The Breadth and Depth of American Racism

By definition, institutional racism is a pattern whereby institutions — such as governmental organizations, schools, banks, courts of law — exercise prejudice by giving negative treatment to a group of people based on that group’s race.  Systemic racism is a broader context under which institutional racism often exists.  Sociologist Joe Feagin, credited with originating the term defines systemic racism:

Systemic racism includes the complex array of anti-black practices, the unjustly gained political-economic power of whites, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power. Systemic here means that the core racist realities are manifested in each of society’s major parts […] each major part of U.S. society–the economy, politics, education, religion, the family–reflects the fundamental reality of systemic racism (Cole).

As such, the St. Louis County DOJ report is evidence of institutional and systemic racism in the Juvenile Court System because both the courts and other institutions – police, prisons, schools, politics, and businesses subscribe, expressly or implicitly, to the continued unequal and unfair treatment of non-whites, especially Black Americans.  The report confirms both the institutional and systemic racism in the juvenile courts with explicit details of the inadequacies found in both the conduct of juvenile justice matters and the racially-biased manner in which justice is dispensed.  In short, the system is broken and racist.

The DOJ report includes six findings of due process violations (prohibited by the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment), including failure to adequately represent children, failure to protect children from rights against self-incrimination (also a violation of the Fifth Amendment), failure to provide probable cause determinations, failure to provide children adequate due process when tried in adult courts, failure to ensure a child’s guilty pleas are entered knowingly and voluntarily (violating the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments), and failure to protect defendants against conflicts of interest in representation.  These findings are relevant to race, because the report goes on to say that, “Black children are subjected to harsher treatment because of their race (USDOJ).”  For example, according to the report, one and one-half more cases involving Black children are handled formally which narrows options for alternative outcomes.  Blacks are also two and one-half times more likely to be detained in custody before trial.  Black children under Court Supervision who violate rules are almost three times that of whites to be “locked up.”  Black children are also about three times as likely to be remanded to the state corrections institutions which carries a heavier mark on their record.  The courts are the middle ground of the justice system.

The front end – the law enforcement institutions, i.e. police – are also prejudicial in their treatment of Black juveniles.  School policing often “turns up” problems and persons – erroneously or on trivial matters – that begin the process of injustice.  These encounters are often violations of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and probable cause protections and protections against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.  The education system is a party to this over-policing model built on an Authoritarian model of “one-size-fits-all” social justice that largely ignores the differences in mental, emotional and physical development that make youth more vulnerable to impulsiveness and acting out.  The “system” doesn’t just treat Black children wrongly, it treats children wrongly, in general.  What schools need are more social workers and more programs to preclude or correct the manifestation of problem behaviors before they boil over.  Unfortunately, the funding is not adequate in education budgets and so the burden of dealing with social issues becomes largely part of law enforcement, an agency that is woefully unqualified to deal with youth in crisis and overzealous in their attendance to youth behaviors as more problematic than they are.  The “whack-a-mole” style of policing is short-sighted.  The behavior problems are not rooted in the person but are found in socio-economic and political structures that promote inequality and poverty that create a steep slope of disadvantage for many Black urban youths.

What nearly all legal and education agents appear not to accept and fully appreciate are the struggles that children are faced with, particularly urban non-white youth.  Poor sleep, poor nutrition, poor health, poor community programs, dual working or single parents working long hours in low wage jobs, parents with critical-mass marital discord that often involves physical and emotional abuses of spouse and children, and a whole host of other stressors make concentrating in and caring about education a very difficult task (WashU/SLU).  The real causes of poor school performance and antisocial behavior are found in the external environment where so many disadvantaged children are victims of debilitating socio-economic conditions and forces, i.e., delinquency, substance abuse, violence, and crime.

Our justice system and educational system institutions are so poorly equipped to accommodate and address the uniqueness of children’s natural growth experiences and the lens of justice, in general, is white tinted. Black youth are at a disproportionate risk of unequal treatment that has lasting effects that compound the societal injustice that Black people – as a community – face in America.  The saying that “Justice is Blind” is a double entendre because it is often blind to the real practices that are heavily influenced by institutional and systemic racism.  Moreover, the adage that, “when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” is too often how we address childhood behaviors in a grossly flawed paradigm and system of juvenile justice.

References

Cole, Nicki Lisa.  (2016).  Definition of Systemic Racism in Sociology.  Retrieved on 9 December 2016 from http://sociology.about.com/od/S_Index/fl/Systemic-Racism.htm

United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), Civil Rights Division. (2015).  Investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court.

Washington University Saint Louis and Saint Louis University (WashU/SLU). (2014).  For the Sake of All: A Report on the Health and Well-being of African Americans in Saint Louis.  Retrieved on 30 November 2016 from https://forthesakeofall.org/learn-more/publications/#report/1

 

Comparison of Outcomes for Children Parented by Homosexuals and Heterosexuals

There continues to be much discussion in the United States and in societies throughout the world regarding the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, marriage rights, and the abilities of homosexuals to effectively parent children.  The Supreme Court’s ruling, on June 26, 2015, in favor of allowing same-sex couples to become legally married in all states included the following statement in the majority opinion:

“A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. … Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated to a more difficult and uncertain family life.  The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. … the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.” (Supreme Court Ruling, 2015:3)

This court ruling and opinion therefore not only bestows universal rights of matrimony but also dramatically advances the parenting rights of same-sex couples.  Still, the question remains:  Are children raised by single gay or lesbian parents, or those raised by same-sex couples at increased risk of adverse outcomes in psycho-social-sexual development?  Do homosexuals, either singularly or as a couple, make suitable parents?  The verdict also appears to be in on this question.  Studies unequivocally indicate that children parented by a single gay or lesbian person or same-sex couple have outcomes that are as similar and normal as children parented by single heterosexuals or heterosexual couples – neither group of children is better or worse off based on the sexual orientation of their parents (Frias-Navarro and Monterde-I-Bort, 2012:1275).  A striking theme throughout the literature is that the welfare of children in same-sex families is at risk, not by internal forces of same-sex orientation, but by the external effects of discrimination and prejudice levied against homosexuals and their families.  This paper will clearly demonstrate that, when it comes to risks of negative influences on the well-being and development of the children of gay or lesbian parents, heterosexism is the real threat, not homosexuality.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, there are still many in positions of power and influence who contend that homosexuals choose their sexuality and thus bring it upon themselves – all the discrimination, abuse and marginalization suffered for being different from the accepted societal norm.  Ignorance and fear fuel the  irrational belief and unfounded bias that is heterosexism – that heterosexuality is the only standard or natural option for human relationships and is thus superior to same-sex sexual orientation, i.e., only “straight” people are “qualified” to get married and raise children in a family unit (Frias-Navarro et al, 2012:1274).  According to a variety of literature on the subject, homosexuals are often stigmatized as somehow “diseased” and characterized as selfish, irresponsible, uncommitted, sexually deviant, promiscuous, substance abusers and predatory, i.e. desiring to influence people’s sexuality.  Ironically, these same characteristics are shared by a not-so-small percentage of heterosexual adults who, by societal default, enjoy the unquestioned right – if not always the quintessentially inherent ability – to be a parent.  Moreover, because “heterosexual” is the master status of socialized sexual orientation and has an inherent privilege, these behaviors are largely invisible (Rosenblum and Travis, 2012:202) in the context of evaluating parenting rights.  They do not invoke a desire for an examination of heterosexuals’ fitness to raise children.

Opponents of same-sex relations and families often argue the well-being of the children as a basis for objecting to such couples raising children.   Many states have discriminatory and restrictive adoption laws (Ritenhouse, 2011:316) that can seriously jeopardize the well-being of children in same-sex parented families.  Indeed, these states either do not allow adoption, do not recognize the non-biological partner as a legal parent, or only allow one partner to claim parent status in the event of a non-biological adoption (Ritenhouse, 2011:316).  The heterosexist view asserts that a man and a woman, distinctly as father and mother, are necessary family components to raise well-adjusted children, no matter the degree of dysfunction in the household (Frias-Navarro et al, 2012:1284).  Further heterosexist opinions that the origin of same-sex sexual orientation is a learned preference correlates with greater rejection of gay and lesbian parenthood (Frias-Navarro et al, 2012:1284).  Intolerance of homosexuals as parents often leads to social and institutional ostracism of the parents and children and has also included horrific abuses of these children by other children in the “straight” majority.  This would seem to indicate that it is not so much the ability of homosexuals to raise well-adjusted, healthy children that is problematic, but more so that a hostile heterosexual world can create adverse outcomes in a child’s well-being and development.

In comparing and assessing parenting affects, researchers often looked at six categories to determine outcome variances: (1) parent/child relationship quality, and the child’s (2) cognitive development, (3) gender role behavior, (4) gender identity, (5) sexual orientation, and (6) psychological adjustment (Fedewa, Black and Ahn. 2015:4).  The American Sociological Association’s Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court included an evaluation of a multitude of studies relevant to the effects on children raised by gay, lesbian and same-sex couples.  The report summarized a comparative analysis of five measurable outcome areas: (1) academic performance and cognitive development, (2) social development, (3) psychological well-being, (4) sexual activity, and (5) problem behaviors (Manning, Fettro and Lamidi. 2014:491).  Findings were unanimous across all studies that children raised by homosexual individuals and couples were at least as well-adjusted and equivalent developmentally with children of heterosexual family units.

According to Judd Legum’s reporting (Legum, 2014), Dr. Simon Crouch, the lead researcher for a study of more than 300 children parented by homosexuals noted that same-sex couples often are more likely to share parenting activities that are most suited to their skills and interests as opposed to stereotypical gender roles.  Crouch suggests that such a strategy often creates a more efficient and harmonious family unit that favors the health and well-being of parents and children (Legum, 2014).  The big concern seems to be that these children will all “become” homosexuals, i.e., the learned choice theory, and thus spread their gayness and lesbianism beyond their immediate family.  This has also been proven unfounded by empirical evidence in the studies of such children.  An astute observer may ask, “Where did all these homosexuals originate from?”  And the only plausible correct answer is, “The vast majority were initially born and raised by heterosexuals.”  Which may explain why the heterosexual community favors the choice theory; it absolves them of responsibility and guilt as complicit in the creation of homosexuality.  Still, those who oppose same-sex marriage often cite concerns about what happens when these children become adults (Legum, 2014); an argument also addressed by two studies of the adult children of homosexual and same-sex parents.

One such study was a documentary called “Gayby Baby” made by Maya Newell, the daughter of lesbian mothers.  Newell shared her own experience and interviewed other children who were raised by non-heterosexual parents.  All of the children reported positive family experiences and positive development outcomes, despite the challenges of navigating life in a “heteronormative” world. (Hosking, Mulholland and Baird, 2015:340-345).  Several testimonies were very poignant in revealing the struggles they and their families endured.   Kate Burns, the daughter of a gay couple, was afraid (not ashamed) for having two dads and thus kept one of them “hidden” at her social and sports events (Hosking et al, 2015:343).  Brenna Harding, raised by lesbians, spoke to the cruelty of discrimination in making it so easy to be teased for having parents that society asserts are not good enough to get married (Hosking et al, 2015:343).  (Both these, and many other personal testimonials, directly affirm the concerns outlined by the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage).   The theme of the interviews was that it was not the sexual orientation of their parents that mattered, or whether they had a biological mom and a dad.  What mattered was that they knew they were loved, had a stable home, and enjoyed a comfortable family life.  Whether that love came from a gay or lesbian parent was irrelevant to their sense of well-being (Hosking et al, 2015:344).

Another study of adult children of non-heterosexual parenting experiences looked at resilience, i.e., overcoming significant adversity, as a measure of well-being outcomes (Titlestad and Pooley, 2014:331).   Psychologist, Dr. Gregory Herek, states that prejudice and discrimination are significant factors that exert forces leading to “minority stress syndrome” – defined as “chronic social stress that results from belonging to a stigmatized social category and in addition to the general stressors of everyday life” (Titlestad et al, 2014:331).   What makes this study and Newell’s work interesting is that they look at the non-quantifiable attributes of the human experience, not just the five or six factors defined in the majority of studies that were more accomplishments based.  The study concludes that “parent-child relationships and family dynamics are more important than family composition” (Titlestad et al, 2014:349).

The results of these studies support the heterosexual mantra that good parenting is essential to a child’s development and well-being and would seem another strike against the heteronormative argument that the welfare of the child is at stake in a household parented by homosexuals.  Indeed, the well-being of the child is at stake in any home regardless of a parent’s sexual orientation, which appears more and more irrelevant the more the subject is studied.

There is one “outlier” – a study by sociologist Mark Regnerus – that is a favorite canard of opponents of same-sex parented families to perpetuate ignorance and support the myth that children raised by a same-sex couple are worse off.  Regnerus, whose work has been condemned by the American Sociological Association, didn’t study children raised by same-sex couples, but rather, those raised in “failed heterosexual unions” (Legum. 2014) where one parent had engaged in a homosexual relationship.  The study lacked objectivity and sound design (Perrin, Cohen and Caron, 2013:334). This study was what credible studies try to avoid; the “muddying of the waters” with atypical and disparate situations that would sharply bias results.

In conclusion, the results of study after study indicate that children raised in same-sex couple families fare at least as well as those raised in traditional heterosexual couple families.  Further, although quantitative and qualitative research exists proving that gays, lesbians and same-sex couples are suitable parents, such a microscope puts enormous pressure on both the parents and the children to “perform” and “act right” to be validated – a circus act from which heterosexuals are exempt (Hosking et al, 2015:339).  Indeed, the major variable that would contribute to poorer outcomes is not internal to the subject family unit, but the external influence of the homophobic-driven prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors of the heterosexual community.  In all areas of child development and well-being, homosexual partners were just as qualified and capable of raising healthy and well-adjusted children as were heterosexual partner families.  The primary recommendation at the end of the assessment of homosexual parenting behaviors and child development is that the heterosexual community, if it is truly concerned for the children in homosexual parented families, must accept and support these non-traditional families.  They must afford them the same rights and social standing as any other family unit.  The hope is that, in consideration of the factors presented in this paper, society will “make room for” and accept “alternative” relationships and family arrangements as an equally legitimate context in which to exercise not only parental rights but marriage rights.  This can only be accomplished by rescinding or amendment of discriminatory and prejudicial laws that inhibit the full exercise of familial freedoms to afford homosexuals the same full measure of rights and opportunities that heterosexuals enjoy.

 

 

Reference List

Fedewa, Alicia L., Whitney W. Black, and Soyeon Ahn. 2015. “Children and Adolescents With Same-Gender Parents: A Meta-Analytic Approach in Assessing Outcomes.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies 11(1):1-34, DOI: 10.1080/1550428X.2013.869486.  Journal article containing a “quantitative synthesis” of 33 studies that investigated the effects of parental gender and sexual identity on child and adolescent outcomes involving an aggregate of 5,272 children.  Conclusions were that children of same-sex parents were not disadvantaged by family type.

Frias-Navarro, Delores and Hector Monterde-i-Bort. 2012. “A Scale on Beliefs about Children’s Adjustment in Same-Sex Families: Reliability and Validity.”  Journal of Homosexuality 59(9):1273-1288, DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2012.720505. Journal article about a study, sampling 212 university students, to assess adults’ beliefs about negative impacts on children who are raised by same-sex parents.

Hosking, Gipsy, Monique Mulholland, and Barbara Baird. 2015. “We Are Doing Just Fine: The Children of Australian Gay and Lesbian Parents Speak Out.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies 11(4):327-350. DOI: 10.1080/1550428X.2014.988378. Journal article reporting on a study of children based on personal interviews about experiences of having gay, lesbian and same-sex parents.  The conclusion is that children are well-adjusted and suffer no ill effects of homosexual parenting.

Legum, Judd. 2014.  “Major New Study Finds Kids Raised by Same-Sex Couples are ‘Healthier and Happier.’”  Think Progress.  Retrieved October 10, 2015 (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/07/05/3456717/kids-raised-by-same-sex-couples-are-healthier-and-happier/). Internet article discusses results of a study of 315 same-sex parents and 500 children done by Australia’s University of Melbourne that concludes that homosexuals make suitable parents due to positive outcomes of children in such families.

Manning, Wendy. D., Marshall N. Fettro, and Esther Lamidi. 2014. “Child Well-Being in Same-Sex Parent Families:  Review of Research Prepared for American Sociological Association Amicus Brief.”  Springer Science+Business Media.  DOI: 10.1007/s11113-014-9329-6.  Journal article is a summary of literature regarding the well-being of children raised within same-sex parent families prepared by the American Sociological Association for a Supreme Court amicus curiae brief.  The conclusion was that there is a clear consensus in the social science literature indicating that American children living within same-sex parent households fare just, as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households and differences that exist in child well-being,  are primarily due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability.

Perrin, Andrew J., Philip N. Cohen, and Neal Caren. 2013. “Are Children of Parents Who Had Same-Sex Relationships Disadvantaged? A Scientific Evaluation of the No-Differences Hypothesis.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 17(3):327-336. DOI: 10.1080/19359705.2013.772553. Journal article refuting the validity of a study done by sociologist Mark Regnerus who argued against same-sex parenting based on findings detrimental to child well-being in “failed heterosexual unions.”  The Regnerus study was an “apples and oranges” comparison without adequate control measures to distinguish validity.

Rittenhouse, Damon. 2011. “What’s Orientation Got to Do With It?; The Best Interest of the Child Standard and Legal Bias Against Gay and Lesbian Parents.” Journal of Poverty 15(3):309-329.  DOI: 10.1080/10875549.2011.589260. Journal article reporting on the disparity between the actual outcomes of children raised by homosexual parent(s) and the legal restrictions that pose the actual threat to the well-being of children and families.

Rosenblum, Karen E. and Toni-Michelle C. Travis. 2012.  The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race, Sex and Gender, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, and Disability.  6 Ed.  New York: McGraw-Hill. This sociology textbook addresses topics of social interest and explores them in story format within the context of Framework Essays that describe the key features discussed in the stories.

Supreme Court of the United States. 2015.  “Slip Opinion for Obergefell Et Al. V. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department Of Health, Et Al.”  No. 14-556.  Retrieved November 3, 2015 (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf).  The document includes the majority opinion striking down state bans on issuing same-sex marriage licenses and making matrimony available to all same-sex couples in all 50 states.  Dissenting opinions are also included.

Titlestad, Angharad and Julie Ann Pooley. 2014. “Resilience in Same-Sex-Parented Families: The Lived Experience of Adults with Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Parents.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies 10(4):329-353. DOI: 10.1080/1550428X.2013.833065. Journal article includes a summary of a study of outcomes in adult children of gay, lesbian and same-sex couples.  Interviews with children of these parents indicate successful coping strategies that led to their well-adjusted development despite threats, adversities and other societal and institutional obstacles stemming from prejudice and discrimination.

Superlative Inspiration

remember the first time that I saw this man, Jonathan Goldsmith, in what I didn’t know then was just a beer commercial! The original one began — if I recall correctly — as a grainy, black and white ‘super8-style’ video and a voice-over describing the exploits of this ‘most interesting man in the world.’ You’ve most likely seen at least one version of this Dos Equis man of mystery, intrigue, and charm. To my mind, he puts James Bond on notice; step up the game, ‘old boy.’

Like all brilliant advertising, Goldsmith’s unnamed character and tagline are exquisitely fashioned and equally memorable: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis — Stay thirsty, my friends.” So, what the hell was Dos Equis thinking when, after nearly ten years of smashing success and, quadruple-profitability, they sent this hero to Mars on a one-way trip?

Last Goldsmith commercial— Mission to Mars (image courtesy of Dos Equis via The Hollywood Reporter)

Goldsmith’s character persona — first and foremost , and the overall color and textures of the commercials, conveyed a realness and a warmth that appealed to both genders of consumers because of the context of the message: Dos Equis is the only choice for beer drinkers who value the satisfaction of mastering the art of living — don’t we all? The print and video mediums both pulled together all the key elements of good copy: visual and visceral appeal in both a generic and a unique sense. Everyone could relate to the hyperbolized story of this fantasy any man from anywhere.

But the core of it all was Goldsmith’s sophisticated, seasoned self who, through his masterful portrayal of ‘the man,’ embodied what every man wanted to be like and who every woman wanted to be with. Goldsmith’s physical appearance, poise, and voice already bespoke an ambiguous, multi-cultural, worldly, and virile persona. Goldsmith’s Dos Equis’ man had it all! The looks, the charm, the exploits, and the spoils of such. Was there really a need to introduce a younger, more ethnically-defined version of the ‘most interesting man in the world?’

No matter the tragedy of the end of the Goldsmith era with Dos Equis. Such a man and such a character do not just fade away into obscurity on another planet. No. Where there is money to be made, the void shall be filled and the hero shall rise again on another day and in another classy and whimsical commercial enterprise. If he told us all once, he said it many times over, “I don’t always drink beer …” All hail the new frontman of Astral Tequila!

Same ‘most-interesting man,’ pitching a new product (image courtesy of AdWeek)

Still, it’s not the same mystique-infused inspiration. I don’t always drink beer, but I’ve learned, through more than enough trial and error, to stay the hell away from tequila! You’re on your own now, Mr. Goldsmith. Cheers! Prost! Salud! Na zdrowie! Au revoir, mon ami.

Wage Wars -Workers vs. CEOs

man in gray suit playing chess
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(This is Part I of a multi-part series on the broader topic of economic truths and fallacies)

Rage and curiosity flooded my mind again today.  Getting facebooked or “twittered” is an all too common experience for me and millions of others, regardless of socio-political ideology.  It happens as we follow our joy and curiosity in what we find on Facebook – and other – social media platforms.  As usual, this particular browsing episode also featured a wonderful video (wait, don’t click that ‘dessert’ yet!  Eat this ‘vegetable’ post first!) of grandfathers interacting with their infant grandchildren.  Okay, where was I?

Right, so then, there it was: another (actually truthful – how refreshing) meme about how a typical worker in a large company eek’s out a paltry existence in the shadow of their boss master’s hyper-wealth, another example of the absurdity of the economic injustice endemic throughout American society.  Where did we ever get the idea that an owner, or executive of a business, merits earning several hundred – even several thousand –  times more than those whose work actually provides the value and profits that the company makes that afford those at the top with royal compensation?

Now, I’m not saying that ‘the boss’ and those charged with the directorship of a company shouldn’t be paid more, and handsomely so, as compensation for their founding right (courage, creativity, persistence, vision and other initial investments), and their strategic and operational skills and responsibilities.  Notice I didn’t say ‘level of education.’  Many very successful entrepreneurs haven’t even gone to college; some never finished high school!  Level of education may be an entry bar, but’s it’s largely irrelevant (notwithstanding specialist, certification-required work, e.g. doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, etc.) when it comes to adding value to an organization and a company.

So where (who) does value come from in creating and sustaining the success and/or profitability of an enterprise?  Simple; everyone who has an influence over and a stake in such:  e.g., the owner, the board of directors, the management team, the supervisors, the operation, information technology, product research and development, goods production, marketing, sales, retail, and facility maintenance teams, among others.  The point is that it actually does ‘take a village’ to care for and raise a business to become a responsible and productive member of society.  Take away any part of that whole and the business will suffer.  And it doesn’t matter whether a function gets ‘outsourced,’ it still needs to get done.

Outsourcing is beyond the scope of this post but, as it has certainly taken on a life of its own, should and will be discussed in ‘Part ?’ of this series.  One thing does bear mentioning here as it’s relevant to the wage war theme of this article.  Getting rid of direct (in the company) workers, particularly when cheaper, (i.e. less-regulated, more desperate/impoverished, and/or de facto slavery) workforces can be found in other companies, other segments of society (think immigrants), or other countries is advantages on two fronts: higher profits and lower prices to consumers.  And I’m sure you can see the catch 22 here, but let me explain.

If you’re a business owner, you always seek a competitive advantage: make it cheaper, sell it cheaper, gain more customers, make more sales, make more money.  This is the basic capitalist business model and it makes sense, up to the point where it bumps head-on into ethical and moral issues of the ‘greater good’ concept which posits that, for a society to function well, thrive and endure as such, there must be a just quid pro quo arrangement that creates a win-win relationship between all parties.

That’s also a basic tenet of why a people’s representative government is essential to keep this balance of fairness secure.  But today, we have a government that, first and foremost, represents the will of a small majority: those with the wealth and power to influence decision-making in their favor, which is increasingly creating a win-lose scenario throughout our society.

If you’re a consumer, you also perceive an advantage.  Notice the nuance.  The advantage to consumers is not what it appears.  And that’s why the companies and their media arms under their corporate umbrella built the propaganda machine that spews out a ridiculously inaccurate and false narrative about how our economy works.  There’s a reason why cheaper common-use consumer goods are necessary in a society of people whose wages are lagging and/or falling relative to the GDP growth.  Inflation is already occurring, it’s just being masked by an attempt to balance low wages with low prices for basic consumer goods.  Where the pain of low wages is felt most is against the rapidly rising costs of housing, transportation, energy, education, healthcare, food, and more specialized durable goods.

Purchasing power, on a whole, is actually decreasing, not increasing, but again, this is being masked by extending loans and credit to cover costs that wages won’t.  Covering payments rather than making full purchases gets the consumer what they want, gets a sale for the business and now, tah-dah! gets the bankers a piece of the action!  It seems, at first run, to be win-win, right?  Except that consumers are paying more than the list price of the good they will eventually fully own.  This relationship, over time, exhausts consumers’ financial resources as they make less, but pay more for nearly everything.  It’s not sustainable.  It’s a slow bleed to the poor house.

A distinction must be made about relative income.  Even as I write this post, I see that I’m much less of a victim than most people.  But that doesn’t mean anything when I’m considering the well-being of more than 300 million people in the United States, two-thirds or better who are already drowning as a result of the systemically-drilled holes in the ‘American Dream’ boat.  And another sixth of the population is clinging to the rails.  In reality, we are all on the Titanic and, as long as we keep avoiding a discussion of the icebergs in our way, we are all more likely to be in the water as in a boat.

Consider also that the paltry and stagnant federal minimum wage has given businesses an anchor that helps justify keeping workers’ wages low and allows for heavy profiteering at executive levels where the ratio of people in these two camps is perhaps 1,000:1, more or less.  So, in such a basic – and yes, simplistic – model, if you pay your workers an average of twelve dollars an hour when they should be earning twice that amount according to GDP growth, you’ve just found yourself with about twenty-four million extra dollars in annual revenue.  Hmmm, what to do with all that ‘surplus?’  Better healthcare for the workforce that is making you rich?  Maternity leave?  Increase worker compensation, à la wages or productivity bonuses?

To be fair, there are some companies who do just that, but we only need to look at Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Duncan Donuts, (yeah, that was the meme) and others to see that the choice usually made is to maintain and increase, often exorbitantly, executive compensation and, in turn, convince the government, at taxpayer expense, to provide public assistance to compensate workers for the low compensation provided by their company.  How is this acceptable, but raising wages for workers is not?

Let’s just consider a question of worth.  Do the guys or gals at the top of the company pyramid really do 1,000 times the work and add 1,000 times the value compared to the rank and file in that company?  Hint: visualize that pyramid.  Who is actually riding on the backs of whom?  Getting hired to work for a company is not a charity offering,  each worker adds value to the whole.  Without all these people supporting the vision and mission of those at the top, there would be no production, nothing sold, and no profits, which means that there would be no company.  Maybe, tying executive compensation to some multiple of base worker compensation is a smarter, fairer and more ethical model for capitalism and economic justice.

Which brings me to my final point in this post: the lie in the assertion that raising wages to a ‘living wage’ will create an inflation nightmare that will ‘hurt everyone’  must be soundly and clearly debunked.  The exact opposite is actually what would result.  It’s simple, yet complex.  It’s not difficult and complicated.  There’s a big difference.  And it needs a thorough explanation.  More to come …

In subsequent posts, I’ll tackle much more about the socio-economic-political triangle that has become mangled by greed and corruption and the injustice that arises from such. 

Wallet Maintenance Mini Memoir

man rich travel shopping
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As I don’t do often enough, today I cleaned out my wallet.  Not the money.  That’s always all gone, somehow.  But, all the other stuff – old receipts for things I’ve eaten, worn out, or thrown away, sticky notes and scraps of paper with names and numbers that no longer ring a bell or matter, expired gift cards and insurance cards, membership cards for places I’m no longer a member of or not likely to use again, public transit passes for places I’ll never be again, and business cards no longer relevant (at least for right now) – all that stuff takes up a lot of space and clutters up my search for things I do need often: credit and debit cards, current insurance cards, driver’s license, social security and military retiree ID card.

Why do I always let my wallet get overrun with ‘weeds?’  At a certain point, its fatness reflects that of my own body as the two typically adjacent things vie for space in my pants (Yep, there’s a temptation to extend and embellish that metaphor – but I digress).  The point is that, at some point, I instinctively know that it’s time to do some wallet maintenance.  I opened it and waded enthusiastically, yet cautiously, into the task.

First, I pulled everything out and lay it down.  The empty wallet sat open lazily on the desk next to a pile of disgorged paper and plastic rectangles.  Then I began sorting categorically.  Why?  I don’t know.  I guess it gave me a sense of organization and confidence to proceed further.  Maybe I was procrastinating by adding that sorting process step?  I could have just made a judgment call, as I picked up each item that I’d unsheathed from the open-top pockets in the leather scabbard.  But I … okay, I was procrastinating.

As I addressed each prospective ‘keeper,’ a somber, curious or contented tone resonated within me.  Some of the old stuff I’d lazily or expectantly kept for so long reflected an anxiety or optimism of future need or a cherished memory- maybe I’ll go back to that amusement park, zoo, or wherever that I went to once, five years ago.  One day, I’ll have more money and get these credit cards paid off.  Why did I keep that?  One group of kept items makes me smile.

These, the Dave and Buster’s game cards, recalled fun visits with my youngest son.  I always enjoyed watching him wander around with the curiosity and anticipation of winning more tickets to cash in on crap in the gift store.  It’s such an innocent search for fun and happiness.  We cheered, laughed, and groused together as the winnings and losses occurred.  Sometimes I played the same games to enhance our camaraderie or assist his chances for success when being adult-sized offered an advantage.  These are keepers, I told myself, whether or not I ever set foot in there again.  That is definitely a greater possibility than using the New York City subway pass that will expire before I ever find time or reason to return.

After I’d quarantined the Dave and Buster’s cards, I examined the rest of the contents and reflected on each’s purpose and meaning before I made the decision that I could do without and gave myself permission to cast a card into the trash.  Sometimes I felt a pang of fear or emptiness well up in my heart and I set that string-puller aside, rather than trash it or restore it to its previous position in my wallet.  I now have a drawer full of wallet castaways that will most likely never be needed again but that cling to a ‘maybe’ and lie in wait.

I then deliberately replaced the qualifying content, changing the location of several pieces to reflect revised priorities in my daily life.  Wow!  What a difference the purging and pruning have made in the feel of the wallet and how I feel about my wallet, myself, and my life.  I took a few moments to revel in the sense of pride, dignity, and peace of mind that my impromptu industriousness and emotional courage have bestowed on me.  And then I told myself, “Good job dude!  That’s enough toil and turbulence for today.”

‘facebookery,’ etc. the slippery, dark slopes of social media

apps blur button close up
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Inspiration here is brought to you by an article I read in the Atlantic that spawned some potentially – or probably not – trademarkable Facebook inspired words and  definitions to support the title and intent of this blog post:

facebookery. noun. the careless, deceptive, malicious, or foolish behavior of a person or group of people using Facebook. “There’s another ridiculous and false news story! I’m getting so sick of all this facebookery!”

facebooky. facebookish.  adjectives.  a somewhat condescending comparison of something or someone to Facebook’s design, content, or users.  “Don’t they strike you as a bit facebooky in their grasp of reality?” or “His opinions sound very facebookish.”

facebooked. (1) adjective. the result of becoming consumed with or duped through media posts on Facebook.  “She has really been facebooked lately and can’t find the time to finish other projects.” (2) verb. acted upon or influenced by content on the Facebook social media site.  “Yeah, I know it was my own fault for sharing without checking sources for accuracy.  I guess I got facebooked, again.”

Facebook. (1) noun.  The online social media company;  (2) verb. the act of using Facebook.  “I really like to get into bed early and facebook myself to sleep.” 

facebooker. noun. a person who facebooks.  “She’s really quite a looker and a wild facebooker!”

facebooking.  (1) verb. to use facebook.  “He seems agitated.  I think he’s been facebooking too much.” (2) noun. the act or instance of getting facebooked.  “Those trolls gave you a seriously wicked facebooking!”

Origin

The term ‘face book’ originally described online student directories available at select American Universities pre-2006.  Since then, the American-based online social networking service company, Facebook, expanded to allow almost everyone at least 13 years old to become a user.

So, now we have some context to proceed with a discussion of the article.  Let’s begin with the slippery, dark lining that lays within the Facebook platform, as described in the aforementioned Atlantic article.

“Facebook’s draw is its ability to give you what you want. Like a page, get more of that page’s posts; like a story, get more stories like that; interact with a person, get more of their updates. The way Facebook determines the ranking of the News Feed is the probability that you’ll like, comment on, or share a story. Shares are worth more than comments, which are both worth more than likes, but in all cases, the more likely you are to interact with a post, the higher up it will show in your News Feed. Two thousand kinds of data (or “features” in the industry parlance) get smelted in Facebook’s machine-learning system to make those predictions.”

Before we delve too deeply on the downside subject of Facebook, let me be clear: I like Facebook.  A lot.  It does provide a great medium for social connections and I’ve weeded through my news feed to find some wonderful flowers and gems of people, places, things, events, knowledge, ideas, inspirations, and humor.  That’s what Facebook offers and is what attracts most people who are users. Kudos to Mr. Zuckerberg and his brilliant team for their circa 2006 intent for use and value to consumers.

Enter the Sandman of politics and social engineering.  This is how Facebook’s reach and power become used in a fashion that serves to influence human behavior beyond benign allegiances, likes and dislikes, and modestly constructive dialogue.  As Alexis C. Madrigal observes in our subject article:

“But as far as “personalized newspapers” go, this one’s editorial sensibilities are limited. Most people are far less likely to engage with viewpoints that they find confusing, annoying, incorrect, or abhorrent. And this is true not just in politics, but the broader culture.

That this could be a problem was apparent to many. Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble, [a fascinating presentation you should watch] which came out in the summer of 2011, became the most widely cited distillation of the effects Facebook and other internet platforms could have on public discourse.”

Pariser, in his TED talk, provides proof for his assertion that “the internet [Google, Yahoo, and other information and social media sites] is showing us things that it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

The definitions at the beginning of this post that are derived from the core word Facebook could equally apply to many online media powerhouses.  My purpose in writing this article is to bring attention and awareness to the hazards of ignorance of how web technology can manipulate content delivery and how we, as online information consumers, are subtly influenced by hidden – and not so benevolent – hands. Much of this is akin to the net neutrality debate.

It’s so very important that we understand what’s really going on behind and before our engagement with online platforms so that robustly accurate, truthful information is available to us, objectively.  The preservation of our democratic republic depends on access to the truthful information relayed in full context; anything else or less is called propaganda.

Unfortunately, in the battle for viewership and revenue, a multitude of media outlets across the political spectrum are guilty of partisan propaganda.  It’s increasingly difficult to find the unvarnished and fully vetted truth about people, things, and events.  Which brings me back to my first post where I gave Facebook credit for inspiring this website and blog.

I’m an advocate for the advancement of technology, so long as it’s used in a responsible and ethical manner that enhances people’s lives and improves the conditions of the society in which we live.  Presently, internet-based technology is being developed and used to undermine that aim.  Business models have evolved to make use of increasingly unscrupulous practices, i.e. click-baiting, and ‘sponsored’ ads that look like news but are product promotions in disguise.

Back to Madrigal’s Atlantic article and a quote from Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman:

“in the final three months of the [2016] U.S. presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election-news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.”

Getting duped and riled up by facebookery is now, and will probably always be, a fact of life.  Facebook is taking steps to minimize the frequency and impact of such but, with a wide-open internet infested by users with divergent ideologies and malicious intent embedded in content, it’s unlikely that the erosion of our democracy will be curbed; unless we can start finding common informational ground for discussion and debate. It’s just too easy – and lucrative – to spread misinformation and splinter a society.

“A few days before the election Silverman and fellow BuzzFeed contributor Lawrence Alexander traced 100 pro–Donald Trump sites to a town of 45,000 in Macedonia. Some teens there realized they could make money off the election, and just like that, became a node in the information network that helped Trump beat Clinton.”

I rest my case.  Call it what you will, but ignorance-based contempt is slowly consuming our society through undiscerning social media engagement.  Now, I don’t always read the news, but when I do, I prefer the objective, unspun, unvarnished truth.  Stay vigilant, my friends.  Cheers and RIP, Jonathan Goldsmith.

P.S. “A Guardian reporter who looked into Russian military doctrine around information war found a handbook that described how it might work. “The deployment of information weapons, [the book] suggests, ‘acts like an invisible radiation’ upon its targets: ‘The population doesn’t even feel it is being acted upon. So the state doesn’t switch on its self-defense mechanisms,’” wrote Peter Pomerantsev.”