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.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The "Libertarian Ideal" is neither libertarian nor ideal.

A lot of talk has come up from conservative quarters about "government so small you can drown it in your bathtub". It makes for great campaign rhetoric, and it sounds really good on a flyer. But does it work? Let me explain why it may not be such a great idea in practice.

Let's say you and I start our own little Galt Gulch. I'm a fair bit wealthier than you, so I buy a couple of thousand acres of land. You get a good deal on a section, and you settle down.

Pretty soon, I decide I really don't like you. The reason is immaterial; maybe you listen to Justin Beiber and I don't want that in my libertarian paradise. I quickly realize that the land around your nice little section is for sale in every direction. So I buy it.

Suddenly, you're your own little island, with no means of entrance or exit. You are completely dependent on me. I haven't done anything to trespass on your property, I haven't assaulted you...nothing that would amount to committing a crime, where we would want to get the authorities involved. I haven't even restricted your movement, as long as you stay on your land.

You can't get a variance; that would involve a sort of eminent domain, and an abridgement of my rights as a property owner. You can't ask the county to build you a road; it's my land, my rights. Suddenly, unless you have a well developed airstrip, you're not getting your goods to market and all of your production is useless except for your own subsistence.

So you come to me in desperation. You need relief. I offer to build a toll road...but I set the tolls. Because you are the only customer and I want to receive a return on my investment, I charge draconian tolls. I can, right, no business regulation? You finally sell out to me for pennies on the dollar and head off for more socialist pastures.

These are not hypothetical examples. Sure, the specifics are hypothetical, but because there is no government regulation, my control of the wealth, and the land, allows me to get wealthier at your expense. And because you insisted on a lack of government regulations, there's really nothing you can do about it. A feudal system quickly develops, and the poorer members of society begin to serve the wealthier members.

Just like a pyramid scheme, this is pretty good, as long as you are at the top. But as long as you're part of the support structure, bearing the weight of society gets pretty tiring pretty quick. Your Libertarian dream just turned into a nightmare.

Now, it's equally obvious that overregulation stymies growth. But a total lack of regulation creates oppression, and upward mobility that was once aspired to suddenly becomes a privilege for the very few.

I have said for some time that what we need is smarter government, not necessarily smaller government. There's a time and a place to regulate, but all the time isn't the time, and everywhere isn't the place.

So the next time someone tries to pitch a "perfect" Libertarian system, remember, it's good to be king; not so good if you ain't the king!

Will you be a Go-Getter or a Grumbler?

One of my favorite old time yarns concerns a travelling salesman who came upon a farmhouse in the middle of the country. He saw an old hound dog sitting on the porch, howling away. After the dog quieted down some, he rang the doorbell and an old farmer came out. He started his sales pitch, and the dog started in again. Again, the dog quieted down, but kicked it up just as the salesman was trying to continue his pitch.

Finally, exasperated, the salesman looked at the farmer and asked "what in the WORLD is wrong with that dog?"

"I dunno", the farmer replied, "probably sat on a burr or something."

"So why doesn't he get off of that burr?"

The farmer shrugged, "I dunno. I guess he'd rather holler".

We have a lot of pressing problems in the world; will you go out and be a go getter, or will you be a grumbler?

In an attempt to make a difference, I have started a petition to create a five year plan to eliminate homelessness on the White House petition site. Won't you join with me and sign the petition so that together we can make a difference? Petition

Friday, January 4, 2013

Republicans and Racism

I have a a fair amount of Republican friends, some of whom may choose to re-evaluate their status after reading this article. that's fair enough; I am speaking in generalities here, and that shouldn't require constant disclaimers.

I also have number of NON Republican friends, a strong number of whom consider the GOP to be racist. I'm usually dismissive of that kind of talk, but after the last election, I have to wonder if there's more truth than non truth.

Before going forward, let me be very clear: this is not about whether you did or did not vote for Obama. This is about whether fears and concerns about the future were based primarily on race, rather than reality.

Republicans should have loved Obama's first term. Gun control? Not a whimper, aside from the chatter that followed the unfortunate shooting of Gabriel Giffords. Trickle down economics? Done, to the point of not one, but TWO stimulus packages that favored big banks, interest rates held at historic lows, and tax policy that retained capital gains at a low rate favoring the wealthy. War President? He continued action on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, only scaling down the latter on a timetable established by his predecessor.

Add to that his continuation of detentions at Guantanamo Bay, extension of Patriot Act Provisions, and adoption of a longstanding Republican health care model based on an individual mandate, and you could have called this guy Bush III.

But Republicans suddenly became fiscal conservatives, and the deficits that "didn't matter" under Bush II became deficits that mattered. And the same people that gave W a blank check to reinvigorate the economy got squeamish.

But even that paled in comparison to their Presidential choice. If they wanted a candidate who could make government so small "you can drown it in a bathtub", they had that candidate. They had that chance. Ron Paul offered all of that and more.

Instead they chose as a candidate the one who authored the model for the ACA; a big government, big spender from Massachussetts. Why? Aside from his contempt for the poor, there really was not a huge difference between Obama and Romney. No radical new tax plan, no spending reduction plan, nothing that would have altered the suddenly all important budget significantly. No exit strategy for the remaining war in Afghanistan, or government reduction plan, when these issues were allegedly important. Only vague suggestions, altogether reminiscent of the "change" mantra from 4 years ago.

Ahhh, but it gets better. The GOP prides itself on the Christian Right (a group that is neither). And having lived for most of my life around people who self identify as part of the Christian Right, I know that in their worship, they're pretty open about the feeling that the LDS church is a cult. There have been volumes of books written on the subject, and all you need to do is walk into a Christian bookstore OUTSIDE of the state of Utah, and you'll find them prominently displayed in the cult section. Yet all of that not only didn't matter to these people, they literally shouted down anyone who felt that it SHOULD matter.

Seeing all of this, one has to wonder why. Why they would select as their candidate a priesthood holder in a faith they consider to be evil over another candidate whose policies were largely a continuation of the policies of his predecessor. And as I search the horizon, I can find only one.

Are Republicans racists? I can't call that, really. I know a good number of Republicans who are decent people, who don't have a racist bone in their body. Those people were usually the ones who reluctantly voted for Romney, in my personal experience. But it's starting to appear there is at least a plurality within the party that does the label does fit. And that plurality, I believe, is significant enough that no thinking conservative would want to be involved with a party that allows and even embraces it.