Who we are…

I’ve said before how this president’s words are, well, better than anything I might come up with. That’s particularly true in the face of tragedy.

“We also know this — the American people refuse to be terrorized. Because what the world saw yesterday in the aftermath of the explosions were stories of heroism and kindness, and generosity and love: Exhausted runners who kept running to the nearest hospital to give blood, and those who stayed to tend to the wounded, some tearing off their own clothes to make tourniquets. The first responders who ran into the chaos to save lives. The men and women who are still treating the wounded at some of the best hospitals in the world, and the medical students who hurried to help, saying ‘When we heard, we all came in.’ The priests who opened their churches and ministered to the hurt and the fearful. And the good people of Boston who opened their homes to the victims of this attack and those shaken by it.

“So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.”

– Barack Obama
04/16/2013

jobsiteliberal

Dear anti-government conspiracy theorists,

I know I’m beating a dead horse here but seriously, the “government” is not at the root of all the world’s ills. It really, really isn’t.

When I started seeing this

receive competition from this

I wanted to punch myself in the face.

Repeatedly.

Because, frankly, it’d be less painful and way less annoying than trying to explain everything that was wrong with this notion. But before I could ball my hand into a fist and let the pummeling begin, I saw this

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And I thought it was awesome.

Not just because it brings into focus what’s at stake in the fight for marriage equality but it reminds us that our words and ideas are mere parts in a greater sum. When we talk about marriage, we refer to publicly expressed love and lifelong commitment. But in the fight for marriage equality we speak specifically of…

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A quick note to the government-is-the-root-of-all-evil conspiracy theorists…

Dear anti-government conspiracy theorists,

I know I’m beating a dead horse here but seriously, the “government” is not at the root of all the world’s ills. It really, really isn’t.

When I started seeing this

receive competition from this

I wanted to punch myself in the face.

Repeatedly.

Because, frankly, it’d be less painful and way less annoying than trying to explain everything that was wrong with this notion. But before I could ball my hand into a fist and let the pummeling begin, I saw this

550001_10152694316040243_789712177_n

And I thought it was awesome.

Not just because it brings into focus what’s at stake in the fight for marriage equality but it reminds us that our words and ideas are mere parts in a greater sum. When we talk about marriage, we refer to publicly expressed love and lifelong commitment. But in the fight for marriage equality we speak specifically of the legal recognition of these things between people of the same sex, too. And that matters.

Government is not “in charge” of marriage in any other way than by denying gay men and women the right to marry. Outside of that, government is the institution through which we mediate marriage’s intrinsic entanglements with other institutions – like, for instance, insurance companies. And, ya know, parenthood. And, hey, what about that American-as-cherry-pie institution known as divorce? Yes, yes, if you didn’t get married in the first place you wouldn’t have to get divorced. But if that’s the line of argument that you’re taking, then there should be no legal recognition of marriage at all. And if we go a little further down that rabbit hole then we find ourselves saying that there should be no government at all and then I start punching myself in the face.

Repeatedly.

Now I can understand if you would like to watch me punch myself. Sometimes I’m a dick and I probably deserve it. But if you don’t want government “in charge” of marriage, you would do yourself well in recognizing the difference between denying and facilitating rights as well as broadening your understanding of our relationship with our institutions. Drop the de-institutionalization nonsense of our parents’ generation and do or say something constructive rather than tout some contradictory Paulist idiocy that does little more than humor your friends’ struggle. Because when you say something like, “Real equality would be government that is not in charge of marriage,” you’re effectively saying, “You’re fight for marriage equality is pointless and silly, I don’t understand why you would want to get married anyway.” That, or, you’re just trying to sound smart…

…and failing.

Miserably.

Regards,

JSL

jobsiteliberal

Occasionally I venture into areas of debate that are slightly out of my realm of expertise. This was certainly the case when I started drawing comparisons between the “Cold War” and the “War on Terror” in this post. (My BA after all is in religious studies, not US history.) Lucky for me, I had just the guy to turn to for help in fleshing out my thoughts: my old buddy Discomustachio. He used to host a blog with a political bent similar to JSL called “Whydontyourelax”. It was funny and always informative and able to deliver a harsh reality in a matter-of-fact and digestible manner. About a year or so ago, he and I were out bar-hopping our way through Bridgeport and I was schooled (in the most welcome way) on the manner by which political remnants of the cold war still play a role in international policy. So…

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The Return of Discomustachio…

Occasionally I venture into areas of debate that are slightly out of my realm of expertise. This was certainly the case when I started drawing comparisons between the “Cold War” and the “War on Terror” in this post. (My BA after all is in religious studies, not US history.) Lucky for me, I had just the guy to turn to for help in fleshing out my thoughts: my old buddy Discomustachio. He used to host a blog with a political bent similar to JSL called “Whydontyourelax”. It was funny and always informative and able to deliver a harsh reality in a matter-of-fact and digestible manner. About a year or so ago, he and I were out bar-hopping our way through Bridgeport and I was schooled (in the most welcome way) on the manner by which political remnants of the cold war still play a role in international policy. So clearly, when I started thinking about parallels between the Cold War and the War on Terror, I knew I had the guy to talk to. But rather than talking it out and regurgitating his thoughts, I asked him to write a guest post for me.  So here it is:

The Return of Discomustachio…

The Jobsite Liberal asked me some time ago to address the question of how our rights as citizens and our government’s ability to infringe on those rights have differed from the Cold War to the modern era. Due to the endless distractions that life throws at you I never really had any time to really devote to this. And then at work one day I got a fresh cup of coffee, decided to take a break (from working), and decided to have a “one-off” with this topic. So here’s a 20 minute ramble on a word doc…

In comparing the relationship of US citizens to their government and how it compares to different periods of our history deemed “crucial” or “special” it’s important to remember that, historically, this current period is like any other time in our history. The rights that we are allowed by our government and their willingness to infringe on those rights may differ depending on the threat but they will always try to balance the need to protect the nation with staying in keeping with the moral foundation of our nation’s commitment to liberty and justice. But ensuring the continuation of the system is always the mission – even if it means a certain percentage of citizens are rightfully or wrongfully denied their rights. Publicly the government may drone on about individual liberty and the rights of citizens. But in the end, as Dick Chenney once said, “Moral principle is meaningless if you lose,” (which may well be the only thing he’s ever said that I agree with).

So consider for a moment the threats we have faced over, say, the last 50 years. People in today’s world often forget that in the Cold War years the threat to the nation was complete. It was irreversible if realized. It was all encompassing and it was systemic. A nuclear war with the Soviets was something that could not be tolerated.  So, helping them was seen as the true measure of violating your relationship to your country if you were a citizen. From the government’s stand point, simply helping the Soviets could tip the balance of power, encourage them to choose general nuclear war if they felt they had a true first strike advantage, and render all principles the US supposedly adhered to meaningless as it crumbled under the weight of nuclear destruction. The need to curtail citizens’ rights were premised on preventing this eventuality; the balance needing to be struck between allowing citizens the power of constructive dissent all while ensuring the republic survives – primarily by keeping the global balance of power in place. Of course it was easy to misuse this understanding in order to further different agendas that may run counter to the spirit of allowing citizens their freedom. Consider the endless accusations by Segregationists in the American south calling MLK a Communist and arguing that his prevention from participating in public life was actually good for social order.  Back then the aim of Southern White Supremacists was to prevent Black Liberation.  Sure, it was ludicrous to infer that the Civil Rights movement actually aimed to make Alabama Kazakhstan – but the endless accusations that activists like MLK were “Communists” played all too well into the prejudices of those who were against Black Liberation in the first place. Tying Black Liberation with Communism played into the public at larges’ understanding over the world they lived in, the space that they inhabited, and the threats the world posed to them as citizens.  No one rightfully though that MLK or the Black Panthers would aid the Soviets in anything.  But the simple subconscious association with pairing the two ideologies helped opponents of Black rights continue to disrupt Black progress wherever they could.

Fast forward to today and the relationship between security and rights needs to be more intrusive and focused because the nature of the threat is entirely different. Now that the US is the only dominant power in the world – the modern day Rome – it’s entirely true to argue that destabilizing the international system is the real threat. We are the reserve currency. We are the military stabilization force for Global Corporatism. Our position on the globe just in terms of shear geography provide us with an advantage that no other nation can dream of. At the same time, the threat to that system is much more diffuse and doesn’t require our nations complete destruction to alter the balance of power. Consider the aim of Al-Qaida, which is primarily to weaken the United States enough to force it to retreat from the world, which would then, in their best case scenario, allow Muslim nations a much larger say in global affairs as they would be united under some sort of modern day Caliphate. In order make that reality possible one need not saturate North America with nuclear missiles. Our complete geographic destruction doesn’t play into it. Instead, the application of hostile force to our systemic weak points is what drives Islamic militant strategy. So, because an American born cleric who’s publicly declared war on his nation of birth (as Alwaki did before getting his ass blown in half by a predator drone) can post YouTube videos encouraging other Muslim born Americans to conduct attacks on the United States, he becomes a threat because the level of what the system can tolerate and still function has been greatly reduced in a world run by the US. In the Cold War days someone getting on YouTube (had there been one) and advocating for the Soviet Union to launch a premeditated nuclear strike against NATO, or any hostile military move, would have been deemed nuts and would have hardly been considered a threat because unless he worked in the military his ability to aid that attack was nil. He wasn’t even a pawn in that great game. But in a world in which 3 or 4 Islamist fanatics, or right wing Christian fanatics, or left wing anarchist fanatics, can launch a cyber attack that would cripple the power grid indefinitely and cause a complete destabilization of the United States and the global system along with it, “protecting the rights of citizens” has to be measured against the ability of one single solitary citizens ability to destroy our system of government, making US moral principles meaningless as we all shoot each other trying to get the last can of soup from the Jewel Osco everyone has raided in the ensuing chaos.

Of course, misusing the understanding of these threats continues today just as it did in any other “pivotal” era of this nation’s history.  Think of all of the times someone on Fox News screamed that liberals “wanted the terrorists to win” for simply questioning the rationale for invading Iraq, to say nothing of the evidence.  Think of every time MSNBC screamed that George W Bush was a “dictator” despite his never actually infringing on anyone’s rights en masse.  Sure, some folks got whisked off to Gitmo.  Some folks had the NSA listen to their phone calls to relatives in Yemen.  But those were not the actions of a dictator, just as killing American citizens who are actively aiding the terrorist enemy in Yemen via Predator drones is not dictatorial either (I’m talking to you, Rand “I love the sound of my own voice” Paul).

In the end, every individual citizen needs to figure out for themselves where they stand on issues regarding the rights of citizens vs. the need to protect the nation from those who wish for our destruction. To the individual citizen, the choice is clear. You want your rights protected and that’s the end.  Depending on your understanding of “freedom” you will rationalize what you feel is acceptable.  But that’s where the problem comes in doesn’t it?  You may feel that you should have the freedom to stockpile massive amounts of automatic weapons in some sort of need to satiate your fear of some unspecified apocalypse.  But, since you can take those weapons and give them to others who might want to conduct a mass casualty operation, like the Hutaree Militia in Michigan in 2010, are you not a threat to the system at that point?  Are you not equipped to strike at the very same weak points that groups like Al-Qaida might target?  The point is that whether or not you are some Christian Nationalist, or some hacker, or a US born Islamist, or just some guy, you have to reconcile the idea that we can’t live in a nation that protects the individual liberty of its citizenry in its entirety.  You simply can’t protect the system by protecting every single solitary citizen’s rights.  Those who are hostile to the system will take advantage of their rights in order to destabilize the system.  What one must accept is that we can either live in our imperfect society that is filled with injustice and Have’s vs. Have Not’s, or we can exist in anarchy in a world filled with injustice and Have’s vs. Have Not’s.  The difference between the two is simply that what the Haves and Have Not’s value in each system is drastically different.  You can either choose to bitch and moan on your computer in air conditioning or fight for that last can of soup at the Jewel-Osco.

jobsiteliberal

Type “drug test” in the search box in the upper right hand corner of your screen.

Seriously. I’ll wait.

What’s the third or fourth auto-complete option that Google provides for you?

If you gathered I’m asking a rhetorical question and that I already knew the answer was “drug test for welfare” you’d be right. Sure, It’s a pretty crude use of Google’s data analysis but I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to say that outside of a generic drug test search and people looking for ways around urine and hair tests, the most common Google “drug test” search revolves around the idea that our civil liberties are somehow contingent upon our status of employment. (Yes, yes, many of us that are ineligible for welfare benefits must submit to drug tests either as a pre-req for employment or as a means of maintaining employment via random urine tests but…

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Of porta-johns, welfare, and capitalism…

Type “drug test” in the search box in the upper right hand corner of your screen.

Seriously. I’ll wait.

What’s the third or fourth auto-complete option that Google provides for you?

If you gathered I’m asking a rhetorical question and that I already knew the answer was “drug test for welfare” you’d be right. Sure, It’s a pretty crude use of Google’s data analysis but I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to say that outside of a generic drug test search and people looking for ways around urine and hair tests, the most common Google “drug test” search revolves around the idea that our civil liberties are somehow contingent upon our status of employment. (Yes, yes, many of us that are ineligible for welfare benefits must submit to drug tests either as a pre-req for employment or as a means of maintaining employment via random urine tests but that’s besides that point. I know a number of people don’t believe that’s besides the point but, I promise you, it is. I’ll tell you why later.) Outside Google’s predictive algorithms, there was a meme/survey asking whether welfare recipients should submit to a drug test in order to receive their benefits on the ol’ Facebook not too long ago. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.

If information technology and social networking sites don’t strike you as indicative of broader social sentiments, how about the bills proposed by our political representatives? Among those that believe the clean-pee-for-money swap legitimate are Rick Scott (R) of Florida, Steve Fincher (R) of Tennessee, Jeff Farrington (R) of Michigan. Nevermind the fact that Scott’s program ended up costing the state more than it saved (not just by a little) or that it was put on hold four months after it was enacted because it lacked constitutional muster or that it’s based on the racist(?), classist(?), and just plain dumb assumption that if you’ve hit hard times your drug habit is probably to blame. Where does this pro-active distrust come from? I mean, it’s a pretty ripe form of hate when you feel the need to legislate kicking someone that’s down – especially when there are other, much more fruitful paths down which one could venture.

I give you exhibit A:

IMG_0261 IMG_0246 IMG_0249 IMG_0247

.

No, no, no, this isn’t the stall that welfare recipients are supposed to use when they pee in cup. It’s the stall that anyone that’s ever worked on a highrise or any other large scale job in the city of Chicago has become accustomed to using throughout the workday. Now you’re probably wondering, “Besides urine and it’s accompanying odor, what’s this poor excuse of a porta-john got to do with drug tests?”.

Let me paint a picture for you.

While my pants are at my ankles and I’m pinching off last night’s sloppy joe’s, there’s about a 60% chance (give or take) that another tradesman will walk up to the back of the open-air ‘facility’ that I’m occupying and empty their bladder into the trough immediately behind me. I exaggerate when I describe the experience as someone pissing down my back, but only a little. Now I want you to take that dynamic and apply it to this whole clean-urine-for-cash thing. You’ve got one member of society that’s obviously having a rough go of it. It’s cold out. Their movement is restricted by the limited space within which they’re provided to do their business not to mention the short distance between their belt hoops and their work boots.  They obviously had to go because who the hell wouldn’t put off evacuating their bowels until they got home if this was their only option? They’re also wondering whether they checked for TP before they sat down. Put simply, they’re exposed and vulnerable. But instead of co-workers relieving themselves in such demoralizingly close proximity because it’s the only sanctioned and available place to do so, they’ve got their elected representatives and a majority of the population clamoring for the chance even though they could do there business elsewhere.

But let’s face it, in both cases, the money’s too good to pass up. The company that supplies the johnny-half-a-john sees the trough-to-toilet arrangement as efficient both in regards to cost and shipping. The construction management company thinks they’re getting two bathroom options for the price of one. It’s a win/win. Except for the laborer, of course, but if he’s takin’ a crap on company time, he deserves it, right? So then there’s the added bonus of a demoralized workforce which, when you think about it, has no one to blame but itself. I mean, it’s not as though there’s a rule against waiting for the guy (there are generally separate, fully enclosed porta-johns for women on the job) ahead of you to finish. But you know as well as I that when times are as tough as they’ve been for the last five years, the only time you’d better be caught with your dick in you hands is when you’re doing something with it – and even then, it’d better be during your break. As for the whole “anyone who receives any form of the wide range of welfare benefits is either lazy or on drugs” bit, it’s an expression of the same tendency of the working and middle class to turn on itself when taxes and money are invoked by manipulative, divisive, and coercive pundits and politicians. From Atwater’s “Ya can’t just say ‘nigger, nigger, nigger‘ so say state rights and forced busing instead” to Boehner’s relentless claim that “Washington’s got a spending problem” to the unkillable idea that people that have come on hard times should be forced to submit to a urine test – it all acts to ensure that distributions of power and wealth remain unchanged – that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s classic Machiavellian divide and rule and it’s all done by invoking race, age, class, sexual preference, citizenship, and employment status. As long as we keep pissing down each others’ backs we won’t take the time to ask, “Who designed this fuckin’ thing and what can we do to change it?”.

But of course this doesn’t speak to the more insidious issue at hand. The lines of division and distrust that are struck wouldn’t ring with nearly as much dissonance if they didn’t speak to broader cultural fears and themes. And it’s not as if those fears are without warrant. Most of us know in our gut that inequality is a feature of capitalism and that as a highly adaptive economic system, it can survive no matter how broad the gap between the haves and the have-nots – or, if you prefer, the makers and the takers – grows. As described in this paper, the global capitalist economy is not a simple mechanical system with inputs and outputs but a complex and adaptive social structure that I’ll add not only addresses financial markets and means of exchange but provides us with symbolic resources from which we derive our ideas of meaning, security, and freedom. It managed just fine throughout the twentieth century with nation states as the primary arbiter of power and unions and regulations within them. But as those fade, a capitalism that embodies corporate military power and little to no citizen or laborer representation doesn’t seem too far a stretch of the imagination if a tad dystopic. We are all too often all too willing to absorb and embody the means of personal and social valuation provided to us by our economic order which is indeed one of the reasons why capitalism has proven so adaptive. But as my favorite economist likes to say, “Economics is not a morality play”. It would do us all well to ask ourselves where we derive our sense of personal value and human worth – which brings me to my reasoning for saying that the legality of drug testing for employment is irrelevant to the merit of drug testing for welfare:

Shouldn’t our rights as citizens – or better – our rights as humans lay the groundwork for our rights as workers rather than be subject to them?