Unemployment and Overwork

To those of you who think that full employment would be such a tough nut to crack:

We have failing infrastructure, shortages of nurses, ludicrously overworked social workers and public defenders, inadequate medical specialists working in rural areas, overworked teachers, overworked software developers and QA professionals…

And we have people without jobs.

When America needed to mobilize resources to get an atomic bomb and to get through World War II, it did.

The hours are out there. The work is out there. It’s there for immigrants and it’s there for Americans. It’s our choice to not give everyone the pride of work. The access to work should be a human right.


There Is No Safe Place

I’m starting to think the most important and most destructive privilege that privileged folks of any kind (white folks, straight folks, men, able-bodied folks midde-class and rich folks, etc.) ever inherited was the privilege to get away with being apolitical.

Just today, I saw in my feed an article about female double standards by Cracked. Of course, being a moron, I looked at the Comments and started debating. But there was one really heart-breaking comment. One guy pointed out (to paraphrase), “I scrape by, I try to treat women in my life with respect, can the Internet stop yelling at me now”?

Other people in that discussion said, “Go ahead, take my privilege, just do it with civility!”

And I felt a tremendous amount of sympathy. But I also started thinking, “What do you think it’s like to be a woman every day, dude? Do you think they ever get a break from the Internet yelling at them either? Do you think they get a break at the office? Do you think they get a break when they listen to the radio and hear some misogynistic rapper?”

See, when you have privilege, when the system is generally working for you, politics is a disruption, an intrusion. Even very poor men who the class system is fucking over daily still have that ability to come home and have the politics turned off.

But that was always an illusion.

It has always been personal. The wage gap for women isn’t some statistical theory: It’s personal to those women who work hard and don’t ever seem to make as much as the men in their lives who worked as hard. The wealth gap for black folks isn’t just in some economic books: It means that black folks are just not as used to living in a nice house as white folks are.

Howard Zinn coined the idea, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train”. Of all of the wisdoms I’ve learned from the Left, that one has been amongst the most useful. The train always was moving. It’s not my fault, or your fault, or anyone’s fault who is alive that it is moving the direction it is.

Throughout history, we’ve always wanted a safe place to call our own. We’ve wanted a place free from the conflicts, bickering and chaos of the life we live.

But throughout history, no one has had it. Even the very opulent for most of history faced the outside world coming in from invasions and disease. It didn’t matter how rich or poor Germans or Japanese were in World War II: Their cities were flattened anyways.

The measure of our humanity has always been our ability to come out of the places that make us safe and do the right thing.

So we have to stop pretending that “politics” is some thing that happens every two years at elections. Life is political. We always were going to be yelled at, and going to have to yell back. If we want a world free of that, we have to earn it. We have to divert the train.

At this time in human history, the politics of how some consume, how some wage war, how some live, is changing the very nature of our atmosphere and climate. There has never been a safe space. We were never entitled to having something no one in history had, and now, those of us with privilege have to learn to treat all of this like it’s personal, because it’s going to be survival-level personal for all of us very soon.

At this time in human history, the politics of how some consume, how some wage war, how some live, is changing the very nature of our atmosphere and climate. There has never been a safe space. We were never entitled to having something no one in history had, and now, those of us with privilege have to learn to treat all of this like it’s personal, because it’s going to be survival-level personal for all of us very soon.


Response to Glenn Beck

(A response to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page:

The fact that these events are what led Glenn Beck to give up, instead of the war in Iraq or mass inequality or police brutality or the Trayvon Martin decision, is pretty illustrative of how much conservatives insist on their exact world and their exact preferences or they will quit and cry. We on the Left have battled for decades, being called Communists and suspected as traitors, and this is what he thinks makes America beyond salvation? What a quitter.

#1 cites one event. To call this an “outlier” would be charitable.

#2 is a deeply partisan and idiotic formulation of what just happened. It ignores Iran’s concessions, it ignores the threat we pose to Iran, it ignores the entire history of the Middle East, and it ignores a wide bipartisan agreement by experts that this is the best compromise.

#3 refers to what is almost undoubtedly a hoax or a video taken out of context, which Beck repeats because his idea of journalistic honesty was apparently learned from a Crackerjack box. But even within his worldview, the LEGAL things that Planned Parenthood are doing makes some people disturbed, so they are trying to make it… more comfortable for other people? Icky things are a part of medicine. Tough choices are a part of life. The anti-PP crowd are showing absolutely zero moral fortitude. Funny from people who then insist that we need to make tough choices about bombing countries.

#4 indicates that there is something deeply wrong with the military and the occupation of Afghanistan. Beck supports both those things and so does FOX virtually without exception. So he is a liar trying to win political points, and I’d be willing to bet that that soldier might be perfectly willing to punch Beck too.

#5 has nothing to do with America, except for what he rightly points out as America’s lack of interest in justice and the hypocrisy of American churches. Will this lead him to actually truly criticize those churches, or try to create a foreign policy that has a realistic chance of changing that? Of course not. Because he’s a liar.

#6 pretends that the worst thing that’s happening in the world is ISIS, when Beck himself lists how something awful is happening in Afghanistan because of our money. If Beck had the slightest moral integrity, he’d worry about how to stop atrocities we could easily stop, instead of talking about monsters we happen not to support. Worse, Beck pretends to have some kind of deep wisdom for anticipating that invading Iraq would lead to chaos and Islamist nutjobs running around… in 2010. Gee, I seem to recall that I and everyone else who could see clearly said that in 2003.

#7 indicates that our immigration and asylum policy is completely fucked. Will he begin to push for a more just immigration policy to allow people fleeing poverty and tyrannical regimes to come here? Of course not. Because Glenn Beck don’t give a fuck.

And all of this reinforces a totally false idea that it is Muslims who are threatening Christians and that Christians are in the most peril globally. That is simply not true. So Beck’s list is all dishonest and all implies policy trajectories he rejects for absolutely no reason, but it’s also incomplete. A lot of other tragedies could go onto that list, including a lot of atrocities we directly cause. If he were honest, for example, he might admit that ISIS was an outcome of our invading a country illegally and backing a Shia-dominated government. But he won’t do that because he doesn’t give a shit about any of these things, no matter how many crocodile tears he cries.

The fact is, I do recognize this country. Moral paucity in this country is nothing new. So if Beck and others are aware of it now, all I can say is “Welcome to the club”. Like the Tea Partiers who woke up to the idea that big government might be scary after PATRIOT, Iraq, Afghanistan, Snowden, CIA and military torture…

When we keep wondering why we don’t make a positive difference, good people do soul-searching. Bad people blame everyone else. Glenn Beck is the deepest, truest example of a hypocrite, up there with the Kentucky clerk he undoubtedly supports.


Meritocracy and Government: How Can Americans Be So Inconsistent?

One thing that rationally-minded, thinking people often struggle with when entering into the fracas that is politics in any guise is the fact that people aren’t just inconsistent, they don’t seem to have the slightest inkling or concern that they are indeed embracing opposed ideas.

For example: A belief in meritocracy and a belief in government malice and corruption.

Why are these ideas so opposed?

When people raise an idea like, “There are structural barriers that are creating inequality” or “Consistent patterns in policy maintain racial inequality” or “The 2008 recession deeply harmed the black-middle class”, there is a consistent refrain:

“I worked hard for what I get!”

“If you’re poor in this country, you just didn’t work hard enough. Stop blaming others”.

Logically, these stated positions would fall from the mouths (or fingers) of people who believe that America is fair and competent, that the governmental and economic institutions are consistent, efficient and arbitrary.

How many Americans actually believe this?

Two-thirds of young Americans don’t.

Even more ironically, it is blacks who often have the best things to say about government . The very ethnic group that so often has a very bad view of police and the criminal justice system are often willing to trust that government in crucial respects.

Those activists and scholars who say that racism, sexism, or class inequality are pernicious in this society overwhelmingly point to government as a cause. They point to the Federal Reserve’s failure to craft monetary policy that benefits the poor. They point to the way that agencies like the SEC became captive to the rich and corporations, and thus failed to act in a way that would have prevented the 2008 recession. They point to taxes, deregulation, cooptation of regulatory agencies, governmental failures to invest into infrastructure, and minimum wage not following productivity because politicians want a chance to raise the minimum wage as a fetish to shake at their constituents like a shaman enacting a rain dance during a monsoon. Consider how bad foster homes or the failure of social workers can cause poor children and young adults to fall through the system. Consider how government policy can affect housing availability and price, and thus impact homelessness.

So why are these claims so hard for people to swallow?

It’s easy to understand why Americans might believe in the meritocracy of the economic system, against all the evidence. That is a propaganda battle that the rich won.

But given how deep anti-government attitudes are in America, isn’t it astonishing how those attitudes fall short of enabling so many Americans to accept easily that there are barriers that go beyond individual effort for some people’s success? Is it that weird to believe that government is racist if you already believe it’s malevolent or incompetent?

Of course it’s an open empirical question to see if government is affecting inequality, and to what degree it is. People should be skeptical of any report, any statistic, any scholar. But what we see when we suggest that there may be barriers that people of color, women, the poor, and other groups face is not skepticism, it is out-and-out denial. It is a refusal to even engage with the statistics.

Conservative politicians, journalists and opinion leaders can have their inconsistency on the government’s capabilities dismissed easily: They are either ideologically unable to see the inconsistency, or don’t care. The anti-government rhetoric in the U.S. has been a boon for corporations and the rich, who could use it to selectively dismantle what parts of the safety net they felt willing to dispense with.

But why are so many rank-and-file conservatives, often themselves in the anxious middle-class, so willing to accept that government can’t handle healthcare but will accept that government is of course not standing in the way of racial equity?

To their credit, some libertarians recognize that government is involved in creating inequality as well. Their belief that inequality should cause no concern even when not caused by government should be rejected, of course. It’s perfectly valid to be willing to see a society that has a little less prosperity and growth but is more equal in how it distributes it. And inequality always causes serious problems ranging from democratic deficits to loss of growth.

Still, this inconsistency shows that the “small government” rhetoric that people have is superficial. It’s shallow.

Conservatives are by and large perfectly willing to believe that government can try people fairly, that police officers and judges and juries are immune to any kind of bias, that there are no destructive influences that drive the criminal justice system to imprison so many people unnecessarily.

Conservatives are by and large willing to believe that government can not only invade and bomb countries, but in so doing so fix complex social problems. They of course accept as rote that welfare must always cause the undesired consequence of dependency, but will resist heartily the idea that we can’t kill enough people to make us safe.

Conservatives are by and large willing to believe that government could successfully impart a Christian ethos through schools. Even if they want to pay teachers less, they do insist that those same teachers could possibly impart ideas like prayer or intelligent design to their children.

Conservatives are willing to insist on deficit reduction, but resist the idea that it may be worth to look into military waste. They’re willing to look for Medicare fraud but not for military contractor fraud.

Our political beliefs as a species are formed by our anxieties, our perceptions. It’s easy to believe that the FDA is incompetent but the military is a paragon of efficiency, especially when you know a soldier but no one in the FDA. It’s easy to think that providing welfare or social services are easy when you haven’t had to do it.

The Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon where people are insistent that they are competent at a field until they learn the slightest bit about it, is one of the most vital insights we have to have in psychology and is eminently applicable to politics. It is easy for the conservative taxpayer to think that the system is selectively inefficient until they are called out both on the inconsistency of their beliefs (and the media-based sources of those inconsistencies) and how they are assuming that fellow Americans they’ve never met are bad at jobs that they don’t have the first clue about.

It is easy for a person who is white to not realize the difficulties of working and living in a society where one encounters constant discrimination. And it is very difficult to help that person correct that misperception, because so many barriers encountered by non-whites (and women and LGBTQ people) are qualitative and deeply ambiguous.

It’s important that they be corrected on this, as gently as possible. We’ve allowed government to become a mechanism to harm and control the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, as well as allowed inefficiencies in our government to prevent people from getting resources that they need. Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not a particular policy is warranted. But it’s simply asking for efficiency to insist that whatever policy is actually adopted must be fulfilled properly, without bias, corruption, regulatory capture or inequity.