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True reform? Nope

Everyone promises a better future but, when pressed, really have no idea what that means. 

Coal miners, a very honorable and stalwart group, want a return to work and prosperity. Along comes a succession of politicians promising just that, and yet not one candidate is willing to tell them the truth. 

The truth? Their jobs are inherently dangerous beyond norms of the 21st century. The product they mine is 50 percent more expensive than energy obtained by sticking pollutants into the ground and releasing natural gas (fracking). And here’s the killer: Even if all the mines reopen, the robotics sweeping that dangerous industry will make 80 percent of them redundant within a few years. 

In short, coal mining by brave, strong, intelligent men and women down a dangerous hole in the ground is over, done, waiting for the fork.

Does that mean coal miners should be thrown on a scrap heap? No way. These are men and women of incredible bravery and intelligence. Think they are not bright? You try calculating the load on ceilings, the maintenance of complex dangerous machinery a half mile underground with a glorified flashlight to work with. 

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Sure those skills may not be wanted in the future, but their ability is a cut above normal labor. If politicians had an ounce of common sense, they would recognize that these diligent, smart men and women are perfect candidates for new jobs, new industries. Yes, they need training. Training is cheaper than unemployment for decades.

And, if it were me, I’d put every qualified but obsolete member of a diminishing work force at the top of the list for government retraining, education and relocation. Why? Because America’s backbone of skilled, disciplined labor have attributes that can be adapted, that can be translated, to a new industrial strength — much faster than waiting for the teenagers to learn what work is.

France is going, I am afraid, to show America the way. We would do well to listen. Did you know that before you had the Internet, Google, Yahoo and White Pages search functions, that France had a small grey box on every office desk called a Minitel from early 1980s on? It was provided by the phone company, hooked up through their system of wires. You needed to know the name and address of someone? Click the keys on your Minitel. 

The system pre-dated the World Wide Web. It educated the public, it taught companies how to adapt to the information age. It allowed new businesses to spread, to seed, prosper and be efficient long before you even had email.

Now France is set for its next revolution. President Emmanuel Macron swept Presidential elections. But his party had no candidates for their congress (National Assembly) at the time of his election. Presto, he got in electronic touch with like-minded entrepreneurs and new thinkers across the country and told them to stand for election. Last week, he swept the National Assembly seats, too.

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Ask yourself why? Why has a new thinker, an industrialist harping on about new technologies, new strength France can exhibit, why has that won over the French people? Are they not, like many middle-Americans, wishing for more prosperity and a return to moral values? 

Yes, they are, but France’s workforce is 10 years ahead of America’s, regular Americans, in using the web. They have learned, they understand the need to find new jobs, new work, new technology to build a financial future with. The old is over, done, fork implanted.

In 10 years, we’ll be as familiar with that reality as the French are now. They have a 10-year head start on us using that little grey box and all its derivative uses. Robotics are already more prevalent in France than here. That wave is already coming -— like it or not.

Japan, Korea, France, China and Switzerland are working on home robotics —kitchen cooks, laundry robots and more. And newer technologies will change even the future for robotics as well.

What will the future hold? It is interesting that one of President Macron’s first plans is to invite the leaders in all new technologies to help him map out — and plan — the future in France and Europe. Anyone seen any D.C. politician ask even for a committee meeting to see if anyone knows anything? Hardly. 

The focus in America is to shore up old industries, to revamp existing product, to protect existing jobs. OK, some of that may help for a year or two. But long-term thinking is the only way our country can prosper, and long-term thinking needs our brightest minds, dealing with fact and innovation — not unqualified funds raisers devoted to shoring up their employment or grandstanding to miners who cannot, in any sense of the word, be saved.

 

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.