Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Push to Make Less Money

I've seen a lot of disturbing trends in my life, and nothing concerns me more than the current trend for lower to middle class workers to beg for their employers to give them LESS money.

It might have made sense at the height of the Great Recession; one can see how misguided workers could have seen the collapse as a result of their greed, as the GOP insisted. And how they might be disinclined to ask for a raise. But it continues long after the recovery happened on Wall Street; while we are well into the recovery on Wall Street, we are still in the throes of recession on Main Street.

Of course, most will insist that they have not been begging to make less money. But they have. Here's how:

Money loses value over time. A dollar today is not the same as a dollar yesterday. And it's certainly not the same as a dollar a hundred years ago. So the longer your wage stagnates at the same level, the less you are getting paid. Don't believe me? Is your gas bill the same as it was five years ago? Your grocery bill? Your rent? In most cases, your costs are higher, in some cases, substantially. Yet we have allowed wages to stagnate.

I recently have viewed several discussions on "good paying" jobs. In each case, the mark was $10 an hour or above. I hate to say it, but I was making substantially more than that twenty years ago as an unskilled, nonunion factory worker. And my wages were not ridiculously high; they were, in fact, typical. The same twenty years ago saw fast food joints paying $9 an hour and up. Rent was cheaper, gas was cheaper, food was cheaper, and utilities were cheaper. Yet wages were higher.

Workers have long allowed themselves to be duped by propaganda that if they simply endure the current austerity measures, the "trickle down" effect would see everyone else become richer. Well, I've lived enough years with false promises to tell you with absolute confidence that the only thing that's trickling down is the effluent!

A higher minimum wage seems like a threat to the middle class simply because the GOP talking heads have made it so. But the truth is, when a full time job doesn't pay enough for a family to survive, someone's making up the difference somewhere. Either taxpayers through entitlement programs, working class families who have to sacrifice to make enough money to survive to the point where divorce and dysfunction become the norm, or, worst of all, the children through disease, malnutrition and poor education.

As for the workers making just over minimum, its ludicrous to think their salaries won't increase as well. A job that requires a degree will always pay more than one that doesn't, because the supply is smaller. And inflation keeps happening whether workers' pay is increased or not.

We don't need more welfare programs in an ideal society. A working adult should make enough money to actually see the promise of a better day. When that promise is being shattered, when they are seeing themselves make less and less while the boss makes more and more, the system has failed.

The rich truly are getting richer, and the poor truly are getting poorer. And millions of Americans are being conned into arguing and voting against their own self interest. The church refuses to take on issues of social justice, instead concentrating their efforts in the realm of Mammon, against the instructions of the Bible.

I don't want to see a revolution. Revolutions are messy and, more often than not, end up with the exact opposite effect of what is desired. But I fear that if workers are starved into submission long enough, revolution may be inevitable. Wake up, folks, and realize that a livable wage is in the best interests of everyone. Don't want to pay for food stamp programs? Then demand fair wages, and the food stamp programs will by necessity have to be reduced. To say nothing of the formerly low income workers who suddenly find themselves paying net federal taxes rather than receiving them back.

I can make a religious case for fair wages, I can make a political case for them. But the odd truth is, most people would rather continue to believe the lie that poor people making more is somehow a threat to their existence. And they're being told this by very wealthy people, with something to protect.

It's time we stopped letting the wealthy dictate what scraps they will offer the working class and started letting the working class negotiate for a fair wage again. Labor was strong in this country before; let it be again!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why I Can't Embrace the "Libertarian" Label

In the past five years, "Libertarianism" has been the buzzword. It has recently driven a well oiled machine that is well funded and maintained by hypercapitalism and a brand of religiosity that is appalling to anyone with a true sense of faith. It has been used to justify everything from the right to graze public land without paying fees, to the push to eliminate minimum wage.

And it is there that Libertarianism sticks in my craw. See, the current Libertarian push (not the Randian creation) simply asks adherents to eschew the use of force to obtain political or social ends.

And yet, when I look at the suppression of workers' wages in the current landscape, I cannot help but think that "force" is the very driver of what I am seeing. The architects of this economy have used the vehicle of inflation to cleverly hide the fact that we are stealing the money of the poor and working class as they sleep. That while maintaining the minimum wage at dollar levels that are the same for 6 years running, with no relief in sight, we have actually DECREASED the real wage of the American workforce to a dangerously low level. In no state can a minimum wage job pay the average rent, to say nothing of the other expenses that must accompany it.

I recently heard a computer tech brag that he bids out his labor for assist techs at $100 hour, then pays them $10 an hour. That, in my view, is the purest, vilest form of evil.

So how does this fit into the use of force? Simple, because the theft of the wages of the working class for the enrichment of the wealthy is the ultimate expression of force. If their labor is worth $50 on your books, then you should be paying  them $50 in wages and benefits, and not pocketing that money for your own profit.

It's ironic that every discussion of wages always comes back to hamburgers, such as "would you like to pay $10 for a Big Mac?" And yet, in all of this, the same folks that argue for the elimination of subsidies such as SNAP benefits, WIC, etc, are arguing for the continuing subsidy that keeps the price of their burger low; the suppression of workers' wages.

Libertarians enjoy a great deal of debate about what it means to be Libertarian. But until that debate includes the right of workers to receive a fair wage for a fair day's work, and the responsibility of the government to ensure that, I will not again embrace that level. The battle is far too important.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Understanding White, Male "Privilege"

Recently I had a bit of bad timing when I had to head out on the road for work. I knew I wouldn't have enough money to get home, but couldn't afford to turn down the job, so I set off, planning on some money that should have deposited before I finished the assignments.

Long story short, the money didn't come through in time, and I spent 6 nights "road camping", 4 of those in two separate WalMart parking lots, one at a highway rest stop, and one at a friend's house. This extended downtime was a valuable experience, and, among other things, gave me time to think.

I thought about the term du jour "white privilege" that is used to describe the differences between the races ("male privilege" is used as well). I didn't like the term, and I thought about how I could hardly be considered "privileged" when I was living out of my van with no money to get home. And then I thought of a winter not long back when a nice healthy cough passed through our family at absolutely the worst time, the middle of winter as we'd moved into our home and hadn't had the opportunity to find the seals and drafts...with absolutely no money to spare. I didn't feel privileged on either occasion.

And, as I point out, I'm certainly more privileged than ghetto kids in Detroit, but less privileged than Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's kids.

The problem is, that is not what proponents of the "White privilege" or "male privilege" theory are talking about,. and, frankly, that's a big part of the problem. We're employing a word in the English language in a sense that is technically correct, but that is not the primary usage of the term. When most people think "privilege", they do so in a material sense. They think about it in terms of what a child is born with, of the things they have that give them a step up, and a headstart on life. They think of politicians who are "born on third base thinking they hit a triple". And they don't identify with them.

Nor should they. They certainly don't have the same experience.

The problem is, "privilege" is a rather limiting term, a rather divisive one that does not fully express the reality.

Going back to the Will Smith illustration: if you take him out of the Hollywood environment, let him go a few months without a haircut and a couple of weeks without a shave, if you put on thrift store clothes, his privilege goes away. People don't see Will Smith anymore, they suddenly see his race first. If you take a white Hollywood A lister, do the same thing and put the two together in a rough neighborhood, you will quickly see the difference in how they are treated.

In the same way we have "first world problems" (stressing when the car won't start, for instance), we also have "white person problems". In my instance, the fact that I had family at home, had constant communication with them and knew that ultimately it was just a matter of getting a paycheck and depositing it before I could head home was a powerful indicator of advantages that I have that, while not universal to the experience of a white American, do exist in higher percentages than among minority populations.

As a bit of a hippy, I've certainly had my share of harassment from the cops. I was pulled over and had my car searched while on the way to a job for speeding; my car was searched for no other reason than because I was driving a van with out of state plates and they somehow felt my appearance fit a profile. But my five or six such lifetime experiences don't equal out to the daily, continual experience that a lot of minorities have.

I've left the male privilege issue on the shelf for a reason: because while I don't usually see white privilege in my day to day experience, I DO see male privilege almost every day. When I come home at night, I am statistically far less likely to be mugged, raped, or kidnapped and sold into human sex trafficking (sadly, slavery is a far too overlooked problem today). When I go to the mechanic, I don't get the "dumbed down" experience, and I don't get overcharged by someone who feels they can take advantage of my ignorance. Nobody assumes that I am technically ignorant, and they don't assume I can't open a jar. In short, I'm treated as any adult should be.

So while I will continue to argue against the terminology of "white privilege" and "male privilege", the reality of what those who coined the term are expressing remains. Perhaps they should listen to the very real concerns of some of us and try to find a term that is less divisive. I am not certain what that term is, but I am certain we can find it. And hopefully, use it to reach across the aisle by people who shut out the argument when the latest politically correct term is employed.

Winning in the court of public opinion requires an ability to communicate effectively with your opponent, and I'm not seeing that from many who advance this rather relevant argument. Let's try to listen to what your opponents are saying, not trying to assume what they are not.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why I Can't Support the #NotOneMore campaign

I really hate to speak in these moments. I genuinely do. As a parent, I cannot help but feel endless sympathy for Richard Martinez. He lost a son, and the grief he feels as a parent is something that neither I, nor any politician, have the right to minimize.

But the #NotOneMore campaign, as well intentioned as it is, is in my opinion, horribly misguided. No, I am not going to insult you, or the memory of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, by using the overworn platitude "guns don't kill people; people kill people". No, my response is a little less different.

First, I believe that pointing exclusively to the gun culture is a horrible mistake. Not only are we a frighteningly violent culture, but the final words of the shooter, whose memory I will not dignify by repeating his name (it is the victims, and their families that we should remember, not the shooter), indicated a disturbing level of misogyny and disconnect with reality to say without question that there were far more issues at play. And it is the culture in which Rodger grew up that we should be addressing; a culture of entitlement in which he saw himself as being more important than those around him,. and thus deserving of the sexual favors of the women he encountered. It was narcissism at its finest.

If the #NotOneMore campaign succeeds in every single one of its aims tomorrow, guess what? There will be one more. And another. And another. Cain only needed a rock to take down his brother.

The solution lies not in the hallowed halls of Congress, or in the offices of political lobbyists. They will fail you always, as even the most fiery idealog recognizes the need to compromise. The solution lies in us, in the sense of community that we have long abandoned as we've turned electronic media into our babysitter, our teacher, our minister, our minstrel, and our mentor. We need to step away from the glow of the TVs, tablets, and smart phones, and into the presence of our children, our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors. We need to reconnect with each other and rediscover the value of relationships that is better, is deeper, than the hollow synthesis we find in our multitude of devices. We won't stop every Elliot Rodger out there, but we may stop one. And we may help one father to go to sleep at night knowing that his child is alive.

Richard Martinez is not wrong in what he is doing. He is a father. And he is reaching out in the only way he knows how. But lying lobbyists don't care about that; they care about what Martinez can do for them. And they'll sweet talk him until the cows come home.

Want to respect the memory of Christopher Michaels-Martinez? Pay attention. Be a better neighbor. And realize that we are, each and every one of us, our brother's keeper.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How the Internet Made me a Liberal

I believe very firmly that the working class deserve a fair shake; that the spoils of their efforts should be to make enough to live comfortably, even if they toil away in a fast food existence. Labor is labor, and it is valuable.

And until social media, I believed the majority of conservatives thought as I did. I tend to be right center in most things in that my values tend to be conservative, but I believe liberty means allowing people to live their own lives without my dictating to them, as long as it doesn't harm others.

And I've spent a lot of time working crud jobs. Mainly because my personality quirks give me a limited tolerance for staying long term. I like working, but I don't like being caged. These jobs have given me exposure to a pretty large subset of America's working class. I've seen single mothers working and picking up their children from a sitter at day's end, I've seen young men working miles away from their families in dangerous conditions because it was the only work they can get, I've seen teenagers putting in 30 hour shifts to contribute part of their meager household.

So when the GOP groups started posting memes about how the poor are parasites, how the rich are job creators, and, most laughably, how wealth is the product of hard work (meaning, of course, that Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian must have an AMAZING work ethic), I become outraged. And that outrage grows as the myth continues.

There are certainly a group of people who sponge off of the system, but that group is in the minority. The majority of the poor work harder than most of us just to provide the needs for their family. And it's an outrageous insult to call them mooches or compare them to strays, who should not be fed because they might breed.

And it's certainly not Christian compassion to look upon the poor in such a manner.

If given a choice between a party that respects the working class and advocates for higher wages, or a party that believes the working class are parasites and leeches, well the choice is obvious. Attack the working class and I will defend them. And I believe, in my admittedly limited experience, that many of the "mooches" are not so naturally, but are people who have given up because they aren't a good fit for college, and aren't young enough or fit enough to meet the physical demands of many trades.

So the attempt to sway public opinion has, in my instance, steered me the opposite way. It has shown me the true personality of the GOP, and that they are steadfastly set against anyone who is not wealthy. And it has guaranteed that I will not, for the foreseeable future, punch a ballot with a single Republican candidate's name punched.

So, thanks, Republicans. You are the best argument against yourselves!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The "Collateral Damage" of Capitalism

Let's look at some numbers, shall we?

21 Million Americans are out of work (I knew this number would be controversial, so here is my source), with 50 million living in poverty; 47 million of those on the food stamp rolls. Over 2 million Americans languish in our prisons, and some 3.5 million Americans can expect to experience homelessness in a given year.

We're told to ignore those numbers, to look at the number of affluent Americans (43 million; interestingly enough, very similar to the number in poverty). We're told that the opportunity to accumulate wealth in America justifies ignoring social problems and pushing austerity. We're told, essentially, that the homeless, the addicts, the desperate masses living in substandard housing, are the collateral damage of capitalism. That we hold no duty to address these problems because, in creating a K-12 education system, we've eliminated every argument they have to justify their lack of success.

We're told, in short, that the ends justify the means. I wholly reject this premise and argue that the current capitalist system is nothing more than a cleaned up version of human sacrifice without the elaborate pageantry surrounding its formal practice. Our prisons have become the altars on which we sacrifice our victims, and we enslave and chain even the ones who call themselves free, forcing the bulk of the product of their labor to go to someone who did not earn it, but who simply provided the capital to force the employee's indenture.

Economists tell us that unemployment is necessary; that it is good for growth. They say that inflation helps an economy to grow and thrive when in reality it is nothing more than an exceptionally regressive taxation scheme that steals from the bank accounts of the working class all while their balance books show their assets to be the same.

The middle claass has allowed itself to be bought with gaudy trinkets, selling their souls for baubles and trinkets that give us a false sense of comfort and security. Meanwhile, 43% of Americans spend more than they earn every single year, and 25% of households have a negative net worth.

We fight against a change in the system because we believe the only alternative is socialism. We believe it because it is what we have been taught. It's time to change that thinking.

It is time to stop accepting the collateral damage of capitalism and start thinking of ways that we can ensure that ever single person in our nation first, and then the world, has access to clean drinking water, adequate food, shelter, clothing, education and health care. If we can allow businesses and individuals to become unimaginably wealthy, the very least we can do is ensure a sense of responsibility to those who are not. That's not socialism, it's compassion. And it is the one thing we should NEVER lose in pursuit of our own personal comforts!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

When I Realized It IS Class Warfare

For years, I wanted to believe class warfare was not a reality in America. That every American child was born with the same opportunity, and that one could get ahead simply with a determined work effort.

I'd like to thank the Republicans for setting me straight on that.

See, I've seen a lot of Americans struggle through to put food on the table. Long hours, poor working conditions, and bosses who essentially threaten them with their jobs if they make too much noise about it. I've seen labor laws openly flouted on a routine basis, with bosses backing down only for the employees with the knowledge to stand up. I've seen those same employees fired for suspicious reasons when they communicated to their coworkers the rights that they did have.

And the whole tradeoff to working those jobs was the imaginary ladder that would somehow get you to the top, to a place where you could stop working second and third jobs and envision a comfortable retirement.

But as the economy has gone cold, I've seen many families with dual two income earners in the household. Their lives revolve around work, and leisure is an unimaginable luxury. They've dug a debt hole so deep to fill society's expectations of what they should have that they will never dig out. Fully 25% of Americans will never realize a positive net worth, and it's reasonable to expect that number to grow.

But where the rubber hit the road on this one was the last election, when GOP contempt for these individuals became clear. They weren't talking about families living on welfare benefits, they're talking about the working poor, who they continue to portray as "parasites" and "victims". These people who spend their lives on a treadmill are being told that THEY are the problem with America, and that if we would only tax them more and the wealthy less, everyone's lives would be better. This while Republicans continue to fight tooth and nail against increases in minimum wage (an intellectual dishonesty on their part, as the longer they continue to pay the same wage, the lower that wage becomes in real dollars; that's Economics 101).

Somewhere along the way, I realized I couldn't be a part of that. I was being ordered to betray the people I know who've worked so hard just to get by, in defense of a Republican ideal that deems the wealthy to be good and the poor to be bad, and reinforces it through societal fairy tales.

Make no mistake about it: what's going on right now IS class warfare. And the stakes are exceedingly high. But don't confuse yourself with who fired the first shot.