WAR Act, nearly 280 million Americans are without health insurance and unable to get the medical care they need, and 265 million Americans who otherwise would have qualified for government-administered benefits in some way can no longer receive them. One of the worst casualties of this law: veterans - most of whom no longer qualify for disability benefits. By January 2022, the veteran suicide rate had increased fifteen-fold.
By January 2022, America's unemployment rate had fallen to a scant 3.3% -- but the statistics underlying the rate belied just how bad things had become: over 60% of Americans, including nearly 75% of children, now live below the poverty line of $12,686 (family of four, revised down in 2020 after the repeal of minimum wage laws), the top 1% of earners hold nearly 96% of the wealth in the country, and 38.8% of the population live in extreme poverty (living on less than $0.85/day before government benefits; again, revised down in 2020 after minimum wage repeal). And in the years since, it's become no better.
It's 2024, and President Cruz and the Randians (which is what we're calling them now - they're no longer Republicans) have managed to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution - and Cruz got re-elected again for a third term this year. I still live in the Ann Arbor area, and even though we managed to find a replacement for good ol' John Dingell in Congress after he passed away in 2021, it still didn't matter. The rest of the state still votes with the Randians like some kind of perverse joke.
What am I doing now? Well, after graduating with my master's in music education, I managed to find a job teaching in Dearborn, but that only lasted about four years before the whole school was closed down after Cruz and his cronies passed the School Choice Act - the whole district switched to charters in 2018 and fired everyone. I talked with several colleagues who told me that my hope of finding teaching work anywhere in the country was pretty much dead; with the massive wave of changeovers to charter schools across the country, arts education had been stripped from all but the most elite schools. The number of music jobs nationwide had gone from tens of thousands to a few hundred in the space of a few months. Everyone said I should find a new career. So I went back to work for the local cab company. I've been driving and answering phones for them ever since.
Many cities, communities, and towns are dying (or dead) and decaying. The first to go were the Rust Belt cities - Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and such. Detroit has completely collapsed; all of the exits on I-94, I-75, and I-96 through the old city have actually been blocked off by the military since May of 2023, when the governor called in the National Guard -- and when that didn't work, called upon President Cruz -- to put down riots all over the city. It all started when the old mayor basically said that the city was bankrupt -- again -- and that city services would cease immediately. He had supposedly contacted the governor and said that the city had voted to dissolve. He fired everybody in the city's employ that day, and resigned himself. All of it on television. Nobody knew what would happen next. Over the next several days, people warily came out of their homes, some to find that very little had changed, others to find their whole neighborhood under siege. Most of the people downtown were fine; but the surrounding areas, places like Hamtramck, Highland Park, the East English Village, Delray, and such...all of those places were instantly turned into hellholes. Looters and rioters sprang up over the city like wildfire, and everything outside of the downtown core and many of the more affluent east-side suburbs were quickly consumed in a nightmare. The riots lasted nearly a month; in the last couple days of it, it was horrifying to watch as President Cruz ordered drone strikes on the city to try to quell the riots.
Downtown walled itself off -- people from the downtown core built up walls along the major streets and closed themselves off to stop the looters from getting in. For the most part, it worked. The majority of the old DPD officers decided to hole themselves up in downtown and acted as guards, picking off looters if they got too close. Outside the downtown core, it was a war zone. If you weren't inside when they built the walls, you weren't getting in. The Tigers, Lions, Wings and Pistons all folded shortly after the riots. Detroit technically still exists on the map, but the downtown core is really all that's left, and it's almost its own country now. You can't get in except via surface streets, as all the freeway exits are blocked. When the riots ended in early June, they tore down the walls on Michigan Avenue and Woodward Avenue, but even with the walls down, you still get questions if you're going into old Detroit and you don't have one of the city's medallions on your car.
Curiously, Detroit managed to protect the major cultural centers during the riots; the DPD and state national guard aggressively defended the DIA, Max Fisher, Opera House, Music Hall, Detroit Science Center, Historical Society, and Library buildings -- and thankfully, nothing of value was taken. How they managed it, nobody knows, but there were rumors that the old Detroit Mafia came out of hiding and threw their cards in with the cops and military.
The Canadians decided they wanted nothing more to do with Detroit when they blew up their side of the Ambassador Bridge in early June of 2023 after the riots ended. The tunnel was forcibly collapsed by the US Army Corps of Engineers one month later. The DRIC -- the second bridge that Detroit fought so hard to get started -- never got built. The city isn't a ghost town -- there are still about 50,000 or so that live in the core -- but Detroit changed forever after the Bankruptcy Riots.
The north suburbs of Detroit have become walled-off enclaves of the super-rich. Oakland County actually voted to move their county seat to Bloomfield Hills; after that, Pontiac completely went under and has been largely abandoned. I-696 is patrolled by private police now, and if you pull off of it to go into the richer suburbs without either a work pass, a resident pass, or a REALLY good reason, you get harassed at the least, more likely get arrested, and if you're really obstinate, you get shot. I went up there to play a gig at one of the local churches about two weeks ago, and the church forgot to give me a work pass. When I got about a mile and a half up Orchard Lake Road, I had three town cops on my tail, guns drawn, all demanding to know my business in Orchard Lake. It got sorted out and they let me continue, but I paid the price for it with a few bruises to my face. Needless to say, everyone at the church noticed that I'd been hit a few times with a nightstick. Every house up there has gates, private security, and surveillance like crazy -- and if you aren't obscenely wealthy you're going to get weird looks.
A lot of the suburbs and cities west of Detroit collapsed completely. Brightmoor was always pretty shaky, but after the riots, Brightmoor is a ghost town. Nobody lives there anymore, and the only things left are abandoned homes and burned-out businesses. Half of Dearborn fell apart when the riots spilled over. The only thing keeping the city functioning there is Ford. Garden City and Westland are struggling to stay above water. Southgate barely survives thanks to its restaurant scene. Belleville is also struggling to stay above water, but it's managing to hold on thanks to its position as a bedroom community.
Ypsilanti, however, is falling apart. The city was always one of those that had some pretty serious financial troubles, with poorly-managed city projects, a poor tax base, and a pretty nasty stigma as the ghetto to Ann Arbor, but after the dismantling of FLSA and the WAR Act, Ypsi had its legs knocked out from under it. The city government was placed under an Emergency Manager in May of 2022, and it's been struggling to keep its head above water ever since. To make matters worse, Eastern Michigan University, the local 4-year college, is barely functioning anymore after the state house cut EMU's funding to about 40% of what it was and prohibited the university from using fees of any kind to make up the slack. The EMU Board of Regents stripped out about two-thirds of its degree programs, fired nearly 60% of its professors, and closed nearly half the buildings on campus. I remember the day they closed the College of Business down -- there were students picketing down Michigan Avenue for miles. EMU lost nearly 45% of its student body after the cuts. After all this, there were some not-so-secret conversations that came out on local blogs that pretty much implicated several state lawmakers who wanted to try to force the university to close. I've heard talk amongst some of the folks at EMU that there may be some truth to that, as the university may close for good in the next two to three years if things don't turn around.
Downtown Ypsi is a shell of its former self. Cross Street is almost completely vacant now. The only thing left other than a couple of fast food joints is Ned's Book Store, and with the talk that EMU might close in the next few years, the owner's getting antsy about whether or not he's staying. The Michigan Avenue area is also pretty empty. Abe's Coney Island, a place that had been in the area for decades, finally closed up shop for good in May of 2023 and the building's been vacant ever since. The strip club on Washington is still there and strangely enough does a pretty brisk business. Most of the other shops along Michigan Ave, if they're not vacant, have turned into liquor joints or adult bookstores, despite the city council's attempts to keep them out. Most of the government offices in the old Key Bank building are now vacant -- including what used to be John Dingell's old offices in Ypsi. Only Depot Town still has any life to it, but that's only because of the Sidetrack Bar and Grill, which somehow manages to stay in business despite the extreme economic distress the city is in. The whole economy in Ypsi has been hollowed out to the point where it's near collapse. The old Meijer on Carpenter Road went out of business two years ago in April of 2022, and then the Kroger down the street went less than a month later. We replaced it with a Wal-Mart supercenter that hired up all of the old employees at pennies on the dollar, comparatively. Ypsi Community Schools - the entire district - closed down at the end of the 2022 school year and said that people would just have to get buses to the Ann Arbor schools. The city lost its mind, and Ann Arbor complained about it too. There's a court fight brewing over it - but the city's economy can't support even a set of charter schools.
Ann Arbor is doing okay, though. The phrase that Ann Arbor is seven square miles surrounded by reality is definitely true, because U-M is still going strong. It's not nearly as affluent as it once was, but they're not hurting for students like EMU is. We still have people from all over the world coming here to study, but not as many anymore. The city managed to find a couple of creative ways around President Cruz and the WAR act by establishing local laws that provide for many of the poorest residents here -- establishing a city food bank, city-operated medical clinics, and city-owned housing for those who have trouble making enough for their rent. Ann Arbor Public Schools is one of the last actual public school districts in the state. Pioneer is still a successful high school, as is Huron, but Pioneer only services 11-12, while Huron is 9-12. Skyline became a 9-10 school after all the kids from Ypsi showed up and serves primarily as a feeder for Pioneer. However, the overcrowding is becoming evident as the kids who formerly attended the Ypsi schools are getting bussed in. Huron is especially bad and the parents are getting very upset very quickly.
I still live in Ypsi. It's the only place I can afford. My rent is a paltry $220 a month, and I live with two roommates. We manage to split the cost pretty well, but since one of my roommates was drawing disability before the WAR act, it's difficult. After the minimum wage repeal, the bottom fell out of the housing market and completely kneecapped the rental market, to the point where pretty much the entire complex went to the landlord and said "you can evict all of us or you can lower our rents". The landlord lowered the rents, thankfully. I think he realized what would happen if he threw us all out.
Considering what happened to wages across the country, I'm lucky. Most of the people I know are making about $2 or $3 an hour working for Wal-Mart or McDonald's. The cab company pays me $4.25/hr. My other roommate earns about $3.50/hr at his call center job. It's hard, and there have been more than a few times I've considered just giving it all up. About the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that my parents are still around and they still care. And mom sends along little $50 care packages every so often, so it helps with the bills.
Much as Jon stated in his diary, this hypothetical situation would likely never come to pass. However, it is not for the same reasons he states (Democratic scorn for the notion of states' rights, etc.) I believe that there would be sufficient backlash in the country to stop laws like these from ever becoming a reality -- although I can certainly believe that there are people out there now who are plenty willing to try and get laws like I've described above on the books -- if only because it means they can further increase the financial distance between themselves and the poor. Although, I can also believe that there would be many who derive some perverse joy in further grinding the poor and underserved into the dirt. But, I can hope that maybe, the psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies of many of our lawmakers might be curbed just enough that something like this never, ever comes to pass.