Monday, October 14, 2013


Jobs. The rhetorical rallying cry heard throughout the last election cycle, perennial talking point rebuttal of every policy put forth by the other party. While I think the fixation on Jobs is a misdirection of our attention in and of itself, it may be useful to point out the absurd hypocrisy buried beneath the shutdown narrative. At the height of the financial crisis the US economy was losing around 800,000 jobs a month. After five years of ginned up outrage with Republicans labeling every Democratic legislative effort “job-killing,” 800,000 federal workers are furloughed (and a million more are asked to work without pay) through a Republican led shutdown of the government. Obvious irony aside, how can this be seen as anything but a big fuck you to the American people struggling through an ongoing recession? Conservative ideology supports this action as a necessary reduction of government living well beyond its means, a narrative that pits worker against worker, replacing the virtue of promoting the general welfare with the vice of living off the backs of hard working Americans. But this isn’t just about personal responsibility, it’s rooted in the free market myth that the private sector does a better job managing the economy than the government could ever do. Really? Still going with this even after the financial crisis? We all know that 1% isn’t hiring. He would rather line his pockets with gold made off your debt than pay your salary, but even so, the rich benefactor myth continues to permeate our culture. One day when our American Dream comes to fruition, we’ll be able to look back on these dark days, having pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, and be able to furlough and fire workers of our very own. Oh wait - government workers ARE our very own - after all, our taxes (and theirs) pay their salaries. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” and all that. So then if these folks work for us, why are we letting 1% (cloaked in congressional costume) make the decisions - decisions that adversely affect so many lives? If congress thinks all our workers should work for free - then why is congress still getting paid? When they give thanks to the Capitol Police for keeping them safe during an incident at the Capitol days after the shutdown starts, the irony could not be more clear. Thank you for your bravery and heroism - and thanks for working for free. These officers are not being paid during the shutdown.
Something to consider if you’re planning to sign that no work/no pay petition - does 1% really care if he gets his congressional paycheck? There are plenty of other opportunities for financial gain that political office affords. He’s certainly not counting his pennies at the kitchen table when he gets home from a hard day at the mill. Plenty of politicians have bought into office at great expense aware that financial gain is but one reward of secured influence and power. Congressman Rick Nolan recently introduced the “No Government – No Pay Act” saying “It’s time for Congress to start living in the real world – where you either do your job, or you don’t get paid.” Sounds pretty righteous at face value - do your job or we’ll shut you down! But does this reinforce the “government inefficiency” narrative that provides the core reasoning behind the shutdown to begin with? And what about that “real world” Nolan is referencing? The real world I’m living in commonly involves working for less, ocassionally for nothing at all - just to secure a job (and the most basic of health care benefits). This is the work ethic elevated to a whole new level and it is fast becoming the new normal. Rather than focusing on how this kind of callous disregard for the welfare of our citizens is unacceptable, cutting jobs and dismantling the safety net when so many are already underwater, we will be joining the battle to play the repressive bossman role that has been laid out for us. As the engineers of this dynamic, 1% is well aware of this. What better method to keep you in line than placing your livelihood under constant threat in a bad economy? You must prove that you are not a freeloader looking to cash in at the taxpayers’ expense. You should be happy to work for next to nothing so as not to cut into your employer’s profit margin, making just enough money (or perhaps not quite enough - credit!) to consume the very goods and services you produce on the job (1% has us all working for free). On top of this you should dutifully pay your taxes to support government programs (more and more of which are being “serviced” through the private sector often resulting in them not being serviced at all) which can then be put on hold indefinitely (shutdown). Who is shirking their responsibility here? Who is getting that free ride at taxpayer expense? To be clear, I am not ideologically opposed to working “for free,” but there must be some method in place to value that work beyond compensation, to provide for the dignity of the worker. The 1% has no interest in making that a reality.

You decide to make some vegetable soup. The recipe calls for Thyme, but all you have on hand is Oregano. You could always switch the labels on your spice bottles. Of course renaming your spices will not change the flavor of your soup. But then sometimes soup is like that - made out of whatever is on hand. Now, if you switch the label every time you need another spice, you’re just going to end up with a big pot of Oregano Soup. Not a particularly desirable outcome unless you’re in the business of selling Oregano. Politics is like that. Lots of politicians in the business of selling Oregano (or weapons, or oil, or debt, or indentured servitude, or some other damn thing), constantly switching the labels to make it more palatable to the public, but no matter what you call it - Oregano is always Oregano. This political switching of labels isn’t just about not having the right spice, it’s about making sure that no one uses any other spice. That’s what we used to call a monopoly, and we used to have anti-trust laws that guarded against it. Switching labels is also great strategy for keeping constituents off balance and dependent on “knowledgable” leadership. After all, how can you hope to make your own soup when you can’t tell one spice from another? With all this label switching can you tell Republican Soup from Democrat Soup? With so many of the same ingredients can you taste the difference between Neo-Liberal and Neo-Conservative Soup? Switching labels ultimately makes the selection process meaningless. You never know what you are going to get in that bottle. More importantly, it makes dialogue concerning the process equally meaningless by removing any common point of reference. This obfuscation is the real objective 1% is after, a complete disruption of your ability to make any political decision for yourself. He’s not just looking to discourage you from choosing what kind of soup you want (voting), but looking to make it impossible for you to write your own recipes - grow your own spices - make your own soup.

Some years back I worked with a vision therapist to remedy eyestrain I was experiencing at my job. There was one particular exercise that went far beyond alleviating my discomfort. I encourage you to try it for yourself as I have found the results to be quite profound.

Walk down the street focusing on some object in the distance. As you walk, let your field of vision open to encompass the things that pass you on either side. Imagine you can still see them as they fall behind you.

What did I learn? Well, I found that the original object I focused on was no less clear when I relaxed my vision to see more broadly. Selectively focusing, squinting and straining my eyes, was not actually helping me to see more clearly. As I released my focus I was astounded by how much more I could see. The leaves on the trees and their motion, the smiles on peoples’ faces, even the sounds became more vivid. An example, you are on a street corner and cars are rushing by. You focus on the opposite corner, your destination, in order to prepare yourself and relieve any anxiety you might have about crossing the street. Are you more safe focusing selectively on the opposite corner, decisively choosing when it is best to make your mad dash across the street; or are you more safe broadening your field of vision to include the cars, the street light, the traffic cop, etc.? The state of perpetual fear and crisis that has been a staple of our political landscape over the last decade relies on this type of selective focus, deliberately elevating our level of anxiety to keep us from seeing more. This is how talking points and the echo chamber work, systematically shutting down any alternative thread that might lead you to recognize linkages and connections which prefer to remain unseen. Selective focus is also used to give the impression that all the issues we face are separate, that each challenge must be surmounted in some pre-determined sequence; forcing us to prioritize our needs over the needs of others or, more commonly during the current administration, to prioritize the needs of the country over our own in “shared sacrifice.” Each new crisis an opportunity to extract another pound of flesh from our citizens under the guise of “compromise.” Every bad deal another shrug of the shoulders, another “what can you do,” another fading memory. This narcissistic spectacle of constant crisis in DC, complete with a new cast of characters each and every news cycle, is designed to keep us focused on the minutiae of party politics, the grandstanding and name calling on display more schoolyard squabble than actual governance. Washington often speaks of US economic policy as if we were an isolated entity, with no relationship and no responsibility to global economic well being. The multi-national corporations dominating our political system are free to act independent of national identity or party affiliation; as non-persons, they have no capacity for empathy. Indeed, there is a whole world around us full of joy and pain that DC never acknowledges. Our “representatives” may consider themselves separate from that world, above it, beyond it - but we don’t have to follow their lead. In every leaf, in every voice, in every smile - relax your focus and see more.

*No offense Oregano - you’re a wonderful spice!