Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Facebook "Conversation"

This is a "conversation" I had with someone I don't know.  The original poster was a family member of mine. I'm using initials for all the participants (I'm SR), although it ended up being just a couple of us.  The quotes around "conversation" are for a reason.  It it is clear to me that we were not talking the same language; I was honestly trying to communicate (and, yeah, okay, I was a bit snarky at times), but he just kept repeating the same points.

Am I wrong?  Was he really trying to say what he thought, or was he simply Othering the targets of his disgust?  Please comment ... this is not the first time I've engaged in this kind of debate, and really I'd like to know if I am doing the same thing (just repeating my points), or if this is just another case of frustration in the face of the usual conservative "got mine, screw you" mindset.

By the way, I will admit that I hate, hate, hate "Repost this if you agree/repost or you're not really a Christian"/repost for whatever reason", and I never ever repost.  I'm a terrible person; so sue me.

If nothing else, I hope you enjoy the exchange. Nothing like a little debate to get the brain cells firing.

Original post:  Thank you Florida and Kentucky!!!! They are the first states that will require drug testing when applying for welfare. Some people are crying this is unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional? It's OK to drug test the people who work for their money but not those who don't??!! Re-post if you want all states to do this...I want our state to do this for sure!!


SR:  It is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment and the Supreme Court precedents against invasion of privacy by the government (and btw, there are rules about which employers can drug test and which can't). Sorry, you'll have to find some other way to harass the poor.

GM1:  Re: Susan, Harass the poor? are you one of those dope smokin, baby making deadbeats taking advantage of the government?

GM2:  Susan must be a dope smokin, baby making deadbeats taking advantage of the government? i understand people need help from time to time but if you can't pass a drug test then you don't deserve any money from the people that work and have to be able to pass a drug test!

DW:  as long as they aren't punishing these innocent children who rely on welfare, it's not their fault they were born to people who use drugs and can't provide for them. as much as we agree that people shouldn't make babies they can't take care of, often people with less resources also have less access to birth control or are less likely to even use it.

SR:  What these laws do is presume that a person is guilty and must prove themselves innocent, which is the opposite of how most laws work. Would YOU like the cops to break down your door and arrest you, and then have to prove you're innocent of whatever they're accusing you of? No? Why should the fact that you have a job (I'm assuming that you have one, Gary and Glenn) protect you from this kind of harassment?

SR:  And I'm one of those value-people-more-than-mon​ey, hard-working, live-and-let-live hippies. If it makes you feel better, you can tell yourself that *your* tax money is going to fund the war machine and riot cops. I prefer to think that *my* tax money is going to feel poor children and provide help to those who need it. There - feel better?

GM1:  well if they are doing drugs then maybe their children belong with someone who is better fit to take care of them. if they are unemployed and on welfare more than likely the money from welfare is being used to buy drugs instead of feeding thier chikdren!

SR:  Are your life and choices open to scrutiny? After all, you are the recipient of others' tax dollars in some way (roads, schools, infrastructure, tax breaks... you know, those things that make up civilization). Would you be quietly compliant if The Government or your boss (or anyone else) chose to riffle through your life and judge your choices in order to send your kids to public schools? Would you be happy about mandatory alcohol testing to see if you have a beer at night in order to keep your job? It's easy to get self-righteous about other people making choices you do not, but a whole lot harder to be at the receiving end of judgment, isn't it? People on assistance get a lot of abuse for the little help they get, and most would rather be self-sufficient. Advocating to make it even more difficult and degrading does nothing but make you look like a money-above-all-else scrooge. Where's your humanity... or at least your empathy?

GM1:  I have no empathy for people choosing illegal drugs over taking care of their children. I don't do anything that would put my job in jeopardy and if you have children you shouldn't be doing anything that would put your kids in jeopardy. I seriously doubt these people are hiring a babysitter while they smoke pot or shoot up or whatever else they may be doing. the kids are the ones that suffer for the parents stupidity.

SR:  You're missing my point. These laws aren't aiming to protect children; they're criminalizing being poor by harassing someone receiving assistance. In the rest of the world, you're innocent until proven guilty - the police have to have probable cause for a search and seizure (which is what drug testing is). These laws assume that a person is guilty FIRST, which is unconstitutional. You assume that everyone on assistance is guilty of a crime (drugs, welfare fraud) just because they are poor. From what you've written, you think that everyone who requires assistance is a criminal and is a negligent parent by default. That is, in my opinion, a pretty sick way of looking at the world. By those standards, I know quite a few job-holding criminals - where's your outcry to drug-test them? Or would you call that an invasion of privacy, strictly on the basis of where their money comes from?

GM1:  You are missing the point of the drug testing. it's letting you know that if you want to receive assistance you can't be abusing drugs. it isn't that hard to understand. just like if I want to have a decent job I can't be abusing drugs. if you test positive I am sure they will give you the opportunity to clean yourself up, it isn't unconstitutional it's just smart.

SR:  We're obviously talking at cross purposes here. I'm talking about constitutionality, human rights, and dignity; you're talking about holding people accountable, which is fine as long as you're not doing it from a position of power (ie, "I can make you get a drug test, but no one has the right to judge my choices").  Once again, I'd like you to remember that by your logic, anyone can force you to submit to a drug test because in some way you receive government benefits.  Be honest - you'd throw a fit, wouldn't you?

SR:  Your position is that people on assistance are by default abusing their children ("I have no empathy for people choosing illegal drugs over taking care of their children.").  You don't know that a particular person is abusing drugs, you don't know if they're not taking care of their children, you're just assuming that because they are poor they are by definition criminal and negligent.  How about drug-testing those who appear to be doing those things (just like in the rest of society)?  THAT'S my point.


That ended up being the last of it; I think we both got tired and walked away.  I can't see how it'd end any other way... neither of us was going to change the other's mind.  'Tis a shame.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Stand Corrected

After hitting "publish post" a moment ago, it occurred to me that I was wrong when I said I had no idea how to fix our current problems.  Well, I have ONE idea and it's not original with me, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

The Big Idea:  Tie Corporate Tax Cuts to Job Creation.

Very simple, really.  Company ABC hired 5 new workers (full-time, decent benefits).  Company ABC gets a tax cut for providing those jobs.

Company XYZ moves jobs to a third-world country, hides its profits in an offshore account, and/or pays its CEO a huge bonus?  No tax cuts for you.

Of course, you need demand in order for small businesses (the true job-creators) to hire more workers.  So be sure that unemployment benefits, TANF, food stamps, and other programs are funded.  It has been proven time and again that money poured into the bottom of the economy moves up, creating demand and jobs all the way up the economic scale.  Money poured into the top of the economy gets stuck in a bank account somewhere, enriching the possessor of that money (and his financial advisers), but benefits no one else.

Money is a creation and function of the government.  No one (let me repeat that, NO ONE) actually owns his money; it's a symbol of the economic system of the country.  Why should a tiny minority hoard so much of OUR country's resources this way?  After all, Generic Rich Guy did not get all of those resources on his own, and he owes a debt to the society that he used to build that wealth.

So there you go..... economic recovery in one easy step.  Please don't tell me that I'm the only one who thinks this is a good idea....?

Looking for a Word Deeper Than "Disappointment"

[this is a much-edited version of my original rant, which would have made your eyes bleed.  You're welcome.]

Lots of very smart people have been talking about the debt ceiling extortion.... oops, I mean "compromise" (here and here, to start), and I certainly have nothing new to add to the debate.  But I'm going to anyways.

I am beyond heartbroken and disgusted by this new legislation.  The entire purpose of government is to provide for the protection and benefit of all of its citizens.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that "you get what you personally pay for" in terms of widely beneficial services.  Nowhere did the Founding Fathers write that the government was only to benefit the wealthy, and that if you did not have money, you were not entitled to the benefits and protection of the federal government.  We are ALL American citizens, regardless of the size of our bank accounts or ability to hire workers.

But we have now officially moved from a democracy/republic to a corporatocracy.  The GOP (I'll get to the Dems in a minute) wasn't even trying to hide its agenda: tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, higher taxes/lower services for the rest of us.  They gave lip-service to 'shared sacrifices", but when it was pointed out that 90% of the country's population was sacrificing and that 10% (or less) was living high, the response was a shrug.

And the Democrats - the "party of the people"... where were you in this?  You control two of the three parts of the Legislative branch.  Where's your spine?  Why didn't you stand up for the rest of us... those who have no voice, those who are too busy trying to feed their families that they have no time for the political process, those who cannot pay high-priced lobbyists to look after their interests?  That's what we hired (elected) YOU to do.  Can we fire you now?

I've long felt that this country's structure was not Left vs Right, liberal vs conservative.  What we have here, boys and girls, is a T graph form of government.  Go get yourself a scrap piece of paper; I'll wait.  Now draw a horizontal line across the paper, and a vertical line from that line to the bottom.  Write "Democrats" on the left side of the vertical line and "Republican" on the right side.  Now put "Corporate Overlords" above the horizontal line.  THIS is what governance in America looks like - Corporate Overlords (the wealthy, special interest groups, lobbyists, multi-million-dollar corporations) on top, throwing down crumbs for the left and right to fight over.  Crumbs in the form of the Culture Wars - civil rights, reproductive health, social justice, gun control, immigration.

In What's the Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank argues that conservatives, especially in the "heartland", routinely vote against their own economic interests because the GOP has convinced them to pay more attention to Culture War issues than to their policies as a whole. So Uncle Bob and Aunt Martha will vote for Rancid Ronnie Republican who promises to fight gun-control laws and women's health clinics, even though the economic policies of Rancid Ronnie will cause Bob and Martha to lose their family farm.  In fact, Rancid Ronnie will convince them that it's those evil Lib'rals and dirty hippies who caused their farm to be foreclosed on.  Never mind how that happened; just believe it.

The Culture Wars are killing this country, because they allow the Corporate Overlords to distract us while they bleed the country dry.  They're like the aliens in Independence Day, going from planet to planet, using up the resources until the planet died, then moving on to the next target.  Their allegiance is not to country or community, but only to profits.

How do we fix this?  I have no idea.  All I know is what Molly Ivins implored us in her last column:
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action ... Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous..... Hit the streets ... We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

She was speaking of the Middle East wars, but it's just as true regarding the corporate takeover of America.  We MUST raise our voices, write our Congresscritters, call our local representatives, send letters to the editors... whatever it takes.

It's only our country that is a stake.

The Christianity Gap

I've been thinking a lot lately about the gap between what Jesus says and what conservative Christians practice.  Aren't they supposed to be the same thing?

We hear people every day say they're Christians, and yet they openly advocate for the principles of Ayn Rand, who despised Christianity and compassion in any form.  She thought empathy was a great moral weakness, and that selfishness was the highest human virtue.

There is a huge disconnect here, and all I can conclude is that their "Christianity" is lip-service only, what I call "cultural Christianity.".... "My parents went to church, I was active in the teen group, I bring my kids, I teach Sunday School" without really taking in and making personal any of the principles that make up "Christianity".  You know, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", "feed My sheep", "what you have done for the least [in society], you have done for Me".  Aren't these supposed to be the bedrock foundations of our faith?  Why are they so hard to put into practice?

Thanks to writers like Fred Clark at Slackivist and blogs like The Christian Left, I'm much more aware of the hypocrisy gap.  Remember when our parents would say, "Do as I say, not as I do" and how much we hated it?  We now have national leaders who are trying to get away with the same line.  We can't let them.


"The Ten Commandments - Republican-Style"

I. Thou shalt talk about Christian principles, but not live by them.
II. Thou shalt attack opponents personally when you can't win on policies.
III. Thou shalt call yourself pro-life, but be in favor of the death penalty.
IV. Thou shalt call yourself pro-life, and put guns in the hands of school children.
V. Thou shalt give lip service to democracy while taking away civil liberties.
VI. Profit is the Lord Thy God, thou shalt not put the people's interest above those of your corporate contributors.
VII. Thou shalt make sure fetuses have health coverage, but leave children and babies behind.
VIII. Thou shalt bear false witness against your opponents and liberals, and demonize them.
IX. Thou shalt run on a moderate platform, then enact right-wing policies as soon as possible.
X. Thou shalt call the media liberal, so that people forget that the media is owned by corporations with a conservative fiscal agenda.

- Rebecca Lauer

Friday, June 10, 2011

All the Civilization We Can Pay For, Thank You Very Much

Had an interesting time at the Good to Go office the other day.  They've been having some problems lately; the state had changed the equipment that reads the little transponders that we all have on our windshields that automatically charges tolls, and they didn't send out traffic infractions for several weeks, so if you crossed the bridge frequently during that time and the system didn't read your transponder correctly, you suddenly got 20 tickets all at once.  Most of us would get one, log into our account, and figure out what the problem was. But when you get a handful on the same day.... well, let's just say that the employees at the Good to Go office had been faced with irate, upset drivers for a couple of weeks.

I'm standing in this line of about 12 people and, as people will, we all got to chatting to pass the time.  The conversation immediately around me quickly turned to how slow the employees were and why weren't there more stations to help (all five windows were open and busy), and how much they hated paying the toll and how expensive it was..... and then rapidly slid into how high and unfair taxes are (with one gentleman going on at length about how it was so wrong that the state taxes food [which it does not, except for a few convenience items]).

At this point, I considered chiming in with one of my favorite quotes (Oliver Wendell Holmes: "I don't mind paying taxes; they buy me civilization" [paraphrase]), but decided that checking myself out of the conversation was my best option.  So I stood there for a while, quietly amused to think of the ruckus that would be caused if I pointed out that their positions were completely contradictory.  Which is it - taxes are too high, or there aren't enough state employees for your convenience?  Can't have employees without taxes, so which would you rather cut?

When I finally reached the head of the line, the WSDOT employee couldn't have been more helpful.  I left thinking that he didn't get paid nearly enough to put up with the everyday nonsense, let alone time when the state actually does screw something up.

On a side note, a gentleman ahead of me asked the clerk about the toll equipment (which takes a photo of your license plate if it can't read the transponder) being used by law enforcement.  She explained that it was illegal for them to do so, and he was horrified to learn that if his car was stolen, the police could not use the toll cameras to see if his car had been driven over the bridge.  I wanted to ask him if he was okay with the police using the cameras to follow HIS movements if they thought he was doing something illegal..... but once again I took the path of cowardice and kept my thoughts to myself.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I am.....

I am an individual.  I am responsible for my own actions.  I choose who I care for, who I support, where I give what little influence I have.

I am part of my town.  I pay attention to local politics, I chat with my neighbors at the grocery store, I choose to be involved in community events.

I am part of my state.  I want to see all people - citizens and immigrants, red and blue, rich and poor - succeed and have influence on the national stage.

I am part of my country.  I want America to be the place where all have equal opportunity, but all can get help if in need. 

I am part of my world.  I do not want the US to be a global superpower only so that we can blow up the rest of the world.  I do not want us to poison another country in furtherance of private profit, because what affects other countries affects us (read Nevil Shute's On the Beach for an example of this).

I am all of these.... and so are you.  You may believe in the bootstrap myth, but no one - NO ONE - succeeds without using the hard work of others, in the past and contemporary.  

Think you got where you are all by yourself?  Did you pave your own road?  Pump your own well?  Educate your own children?  Grow your own food?  Dig your own latrine?

No?  Then acknowledge that the work and foresight of those who came before you are partly responsible for your success.  There's no shame in being gracious about this, but there is shame in believing that it's all about you. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I've been thinking lately about crossroads. A crossroad is, generally, the place where two roads or paths come together.  It is at the crossroads that we made choices - go left, right, ahead, back?  Change direction or continue along the same way?  Stop for a while at the side of the road, have lunch and a cup of tea, and ponder where each path will go?  Wander off into the grassy spaces between the roads, blazing our own trail?

America is at another crossroads.  There have been many over the past 200+ years.  Join a global organization?  Enter a world war?  Treat all of our citizens equally, no matter their gender or skin color, or disenfranchise and enslave them?  Welcome immigrants and give them a path to citizenship, or put up fences and throw them in jail?  Who is entitled to the American Dream, anyways?

Who are we, as a country, as a society, as a people?  Are we all rugged individualists, each accountable only to him/herself, responsible for no one else?  Are we a diverse collection of tribes, banding together to form one country but retaining tribal loyalties?  Are we citizens of a larger global community, with responsibility to that community?  All of these?  None?

How do we care for our neighbors in need?  Does "personal responsibility" mean letting the children of irresponsible parents suffer?  Does "the common good" mean intervening unnecessarily?  Where would you rather error - take the risk of intruding in the wrong place, or letting defenseless people fall through the cracks?  Does personal freedom always trump collective responsibility?

How to we allocate shared resources?  Do we allow the tragedy of the commons to prevail?  Or do we recognize that shared space requires shared commitment?

How do we decide who represents us?  Is the politician that I favor answerable to only me and my opinions, or is he/she answerable to all constituents?  Would I be just as angry at a "bad" decision if it is made by a politician I favor as at one I do not?

These are questions each person must answer for themselves.  But how each person answers will in aggregate answer the question of who we are as Americans.

I always marvel that every two years we have a change in leadership without (much) rioting in the streets; there are not many countries in the world that can say that.  I think it's a tribute to the grand American experiment.  We bicker, we complain, we shout, we throw tea bags, and once in a while we shoot each other, but generally we restrict our weapons to words.  

But recently the rhetoric has taken a particularly nasty edge.  I know that historically there have been acrimonious elections, particular presidential, but no one (to my knowledge) has questioned the legitimacy of a sitting president.  We now have a politician - openly, in a town forum, knowing he was being recorded - calling not-wealthy people "moochers" and telling a retiree that she would be "happier living in another country" if she expects to receive the Medicare that she's entitled to (and paid for)... wow.  Is this politician really representing his constituents... or his corporate overlords?  (but that's a post for another day)

Until about 20 years ago, I thought politics was a fascinating spectator sport.  No longer - it's too important for me to just watch from the sidelines.  But how to change the debate?  How can I, individually, bring civility back to the public discourse?  How can I express my disapproval of those who try to divide us into haves/have-nots, rich/poor, white/other?

With my words, emailed, phoned, or in person to the offender in question.

With my actions, supporting candidates I believe in, finding the flaws of the positions of those I do not, and questioning all of them.

And with my vote.  Bottom line, this is the only expression that matters.