Monday, July 29, 2013

The Minimum Wage Budget

You may have already read about how McDonalds has put together a proposed budget for their underpaid employees.  You can read about it here.  It's kind of a lesson in how out of touch the rich can be.  They propose things like "Get a second job".  They put $0 in for food, $0 in for heating, $20 for health care.  There's been plenty of ridicule of it, and I think that's appropriate, but I won't repeat that here.

What I want to talk about is something that people on the left I think should talk about more, and that is this.  It is possible to get by on a lot less.  It is possible to get by on minimum wage.  And in fact there's a lot of good that would result if we strove to do that.

Now, to be clear, I think minimum wage is WAY too low and should be increased radically.  The reason profits at Wal-Mart and McDonald's are so high is simply because the money created goes to the non working owners and not the hard working employees.  Employees should get much more.  Yeah, the capitalist in a sense just steals the productive contribution of workers.  They are parasites.

But people in the US struggle financially not just because they make too little.  They do in fact spend too much.  This is not an accident.  Pointing at them and telling them they have only themselves to blame is simplistic and wrong.  But I believe it is true that if you do successfully resist conditioning that leads you to spend more than you should you can get by on very little in this country.

Resisting the conditioning means thinking ahead even when you are young and vulnerable.  Is that realistic?  I'm not sure.  I have a friend that went to a private school where tuition is $35K/yr and I expressed my surprise.  How do you even do that?  The answer is loans.  But don't loans crush you?  Oh yeah, he said.  But he said he was 18 and had no clue.  Someone convinced him to go and he did it.  Walk out of school with $100K in debt that is not dischargeable and yeah, you're going to sink if you work at McDonald's.

Another thing that can kill you is this myth that everyone has to have a car.  When I graduated from college I took my job offer letter and went to the Ford dealership to get my car, which in my mind was the reward for all my work in college.  It was dumb.  I actually had a beater that would have worked for me.  But somehow I had it in my head that this wasn't good enough.  It was.  It was a mistake.

Young people easily get sucked into the debt trap, and in that world the McDonald's budget is absurd.  But on the left we need to not only complain about how the capitalist parasites are taking our productive contribution, but also that we need to help people avoid the initial debt and a life of consumption.  Without the desperation that these create workers get more emboldened to command a fairer piece of the revenue pie.

So let's suppose you're starting from scratch.  You have nothing, and also no debt.  You're faced with living on a McDonald's budget.  The first thing I'd try to think about is where I would live.  Maybe the $600 in the budget is reasonable for a very simple rental.  I would do whatever I could to make sure my residence was within walking distance of work, the grocery store, and the library.  Because of course I'm not going to own a car.  That can save you the car payment and insurance, which is $250.

That sounds pretty tough to a lot of people, but I guess lately I've been thinking like I would almost prefer it to the way I live now, constantly driving everywhere.  Obviously much better for the environment.  Personally I'm a bit locked right now because I have a mortgage, and my location is not right.  But if I could do it over I would consider the location factor more.

The McDonalds budget has $100 for cable.  I wouldn't have cable.  TV is a waste of time, and if I work at McDonalds I get free internet there.  My family can go to the library.  Yeah, it's limiting, but a part of me says if I had a bit less access to the internet I'd be better off.

Thanks to Obama Care and also Medicaid health insurance can be managed.  I'd try to make sure my rental allowed me to have a garden to help with the food budget.  Obviously vacations would be modest.  Maybe hop on the bike with some camping gear and go to a local park.

This may seem strange, but a part of me thinks this is a better way to live.  I read of people that make large incomes but live like this anyway.  For them it's not long before the savings they've created is enough to live off of.  I suppose you could say they become capitalist parasites.  The work of others is funneled into their pockets and they live perpetually without working.  For the McDonald's worker it's not quite so good.  But by avoiding debt and consumption it can still be a pretty good life.  It's good advice for the poor and the rich.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jimmy Carter defends Snowden and adds "America has no functioning democracy"

The original article is in Der Spiegel.  A translation is available here.  In my mind it's a pretty significant story.  Here Obama is aggressively attempting to arrest Snowden, going so far as to force a plane carrying the Bolivian President to land, merely on the suspicion that Snowden was aboard the plane.  Yet the former President is critical.  I see no mention of this in the mainstream, corporate press.  Why is it that the corporate press isn't interested?  Readers know how I would answer that question.

But to give the corporate press a little credit, for once we do have some coverage of Obama's drone program.  The grandfather of the 16 year old American droned is asking why it is that our government can kill our citizens and yet doesn't have to explain itself.  Read his editorial entitled The Drone that Killed My Grandson.

Also worth checking out is An Open Letter to the Media signed by a number of scholars and Latin American professionals that addresses our media's treatment of the so called "irony" of whistleblowers seeking asylum in places like Ecuador and Venezuela, places that are portrayed as hostile to free speech.  You may have heard that Hugo Chavez "shut down" a whole network that was critical of him.  It's totally bogus, and touched on in this letter.  Chomsky addressed it in an interesting way.  He has been asked about it and he says yeah, such a thing could never happen in the US.  His interviewer likes the sound of that and is excited, but then Chomsky continues in a way that makes his statement unpublishable in mainstream press.  He says in similar circumstances our government wouldn't revoke their license.  It would take everyone involved and line them up in front of a firing squad.  This TV network in Venezuela fomented a coup against Chavez, the democratically elected President.  Imagine if such a thing happened in the US.  Obama was kidnapped, Congress was disbanded, and then a popular uprising restored Obama and the Congress.  What do you think would happen to the people involved with a network that supported the coup?  It's pretty obvious.  And yet Chavez didn't do what our government would have done.  What he did was he didn't renew their broadcast license, which meant they had to switch to cable.  They still function, still remained openly hostile to him, but they were relegated to cable.  This shows how Venezuela doesn't value press freedom. 

Meanwhile in Britain Julian Assange sits at the Ecuadoran Embassy, staked out by British police at a cost to the British taxpayers of $18,000 per day.  That's what real press freedom looks like I suppose.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What PRISM is Really For

We know how to reduce terrorism to the vanishing point.  We know what causes it.  The CIA tells us.  The US Defense Department tells us.  Occupied peoples with few military options resort to terrorism.  If you want to stop it you stop occupying.  You stop invading.

We're not doing any of that, but the NSA is collecting all of our internet history, the metadata for our phone calls.  This much we know.  They may be doing more.  There's not good evidence that this does much to reduce terrorism.  So what's the point?

Chevron wants access to the data of activists that have been working to make it pay for the environmental devastation it has caused.  A federal judge has granted Chevron that access.  This is what this is really about in my opinion.  When you stand in the way of profits you make enemies.  Those enemies want another tool to bring you down.

Standing in the way of some profits is what is going to be required to forestall much worse environmental destruction and many more lives lost.  It's the only thing that will do it.  PRISM, by granting the most powerful corporations access to this data, further expands their power and ability to prevent us from having our voices heard.