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.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Busting Breitbart's "5 Minimum Wage Myths"

Some time ago, Mike Flynn posted an article outlining 5 alleged myths of the minimum wage. You can find the original article here

Now, I'm admittedly no journalist, and I certainly would not be confused with a top economist. But in all fairness, neither would the majority of people engaging in this debate. In the interest of fairness, though, I would like to present my categorical rebuttal to this piece:

Myth 1: Hiking wages for those at the lowest rung of the job market will boost the economy: Flynn's rebuttal here centers around the BLS number that only 4% of the US labor force makes the minimum wage. As these are government numbers, they would be pretty hard to argue, right?

Wrong! There's some spin going on here, and it is very, very deliberate. To start with, the right relies solely on those making EXACTLY minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour). This means if you've been there 3 months and now make $7.30, you don't qualify. Pretty good fuzzy math, really.

The strength of this argument is further undermined when you realize that 19 states have a state minimum wage that exceeds the federal minimum wage. This means they can conveniently be left off of Flynn's statistics, without noting the fact that the only reason the lower paid workers in these 19 states are making more than the federal minimum is because the federal minimum would be illegal.

Let's move on, shall we?

Myth 2: Minimum Wage Workers Are Poor: Flynn proceeds to tell us here that only 11% of workers who would benefit from a wage increase come from poor households. Over 63% of those who would gain are second or third wage earners; and over 43% are from households making more than 50% per year.

Which is nice, until you realize what the same numbers really say. Eleven per cent (that's better than one out of ten, folks!) of the workers are in poor households. This means they're working, they're contributing, they're doing things right...but they're still impoverished. And while that number should be slightly unnerving, it is worse to look at the 63% and realize that nearly 2/3 of minimum wage families are forced to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. And we won't even delve into the fact that the 43% of minimum wage earning households making more than $50K represents a plurality, and not even a simple majority.

Myth 3: Minimum Wage Workers Are Supporting a Family: The sad part about this one is, Flynn's numbers do not even support his own argument. He quickly points out that half of minimum wage workers are under 25, ignoring the obvious fact that half AREN'T. He further argues that among adult workers, 94% had a working spouse, and 50% of those had a spouse making more than $40K, as if those who don't fit either criteria are inconsequential. But again, his own numbers outline the lie: even if we callously disregard the 6% of adult minimum wage workers who do not have a working spouse, we again need to look at the fact that HALF of those have a spouse who makes less than $40K. It doesn't detail the income levels beyond that, but those are numbers significant enough to bear closer examination.

Myth 4: A federally mandated wage hike is the only way minimum wage workers get a raise:Flynn is again undone by his own numbers stating that nearly 2/3 of minimum wage workers receive a raise within the first 12 months on the job. Again let's set aside for the moment that those raises are generally 3-5% increases, making a difference of less than $20 a week, this means fully 1/3 of workers will not see a raise in the first 12 months on the job. And there are entire pockets of the country where employers pay as close to the minimum wage as they can while still being able to employ workers who won't drool on themselves. A federally mandated wage hike is the only way that the salaries of many of these workers will come close to holding ground against inflation.

Myth 5: A mandated wage hike is the best way to improve income for minimum wage workers who are poor: Astonishingly, here Flynn points to the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is basically a subsidy for low income workers. While the EITC is a needed benefit, it bears mentioning that the hypocrisy of "small government" conservatives becomes apparent when they advocate subsidizing low income workers, rather than insisting on a fair wage. Tax subsidies are not the best way to improve income for minimum wage workers; requiring corporations to pay a wage that fairly compensates workers for their labor remains the best way to achieve that.

I am losing hope that we will ever see a minimum wage in this country that is indexed to inflation. But I do hope, and I can hope, that when this discussion comes to the forefront, the American people can see through the lies that keep wages artificially suppressed. Inflation happens whether the minimum wage is raised or not; raising the minimum wage only helps to ensure that the neediest workers are not starved out by the inflation, and that businesses are forced to properly calculate the cost of doing business in this country.