The Privileged Dollar

The Simple Dollar makes for a good read every now and again, and I have a few friends who follow it regularly.  So it was that I came across this problematic post:

An obviously upset Sam writes in:

You think your world is all rainbows and puppies. Guess what? Karma will eventually bite you in the [rear]. Seven months ago I got fired from my job for no fault of my own the company was going under. Now I cant pay my bills and Im going to lose my house. Your life isnt a real life.

Trent of the Simple Dollar goes on to detail his personal, very real struggle to overcome his own debt.  What he glosses over, and the upset Sam leaves implied, is that Trent is indeed viewing the world through privileged lenses.  When liberals say privilege we mean “special rights or status” granted by society on the basis of a particular grouping, for example Male Privilege.  We also include a lack of self awareness about said rights and status.  Privilege is often invisible to those enjoying its benefits.

Sam’s critique isn’t effective, which is unfortunate since it lands upon a very real issue with the site.  What he ought to have said is “Your site’s advice doesn’t take many real world problems into account, and its frustrating to read yet another blogger suggesting we need to “pick ourselves up by the bootstraps” or “fix our finances”.  We don’t *have* finances to fix, we don’t have jobs, and in this economy no matter how hard we try many of us won’t for some time”.  I would have liked to have seen this message, because Trent’s response simply doesn’t cut it:

Guess what? I got out of that situation. It wasn’t easy. I had to face a ton of my own flaws along the way, most of which are still a difficult part of my own life.

He’s responding with a personal anecdote.  Its the equivalent of a software developer for Firefox angrily writing “well it works for me Firefox must never crash”, ignoring the scores of bug reports coming in.  Its wonderful that his approach to finance and life worked for him – hell its inspiring.  But that doesn’t change the fact that for many people his advice simply does not apply.  Trent betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of this situation with his next statement:

The biggest thing I learned is that no one is perfect, and every single person is in a situation that they can improve. Period. There are no exceptions to this. No one is living the best life they could be living. Why? Because, again, no one is perfect.

This assumes that less than ideal situations are the result of personal imperfection, and that everyone lives in a situation they are empowered to change.  This ignores Sam’s email (“through no fault of my own”), and in fact the entire existence of lay-offs, factory closings, company towns, and other restrictive situations that leave people struggling in the dirt.  By the same token it ignores the issues faced by those enduring various barriers to seeking more rewarding and stable employment – or any employment at all.  Its incredibly naive.  Which fits with the rest of his advice:

Here’s a good exercise: imagine where you’d be if you suddenly lost your job. Would you be able to pay your bills for the next few months? If not, then you’ve identified a weakness, one you can solve by saving some money each week.

Many Americans have jobs (sometimes multiple) that take up 40 or more hours a week – who still have trouble paying their bills.  Saving is a cynical piece of advice given the impossibility and impracticality of it for those who are truly just barely making enough to get by.  The Simple Dollar just assumes such people don’t exist – or if they do its through their own fault.

Don’t get me wrong, the post’s final message is great:

What can you do, right now, to start improving your situation? That’s the only question that matters.

It just fails to recognize that sometimes said situation improvement isn’t directly possible for everyone, and sometimes it involves seeking systemic change, rather than saving mere change every week in the hope it will eventually add up.  The post has an odor of “blame the poor for their poverty” about it, and that just stinks.


Quick Hit: EPA and BP

Saw this over at Crooks and Liars (emphasis mine):

And as Laffy noted at The Political Carnival the LA Health Dept. is getting into the act now: La. Health Dep’t. Memo: “We have serious concerns about the lack of information related to the use of dispersants”:

My friend and senior policy analyst at the EPA’s office of solid waste and emergency response, Hugh Kaufman (altakocker on Twitter), sent me a link to the above memo.

He reminded me, and I will now remind you, that BP is in charge of poisoning the Gulf with dispersants. The EPA is just along for the ride. However, necessary technical studies were not done before the Big Decision.

The following memo is proof that the necessary studies were not, and have not yet been, done by BP (or the EPA) before BP decided to continue killing our ocean, harming sea life and wild life, and poisoning Amercians with toxic dispersants, with the EPA rubber-stamping the whole thing.

Hmmmm, “the EPA is just along for the ride”.  How is that different from their approach to other tugs of war between the corporate world and the environment?

When Religious Insanity Maims and Kills Children

Religion – throughout history – has on occasion stoked the fires of ignorance, hate, and violence.  The attacks on witchcraft – often a cover for overt misogyny or the elimination of competing religions – are a particularly brazen example.  Witch hunts continue to this day in NigeriaSpecifically targeting children (nytimes – may prompt you for registration – if so visit

Those disturbed by the needless immiseration of innocent children should beware. “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” follows Gary Foxcroft, founder of the charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, as he travels the rural state of Akwa Ibom, rescuing children abused during horrific “exorcisms” — splashed with acid, buried alive, dipped in fire — or abandoned roadside, cast out of their villages because some itinerant preacher called them possessed.

some have read her book “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft,” where she confidently writes that “if a child under the age of 2 screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan.”

in her sermons, Ms. Ukpabio is emphatic that children can be possessed, and that with her God-given “powers of discernment,” she can spot such a child. Belief in possession is especially common among Pentecostals in Nigeria, where it reinforces native traditions that spirits are real and intervene in human affairs.

Since “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” was first shown in Britain, in 2008, Mr. Itauma’s home state has adopted a law against accusing children of witchcraft. But Ms. Ukpabio went on the offensive by suing the state government, Mr. Foxcroft, Mr. Itauma and Leo Igwe, a Nigerian antisuperstition activist.

In the lawsuit, Ms. Ukpabio alleges that the state law infringes on her freedom of religion. She seeks 2 billion naira (about $13 million) in damages, as well as “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents” from interfering with or otherwise denouncing her church’s “right to practice their religion and the Christian religious belief in the existence of God, Jesus Christ, Satan, sin, witchcraft, heaven and hellfire.”

In other words, in the name of religious freedom, Ms. Ukpabio seeks a gag order on anyone who disagrees with her.

This is Christianity at its very worst.  The strategies employed by Ms. Ukpabio mirror those we see in the US from conservative Christians – claim persecution and vigorously defend their “right” to persecute and vilify others – often with violent results.

In general one wants to say people have a right to preach and spread ignorance.  One’s will to defend this right begins to erode when that ignorance clearly leads to violence.  What is absolutely clear is that we do have a right to criticize that ignorance and do our best to counter it.  That means everything from explaining the difference between autism and witchcraft to tackling a belief system that was founded on bronze age fears of the unknown – and fears of competing belief systems.

Religious Conservative Incestual Rape Apologists

Sharron Angle is making public a textbook psychotic position on the horrible matter of incestual rape that leads to a pregnancy.  Digby Reports:

Sharron Angle has a plan for girls who are raped by their fathers and get pregnant. Force the little girl to have a child and then adopt both of them out to a new family!

Angle: I think that two wrongs don’t make a right. And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade. Well one girl in particular moved in with the adoptive parents of her child, and they both were adopted. Both of them grew up, one graduated from high school, the other had parents that loved her and she also graduated from high school. And I’ll tell you the little girl who was born from that very poor situation came to me when she was 13 and said ‘I know what you did thank you for saving my life.’ So it is meaningful to me to err on the side of life.

No word on what happened to the incest victim, but that’s really not something anyone should waste much time worrying about.

And anyway it just shows that God provides many good alternatives to abortion for for young girls who are raped by their fathers — perhaps we could just bend the rules a little bit and the little girl could marry her daddy so they could make a new family all their own.

That she leaves out the rape victim – aka the baby carrier (you know, the non-woman as per fellow Republican Christianist David Vitter) – is telling.  Nuts like these really don’t give a shit about mothers.  They aren’t anti-choice, they are anti-mother.  And God help you if you become a mother against your will, or if becoming a mother poses serious health risks.  Because they sure as hell won’t.  At that point you cease to be a woman, cease to be a rape victim, and become an incubator.

Let’s put the positions of these religious nuts who advocate forcing raped girls to bear their father’s children into context.  Consider the biblical story of Lot and his daughters.  He offered them up to be raped by strangers, and later had offspring with them.  Is this what religious conservative mean when they suggest using the Bible as a basis for law in our country?

What Police Murder Says About Us

The Police Officer who murdered an innocent man on San Francisco’s public transit system gets a lenient verdict – essentially concluding that the fear of black people is legally defensible.  As Digby notes:

He was just trying to teach the little bastard a lesson by swearing at him and then shooting him full of electricity while he was already on the ground. People have to learn to obey transit police officers unquestioningly and when they curse you out and threaten you out of the blue you have an obligation as a citizen to take whatever they mete out — including death if they accidentally pick up their torture device instead of their killing device. Shit happens.

Its not enough that we live in a police state.  We live in a racist, sadistic police state.  What does that say about us as a country?