Netflix’s ‘Maid’ is a Smart and Subtle Indictment of Neoliberalism

by Keaton Weiss

“We need somewhere to live,” says Alex to her social worker in episode 6 of Netflix’s Maid, “I’m on seven different types of government assistance right now, and I’m working the maximum amount of hours I can work without getting my benefits cut. But after food and gas and daycare co-pay, we have a total of nine dollars extra every week. . .How am I supposed to afford rent, even subsidized rent. . .How is this assistance assisting me?”

Based on a memoir by Stephanie Land, Maid is a drama series about a young housecleaner named Alex who escapes an abusive relationship with her alcoholic partner and struggles to create a better life for herself and her toddler daughter. Keeping afloat means carefully navigating an increasingly labyrinthine network of social and professional relationships while extracting as much assistance as she can from an impossibly complicated and bureaucratic “social safety net.”

Since the wait list for Section 8 is too long, Alex is offered TBRA vouchers, which are practically unusable as virtually no landlords are willing to accept them, given all of the red tape they would need to cut through in order to do so. Because of this, she’s forced to rent an apartment off the books and supplement her cheap rent by doing free yard work for the homeowner.

This scenario is one of many in the series that illustrates in precise detail the seemingly inescapable trap of poverty in America. A running tally of Alex’s bank balance appears on screen at various moments, including one when she goes into the red after being distracted for a brief moment at the gas station and unwittingly putting an extra gallon in the tank. She then has to ask another customer for the three dollars she over-pumped so she’s able to pay her bill and go home.

Throughout the show, people try and help her as best they can. Her friend Nate convinces an expensive daycare center to accept her daughter, and one of her wealthy clients hooks her up with a powerhouse family lawyer who tries to win her sole custody so she can move them both to Missoula, Montana, where she’s been accepted into a prestigious university’s writing program. But even these efforts are challenged in unpredictable ways. Residency requirements complicate her ability to receive tuition assistance at the daycare center. Washington State’s unfair laws regarding domestic abuse make Alex’s custody battle much more difficult than it ought to be. And because her college’s family housing program is only available under very specific and time-sensitive circumstances, Alex is under immense pressure to make the various moving parts of her life quickly come together, lest she forfeit her spot.

So despite the best intentions of many of Alex’s friends and acquaintances, their good will is hardly a match for the neoliberal system in which they live. Meager public assistance is doled out only to those who can prove their “eligibility” after completing mountains of paperwork and enduring demeaning scrutiny, and at the end of the day, everything is for sale. In perhaps the cringiest example, Alex is forced to pay six of her remaining nine dollars to the private daycare center to reimburse them for the pricey ice cream they bought her daughter earlier that day.

Towards the end of the series, when Alex is readmitted into her domestic violence shelter, she visits the facility’s “boutique,” a room full of donated clothes available free of charge. Alex, who has had to both toil at her low wage job and jump through endless hoops to receive welfare benefits in order to survive, is shocked by the existence of such a place where something is simply provided to those who need it, no strings attached.

It seems too good to be true, which is why, even in this space, blank price tags are placed on each article of clothing just for show, and the counter boasts a dummy cash register to make the space feel more “normal.” Nothing better illustrates the pervasiveness of capitalist hegemony and market-oriented “charity” than that the shelter feels a need to disguise this clothing bank as a commercial store in order to make its patrons feel comfortable. Because to be a recipient of such voluntary giving doesn’t seem “normal” to people in Alex’s shoes. Feeling “normal” means feeling like a consumer, a customer, a shopper.

Being that Maid is based on the autobiography of a now successful writer, it ought not be too much of a spoiler to say that things generally work out in the end for Alex. But instead of reveling in the peace of what is a relatively happy ending, the audience is baffled by just how incredibly and unnecessarily difficult her journey was. We also ponder how much harder it likely would have been were Alex not a white English-speaking woman; or were she not such a talented writer who got accepted to a Fine Arts school based on merit; or were she not mentally and physically capable of juggling her college applications, her work schedule, her government assistance paperwork, and her responsibilities as a parent.

Maid doesn’t wear its politics on its sleeve. In fact, on a textual level, it’s decidedly apolitical. But after a fruitless months-long struggle to pass a robust “human infrastructure” package through Congress, it’s impossible to watch the show and not view it as an indictment of our neoliberal order in which a person’s worth is defined by their running bank balance, and even the smallest crumbs of assistance are so begrudgingly spared that they’re barely worth the time and effort it takes to beg for them.

An increasingly rare example of a work of art that’s as subtle as it is incisive, Maid is well worth watching and discussing.

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Photo: Maid, Netflix

Defend Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant Against the Right Wing Recall

“I am not right wing, I am very much a Democrat,” said Henry Bridger, campaign manager for the recall effort against Seattle’s socialist city councilwoman Kshama Sawant in a televised debate earlier this month. Whether Bridger is himself deluded enough to earnestly believe what sounds like a literal punchline to many on the actual ‘left wing’ is besides the point.

The point is that the recall effort against Sawant is being backed by a coalition of Republicans, big business, and, yes, “right wing” Democrats. Seattle real estate mogul Martin Selig, a donor to Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, backs the recall, as does the city’s Democratic mayor Jenny Durkan, a party insider who has openly spoken out against Sawant as well as Tammy Morales, who she warned her network was “another socialist” seeking a seat on the city council.

That Democrats and Republicans would work together to block and/or remove socialists from positions of power is certainly no surprise. They just did so in Buffalo, where incumbent Democrat Byron Brown forged a cross-party alliance for a successful write-in campaign against socialist India Walton who defeated him in the city’s Democratic primary earlier this year.

Residents of Seattle’s District 3 are receiving their ballots by today (November 22), and must be returned by December 7. Because this special recall election is taking place one month after the national Election Day on November 2, turnout is expected to be significantly lower, which Sawant believes is by design.

Sawant has accused the recall effort of deliberately dragging its feet on collecting signatures specifically to push the recall onto its own ballot, depressing turnout. In order to try and combat this, Sawant actually signed the petition herself, for her own recall, and encouraged her supporters to do the same.

The recall campaign claims that they were trying to get on the November 2 ballot, but that Sawant and her supporters’ additional signatures “put [their] small staff under great pressure,” and so they were unable to meet the deadline. This is a dubious claim, seeing as Sawant likely would not have signed a petition for her own recall had she not strongly suspected an intentional effort by the recall campaign to soft-pedal their signature gathering in order to delay the vote.

Sawant’s team claims that a low turnout election favors the recall campaign seeing as Sawant has been re-elected twice to her seat on the council, after her 2013 victory made her the first socialist to hold a city-wide office in Seattle in almost 100 years. They say that her efforts on wages, renters’ rights, and support for the Black Lives Matter movement, have been successful both in the streets and at the ballot box, and that the recall is a cynical attempt at a “do-over.”

Bryan Koulouris, Kshama’s campaign manager in 2019 and Kshama Solidarity campaign spokesperson, joined our podcast for a discussion on how and why the recall is taking place, how everyone can get involved to help defeat it, and the importance of unapologetically making enemies in high places when fighting for the working class.

Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below (interview begins at the 5:04 mark), and subscribe to our podcast on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player. Visit kshamsolidarity.org to get involved with the campaign.

If you enjoyed this content, please consider helping us create more of it by making a secure donation via Venmo (@duedissidence) or PayPal, or by becoming a member at Patreon. Thank you for your supporting independent media.

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Photo: Seattle City Council (cc 2.0)

This Isn’t a Court of Justice, This is a Court of Law: Unpacking the Rittenhouse Verdict

by Keaton Weiss

Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all five counts: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of reckless endangerment.

The verdict was met with predictable backlash from the Left, who are calling the trial a disgraceful miscarriage of justice, and another victory for the white supremacist Right. To them, this was more than a trial – it was a proxy for a larger political struggle in which privileged white men seem to win all too often. They rightfully point out that were the shoe on the other foot, and Rittenhouse was a black man showing up armed to a MAGA rally and killed two people, he’d have likely not lived to have his day in court.

The problem with this analysis is not that their assessment of the prevailing social dynamics or the aforementioned hypothetical result of an alternate scenario is wrong, but that such opinions cannot be relevant to the outcome of an individual’s criminal trial.

In a murder trial, only one thing matters: the guilt or innocence of the defendant based upon the law and the evidence. Period. A guilty verdict – the consequence of which is at least a decades-long prison sentence, at most, life in jail or execution – can only be rendered if the evidence proves the defendant’s criminality beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this case, it’s clear based on all the evidence that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. The first person he killed, Joseph Rosenbaum, had been starting a fire earlier that evening. When confronted over it, according to trial testimony, he said within earshot of Rittenhouse, “If I catch any of you guys alone tonight I’m going to fucking kill you.”

Later on, video clearly shows Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse through a parking lot, and Rittenhouse is seen running away. Only after Rosenbaum catches up to him and reaches for him does Rittenhouse open fire.

After this first violent incident, Rittenhouse ran towards the police, and was followed by a group who had seen the shooting and sought to disarm him themselves. This is when Aaron Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz attacked Rittenhouse, knocking him over. Huber struck him with his skateboard. Rittenhouse shot him, fatally wounding him. Grosskreutz then stopped and put his hands up. Rittenhouse held his fire. Grosskreutz then, gun in hand, lunged towards Rittenhouse, who fired one shot into his arm, injuring him (this is all captured on video, which can be seen by clicking here, viewer discretion is advised).

No one who has seen the video and even nominally followed the trial has disputed that Rittenhouse was indeed attacked by aggressors who he then shot. Therefore, the essential thrust of the argument that those who wanted a conviction are making is that Rittenhouse went to Kenosha that night looking for trouble, and that the very act of bringing an AR-15 into that situation was itself a reckless provocation, and a de facto forfeiture of any legitimate claim to self defense.

This assertion that Rittenhouse sought to provoke violent confrontation that evening is the linchpin of the argument for his conviction. This is where the case becomes much more complicated than many making this argument want to recognize.

First, I should say that personally, I feel that bringing an automatic weapon to a riot should be illegal, and should be itself considered an act of reckless endangerment. Were these laws on the books, Rittenhouse’s claim to self defense would be much less valid. In that case, it would be written in law that whether of not he felt he was there that night to do good and keep the peace, the society had, through the democratic process, deemed that his actions were inherently dangerous and destructive. Bringing his weapon to the protest, in that case, would have been a conscious act of defiance against such a consensus.

Unfortunately, the situation I just outlined does not accurately describe the circumstances under which these tragic events unfolded. There are no such laws stating it is illegal to patrol the streets with an AR-15 during a riot. In fact, as we all know, half the country idolizes this kind of vigilantism, and insists upon every individual’s right, and perhaps even an obligation, to defend themselves using force if necessary.

And so, given this lack of legal precedent and the social and political realities of the times, it then becomes necessary to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that Rittenhouse sought out violent confrontations in Kenosha that night, so much so that even if he didn’t technically initiate the conflict (which, again, video evidence shows he didn’t), he could still be blamed for igniting it.

This is a nearly impossible case to make. It’s made especially difficult by the fact that despite the corporate media’s insistence that he had no ties to Kenosha and that he “crossed state lines” specifically to go there and find trouble, that he lived just across the Illinois border, his father lived in Kenosha, and he had worked there in the past. The presumption that he had nefarious motives from the outset is further contradicted by photo evidence showing him cleaning graffiti off a school earlier that day, and video footage reviewed by The New York Times of him offering medical assistance to protestors.

Given the abundance of evidence that contradicts the condemnation of Rittenhouse as a hotheaded angry white supremacist looking to hunt down Black Lives Matter protestors, it is not reasonable to expect a conviction from a jury legally obliged to acquit unless they can honestly determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Assumptions about Rittenhouse’s politics, value judgments about his privilege as a white person, and indignation about how marginalized groups – people of color, battered spouses, Muslims, immigrants – are rarely given the same benefit of the doubt when they act violently in self defense, are all valid thoughts and feelings. But none of them have anything to do with the only pertinent question material to the case, which is, once again, based on the law and the evidence, is Kyle Rittenhouse guilty or not?

Harvard law professor Thomas Reid Powell is known for the quote, “If you can think about something that is related to something else without thinking about the thing to which it is related, then you have a legal mind.” This applies perfectly to evaluating the Rittenhouse verdict. Of course, negative feelings about who Rittenhouse is and the sociopolitical forces he represents are perfectly valid. That such feelings would influence one’s attitudes about the outcome of his trial is a natural and understandable impulse. However, a core principle of our legal system is that such opinions must be held in check when determining his guilt or innocence based on the evidence and facts of the case.

It is simply impossible to maintain a functioning judicial system in a pluralistic society without adhering to this principle. Perhaps a more accessible quote describing a similar dynamic is a lyric by the great Leftist songwriter Billy Bragg that goes, “This isn’t a court of justice, son. This is a court of law.”

Struggles for political and social justice exist in the streets and, theoretically at least, at the ballot box. The courts are a separate branch of government precisely because they are meant to uphold and enforce the law, not to shape them in the image of political actors. Yes, in a sane society, there would have been laws on the books prohibiting Kyle Rittenhouse from showing up armed to the gills in Kenosha that night. In such a society, he would be guilty of reckless endangerment the second he stepped onto the scene, and likely would have been apprehended by police before anyone got hurt. This is the society that, in my view, we should all strive to create. But that isn’t the society in which we currently live.

The society in which we currently live is one embedded with wild west vigilantism and frontier paranoia, where use of force in self defense is celebrated, if not outright romanticized as “heroic masculinity.” These unfortunate social dynamics were certainly at work on August 25, 2020, and anger and frustration about how they affected the events of that night are completely justified.

But once again, a jury is legally and constitutionally bound to prevent such emotions from affecting their verdict in a murder trial. All that matters in such an arena is the defendant’s guilt or innocence based on current law and existing evidence, not based on what they feel a just society might look like, and what their verdict would be under those hypothetical circumstances. Based on the appropriate criteria, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt was impossible to establish in this case, and so the jury made the correct decision in acquitting Kyle Rittenhouse.

We discuss the trial and the verdict in further detail in episode 127 of the Due Dissidence podcast. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, and Subscribe to our podcast and listen on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

If you enjoyed this content, please consider helping us create more of it by making a secure donation via Venmo (@duedissidence) or PayPal, or by becoming a member at Patreon. Thank you for your supporting independent media.

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Image: Kyle Rittenhouse Trial

The Devolution Will Be Televised: Rittenhouse’s Trial is a Symptom of Our Social Collapse

by Keaton Weiss

Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial is the latest in a continuing series of high profile court proceedings to be televised for all to see. Yesterday, Rittenhouse burst into tears when recounting the events leading up to the moment he shot three men, killing two.

His outburst quickly went viral online. Those on the Right rushed to his defense:

And of course, the Left’s response was far less charitable. Many accused Rittenhouse of faking his tears altogether, and expressed their feelings for him in rather uncompromising language:

Meidas Touch, a popular online #resistance liberal opinion outlet, called Rittenhouse’s meltdown an “Oscar-worthy performance” in their YouTube video retweeted over 3,000 times at this writing:

Perhaps nothing symbolizes how this case has enflamed the already raging culture wars more than how both political camps drew parallels between the Rittenhouse trial and the infamous Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings of 2018:

The Right and Left’s predictably disparate reactions to this incident are among the latest and most palpable examples of our deteriorating social fabric. When the whole country can watch the same tape and respond this differently, it certainly creates the impression that the gulf between us is irreconcilable.

To make matters worse, both sides seem oblivious to this broader dynamic, as both are too staunchly committed to their respective positions to realize the hopelessness of the larger situation. They’re too close to the particulars to realize the tragic arc of the overall timeline; too convinced of their own righteousness to reckon with the fact that the war they’re fighting is unwinnable, because the society they’re fighting for is unsalvageable.

Televising the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse only exacerbates this problem. It draws everyone’s attention to one person, which serves to exonerate the real culprit in this story: the system as a whole.

To even express an opinion on Kyle Rittenhouse himself is to miss the forest for the trees. Whatever Rittenhouse may or may not be – to the Left, a murderous white supremacist vigilante, or, to the Right, a noble defender of law and order – we know for sure that he was just a 17-year-old kid at the time of the killing in question.

At such an age, no one is anything but a product of their environment. Kyle Rittenhouse is an output of the same system that murdered George Floyd; the same system that sparked the Black Lives Matter uprisings against it; the same system that allowed him to get his hands on that Smith & Wesson M&P 15 and flaunt it through the streets of Kenosha that fateful August night.

As emotionally satisfying as it may be for some to liken Kyle Rittenhouse to Brett Kavanaugh, this is of course a ludicrous comparison. Kavanaugh is arguably one of the 100 most powerful people on earth, an architect of the status quo that produces thousands of angry young boys like Kyle Rittenhouse, who are simply byproducts of a decaying social infrastructure. It’s no surprise that such a distinction would be lost on a movement of critical race theory proponents who see Kavanaugh and Rittenhouse as indistinguishable because they share a particular skin color. In a world where all whites are oppressors and non-whites victims, Brett Kavanaugh and Kyle Rittenhouse are the same. This is a world in which all other power imbalances are glossed over, such as the glaringly obvious one between a Supreme Court Justice and a brainwashed adolescent.

Here in reality, Kyle Rittenhouse is nothing more than a pawn in the game. He’s a moving part, a cog in the machine built by the likes of Kavanaugh and other elite actors. He’s today’s fall guy for the same rotten system that produced Derek Chauvin, whose guilty verdict was a source of much rejoice on the Left just a few months back.

Both the Chauvin trial, and now the Rittenhouse trial, give people the mistaken impression that to bring these men “to justice” is itself significant progress in the struggle to ameliorate the social ills that created them in the first place. If anything, the obsession with Chauvin and Rittenhouse as individuals only provides cover for the malevolent social circumstances out of which they arose. To celebrate their comeuppance is to revel in the same spirit of vengeance and retribution that undergirds our entire system of “criminal justice,” one that has victimized generations of black men using the exact same pretexts.

Instead, this justified anger is better directed at the structures and institutions that allowed for the killing of George Floyd. Of course, such systemic critiques are outside the bounds of what the establishment considers acceptable. This is why the corporate media was happy to serve up Derek Chauvin on a platter, but balks at any suggestion of defunding the police.

They’ll allow you your Two Minutes Hate against the villains du jour, but direct that same indignation at the machinery that spat them out, and you’ll quickly find yourself on the wrong side of the same media apparatus that riled you up about Chauvin, Rittenhouse, and whoever the next hapless stooge happens to be.

And so, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse is just another symptom of a nation in decline and a society coming apart at the seams. Its warring factions are both too enraged to notice that the society over which they’re fighting has already been lost, and its architects will never legitimize any serious attempt to course correct.

All we’re left with are back-and-forth deliberations over individual people with little to no power, and heated debates about their “privilege” and how to hold them “accountable.”

However accountable Kyle Rittenhouse is for his actions, it’s apparent to any clear-eyed observer that our system of brutal capitalism enforced by militarized policing is the guiltiest party in all of this. As long as this societal arrangement is unchangeable through democratic means, none of these judgments for or against individual actors like Chauvin and Rittenhouse will make much difference. Instead, what appears as two opposing sides in a struggle for the future of the country is really just the collective and cacophonous dying scream of a doomed American experiment.

If you enjoyed this content, please consider helping us create more of it by making a secure donation via Venmo (@duedissidence) or PayPal, or by becoming a member at Patreon. Thank you for your supporting independent media.

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Photo: Kyle Rittenhouse Trial

The Left Should Embrace the Primal Catharsis of ‘Let’s Go Brandon’

by Keaton Weiss

Yes, 90% of the “Let’s Go Brandon” chanters have politics that are pretty different from mine. After all, the phrase was born at a NASCAR event. During a TV interview with winning driver Brandon Brown, an NBC reporter nervously interpreted the crowd’s chants of “Fuck Joe Biden” as “Let’s Go Brandon.” Ridiculous as her attempted coverup was, she deserves credit for thinking on her feet.

In the weeks since the video surfaced online, “Let’s Go Brandon” has gone viral as a G-rated stand-in for the saying’s actual sentiment. As an added bonus that the Trump base is sure to enjoy, “Let’s Go Brandon” also serves to call out the media for its willful and absurd misrepresentation of reality (or, as they would put it, “Fake News.”)

While the Left has mostly responded negatively to the phrase – some have dismissed it as juvenile and classless, while others have hyperbolically (though if we’re being honest, somewhat predictably) compared it to a Nazi salute, I, for one, love it.

It’s everything the Left used to be: it’s mass politics, it’s grassroots, it’s transgressive in ironic and humorous fashion. But perhaps more importantly, it’s cathartic in its simplicity and emotional honesty.

As a Leftist who’s spent the past few months holding out hope that House progressives would hold the line on infrastructure negotiations and not capitulate to the “moderates” as they always have in the past, this last week has been incredibly frustrating. I should have known all along that it was only a matter of time before Pramila Jayapal and the rest of the holdouts in the Progressive Caucus would cave under pressure.

And so after months of digging through the weeds of political gamesmanship, analyzing intra-party negotiations, and fruitlessly attempting to predict the fates of both the bipartisan infrastructure package and the Build Back Better add-on, it seems that we are destined for yet another massive disappointment. In the end, once again, it all adds up to nothing. Progressives fold, centrists win, the media continues to propagate the narrative that the moderates are the “adults in the room” who “get things done,” and that Lefties are “pie in the sky,” “all talk, no action,” blah, blah, blah.

It all makes you want to just throw your hands up and say ‘fuck it all.’ Fuck the craven “moderates” who withhold even the smallest plate of crumbs from their constituents so as not to upset their corporate donors. Fuck the feckless progressives who were never willing to tank both bills in order to stand up to their corrupt centrist counterparts. And also, for showing little to no leadership on these negotiations, Fuck Joe Biden – or, in the parlance of our times, Let’s Go Brandon.

For NASCAR fans and the MAGA faithful, “Let’s Go Brandon” is a subversive rallying cry against the Biden administration and its media propagandists. For the Left, it ought to be a sort of mantra; a squishy stress ball we can all squeeze when the dysfunctionally corrupt Democrats become too infuriating to think about without losing our minds altogether.

For example, you might find yourself getting riled up over Ro Khanna’s disgusting cowardice on CNN when he explained that after all of this chest-pounding, he’ll be taking a “leap of faith” that Joe Biden can twist Joe Manchin’s arm into supporting BBB. When you feel your heart rate spiking, just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, whisper a soft, gentle, “Let’s Go Brandon.”

You may come across a clip of Don Lemon blaming the activist Left for the defeat of Terry McAuliffe, the insider’s insider and moderate of all moderates. Rather than excite yourself trying to formulate a retort that will surely be wasted on anyone brainwashed enough to care what Don Lemon has to say about anything, simply breathe in, breathe out, and, nice and quietly: Let’s Go Brandon.

Or, if you’re more from the Frank Costanza school of meditation, you can even scream it:

Say it soft, say it loud, say it fast, say it slow – anyway you want. You do you. But seriously, try it. I think you’ll like it. It’s comfort food; chicken soup for the soul; self-care for the embattled Leftist.

We discuss the ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ phenomenon, the 2021 election results, and more on episode 125 of the Due Dissidence podcast. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, subscribe to our podcast and listen on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

(election recap begins at 4:25, Let’s Go Brandon discussion at 38:11)

If you enjoyed this content, please consider helping us create more of it by making a secure donation via Venmo (@duedissidence) or PayPal, or by becoming a member at Patreon. Thank you for your supporting independent media.

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Photo: Ivan Radic (CC 2.0)

Joey Holz Interview: Meet the Man Whose ‘Labor Shortage’ Experiment Went Viral

Joey Holz went viral shortly after posting the following to his Facebook page on September 29:

At this writing, the post has been shared 18,000 times, and has gotten the attention of multiple media outlets, including, most famously, Business Insider, who wrote a full article on his experiment entitled “A worker in Florida applied to 60 entry-level jobs in September and got one interview.”

Joey’s findings fly in the face of the growingly popular “no one wants to work anymore” narrative being propagated by frustrated business owners looking to staff up after a year and a half of coronavirus lockdowns and limitations on their operations.

According to basic laws of economics, as demand for labor increases, so should its price. And while wages have been on the rise overall, there are a significant number of business owners holding out, expecting and insisting that workers return to the job for the same paltry pre-pandemic pay rates. This explains why despite the abundance of “Now Hiring” signs appearing on storefronts throughout the country, many are still having a difficult time finding work. As ‘Fight for $15’ posted on Twitter, a more honest rendering of these “no one wants to work” signs might look more like this:

We reached out to Joey immediately after discovering his story, and he was kind enough to give us his first long-form interview for our podcast. In it, we discuss his life experience leading up to his now-famous “labor shortage” experiment, as well as his views on politics, labor, and the people-centered economy we should strive to create.

Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below, or watch the interview on YouTube by clicking here. Subscribe to our podcast and listen on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

If you enjoyed this content, please consider helping us create more of it by making a secure donation via Venmo (@duedissidence) or PayPal, or by becoming a member at Patreon. Thank you for your supporting independent media.

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Photos: Due Dissidence, Fight for $15 Twitter

Progressives Must Reject a Bad Infrastructure Deal, Even if it Means Passing Nothing at All

by Keaton Weiss

At the start of negotiations, President Biden seemed to throw his weight behind the progressives’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation package to supplement the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

But as centrists in both the House and Senate raised objections to what Joe Manchin calls a “reckless expansion of government programs,” Biden began to cave to their demands. A couple of weeks ago, he lowered the proposed amount to $2.3 trillion. Just yesterday, he came down even further – his new number stands between $1.75 and $1.9 trillion.

Up to this point, progressives in the House, led by Pramila Jayapal, have held firm as a block, insisting that no deal would be done unless it includes a robust social spending package to invest in things like free community college, Medicare expansion, and universal Pre-K. But as Biden reverts to form as a lifelong corporate tool and traitor to his working class roots, progressives now find themselves facing their biggest test yet: will they follow Biden’s lead and appease their centrist counterparts, or will they hold the line?

Unfortunately, the former is beginning to look more and more likely. Jayapal has conceded that tuition-free community college is likely to be nixed from the bill, but also expressed “optimism” that an overall deal would be brokered, and that the Democrats would successfully pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and an additional reconciliation package.

This is unacceptable. Progressives must be willing to get up and walk away from a bad deal, even if it means not passing any infrastructure package at all.

Inadequately funded social programs that require stringent means-testing and bloated bureaucratic oversight are not worth passing from a policy standpoint. As Jacobin writer Meagan Day brilliantly explains in her article “Why We Need Free College For Everyone – Even Rich People,” means-testing is a scam designed to save rich people money in the long-term by keeping their taxes low (because means-tested programs are much cheaper than universal ones), and create divisions among middle and working-class people, who often find themselves on opposite sides of the income threshold that determines who receives government benefits and who doesn’t.

The Affordable Care Act is a perfect example of this principle in action, as qualifications for health insurance subsidies are determined by individuals’ and families’ incomes as they relate to the poverty level. In effect, Obamacare is a subsidy for the working poor paid for by everyone else, including the lower-middle class, who must pay full price for insufficient healthcare, as they don’t qualify for assistance.

Applying this same neoliberal model to Pre-K and community college tuition assistance isn’t just bad policy, it’s political suicide. After getting rolled in the ACA fight, progressives in the House lost what little cache they had, appearing as feckless fringe actors who had been brought to heel by the moderate party establishment. Accepting a subpar reconciliation package would send the exact same message, only this time it would come with the added humiliation of having made an initial show of strength only to cave under pressure.

If House progressives embarrass themselves and their base in this manner, they should never again expect anyone to knock on doors for the next AOC, Jamaal Bowman, or Cori Bush. If after all of this, Manchin and Sinema, two corrupt obstructionist conservative Democrats, can drag them down to their number (at or around $1.5 trillion), then they will have proven House progressives are the same pushovers they were back in 2009, dooming an entire generation of progressive candidates, politicians, and activists to another decade of obscurity.

Additionally, this moment is a rare opportunity to turn the pundit class’ propaganda on its head, and prove that progressives are in fact the “pragmatic” ones in Washington, and that the so-called “moderates” are the “purist” ideologues who will hold up any and all progress unless they get their way. As Jayapal has pointed out already, 96% of the Senate’s Democratic caucus is on board with the progressives’ plan – Manchin and Sinema make up the remaining 4%.

Moderates are now forfeiting their claim to “pragmatism,” a price they’re apparently willing to pay in order to keep their corporate donors happy. To concede to their demands in these negotiations would be to hand such a claim right back to them for no reason at all.

Imagine Jayapal and the progressive holdouts finally settle for $1.9 trillion – we all know how this will be covered in the press: Manchin and Sinema will be hailed as the courageous and responsible adults in the room who knew all along that the juvenile progressives would give up sooner or later, after they threw their little tantrum. Once again, centrists will be lauded as the “dealmakers” who “get things done,” and progressives will be right back where they were 12 years ago after getting browbeaten in the Obamacare debacle.

For Jayapal to doom herself, her colleagues, and her movement to such a fate would be inexcusable and unforgivable. They must reject a bad deal, even if it means making no deal at all.

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Why the Capitalist Class Got Caught Off Guard by The Current Wave of Labor Strikes

by Keaton Weiss

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

You may not have been familiar with that quote until now, but it’s more likely that you’ve seen this viral image of a striking Nebraska Kellogg’s worker holding down the picket line in the pouring rain:

Though arguably the most determined, he’s hardly the only American worker emboldened and enraged enough to finally assert the value of his labor against an increasingly petulant capitalist class whose refrain these past six months has been “No one wants to work.”

Of course, recent and ongoing strikes like those at Kellogg’s, Nabisco, and John Deere (just to name a few), aren’t organized simply because employees no longer “want to work,” but because they no longer care to work in lousy conditions for lousy wages.

Their newfound defiance has taken employers by surprise, as many business owners expected that a “return to normalcy” was upon us as vaccines found their way into the arms of millions of Americans, and businesses began to reopen after a year of lockdowns and quarantines.

During such time, as was pointed out quite often in conservative circles, many workers were indeed making more on unemployment than they had been at their jobs. The additional UE benefits allowed millions of working class people to put food on their tables, pay their bills, and maybe even have a few bucks leftover, without having to toil at exhausting dead-end jobs for most of their waking hours.

Once padded unemployment checks and eviction moratoriums could no longer be taken for granted, owners and managers across the country assumed that their employees would have no choice but to return to work, and that over these next few months, things would start to look just as they did in February of 2020.

But what the capitalist class didn’t realize is that while they were itching to get back in business during the still and silent period of the coronavirus shutdowns, many of their employees were finally getting a taste of what life is like without the physical strain and psychological stress of working 60 hours a week for $11.50 an hour and still having barely enough in the bank to make rent at the beginning of the month.

Having been afforded some time away from the daily grind, the working class was finally given the opportunity reflect on whether such a seemingly endless and inescapable struggle ought to be their destiny.

This period of introspection, combined with headlines reporting “labor shortages” and “supply chain issues,” has led workers to realize that they do in fact deserve better, and that circumstances have aligned such that better work in better conditions for better wages are all demands that they are better positioned to leverage than ever before in their lifetimes. And they’re seizing the opportunity.

The virtues of capitalism once seen as virtually “divine” are now being exposed for the lies they’ve always been, as this supposedly unimpeachable economic system is unable to dig itself out of the hole its found itself in.

After all, the obvious market-based solution to a labor shortage can be summed up using simple supply and demand logic: the higher the demand for a product or service, the higher its price. But rather than satisfy such a demand by increasing wages, the ownership class is choosing instead to cry foul at the very system they’ve exploited their entire lives, and falsely complain that “no one wants to work anymore.”

And so while their bosses throw their tantrums, laborers are learning firsthand that despite the dominance of capitalist hegemony, as Le Guin said, “any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings,” and they’re mobilizing to make these changes happen.

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Alexander Sammon on the Unmasking of Centrism’s Emptiness and Corruption

Alexander Sammon, staff writer at The American Prospect, wrote a recent article entitled “The Undignified Demise of Centrism.” In it, he concludes:

“Centrism, now, is imperiled as a political orientation not for its competitive viability, but for the emptiness and corruption that has been exposed at its heart. Not a single young voter, or someone politically up for grabs, can look to the leadership of Kyrsten Sinema or Scott Peters and see a politician with a positive vision for governance and society, one they could believe in, knock on doors for, or turn out to vote for.”

As negotiations continue over the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan, so-called “centrist” Democrats in both the House and Senate have raised objections to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package championed by both progressives and the White House.

Moderates holding up the legislative process by insisting that plans be watered down is nothing new. But Sammon argues in his piece that what is unique to this particular fight is that this time, centrists aren’t even bothering to disguise their obstructionism as anything but what it is: hollow and nihilistic corruption.

Kyrsten Sinema is teaching a college course on fundraising (yes, that’s right) while refusing to offer any rationale for her objection to the Build Back Better Act.

Joe Manchin is steadfastly (and successfully) chipping away at Biden’s climate proposals while raking in huge amounts of money from the fossil fuel industry, and having gotten rich off his own coal company which he founded in 1988.

Congressman Scott Peters, as Sammon cites in his article, all but openly admitted the corrupting influence of pharmaceutical donations on his decision making process, insisting that refusing their donations would be tantamount to “defunding” his campaign and “let[ting] Republicans win.”

Unlike most intra-party fights where centrists play an active role in negotiations and submit their own counteroffers to more progressive proposals, this time they’re making no such effort. They’re simply saying no for the sake of it, offering the American people no explanation other than the one many are arriving at themselves, which is that centrism as a governing philosophy is both morally and intellectually bankrupt, and bolstered by nothing more than the undue influence of corporate money in politics.

Alexander Sammon joined our podcast for a deeper dive on this topic. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, and subscribe to the Due Dissidence podcast on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

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After Years of Courting Affluent Suburbanites, Democrats Deserve Kyrsten Sinema

by Keaton Weiss

As you’ve probably observed if you’ve been paying any attention to the ongoing negotiations over infrastructure spending, Democratic lawmakers and voters are growing increasingly frustrated with Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema. She is one of two Senators currently preventing the passage of a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill which would finance long overdue additions to the social safety net, including universal pre-K and expansion of Medicare.

Whereas her partner in crime, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has at least gone through the motions of making a counter-offer, Sinema has been defiantly silent throughout the process, dodging the media and her own constituents, and instead meeting behind closed doors with her corporate donors.

Her silent obstructionism has many Democrats upset that she is inflicting further damage upon an already embattled Biden White House by denying the administration a sorely needed legislative win. Progressives always knew Sinema would be a problem, even if many did support her challenge to Republican incumbent Martha McSally in 2018, but even her fellow “moderates” seem to be catching on to the fact that she’s an enemy of progress.

And while moderate liberals’ increasingly open disdain for Sinema is a positive development overall, these same Democrats ought to remember that their party, since the 2016 election, has tailored its messaging and policy positions specifically to court affluent white suburban voters – the very people who elect Senators like Kyrsten Sinema.

Progressives were told in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns that Bernie Sanders, while exciting to the young, progressive base of the party, couldn’t win a general election because his ideas were too “radical” to be embraced by this emerging cohort of upper-middle class suburban voters – or, as Rahm Emanuel branded them, “Biden Republicans.”

And so, in both primary contests, the party brass put its thumb on the scale against Sanders’ candidacy, in favor of centrists who they felt would deliver them this new coalition of well-to-do suburban centrists who were liberal on social issues, but economically more conservative. These kinds of voters were critical to putting Sinema over the top in her 2018 Senate bid, as well as to the Democrats’ overall success in those midterms. They’ve been been explicitly catering to them ever since.

It therefore stands to reason that the party would eventually face the very crisis in which it now finds itself. Sinema is a newly elected moderate sent to Washington by fiscally conservative independents, and she’s acting accordingly. Democrats can be upset about this all they’d like, but they have only themselves to blame for their current predicament. Because Sinema, an eccentric bisexual who votes against minimum wage increases and the strengthening of social programs, represents the exact kind of voter Democrats welcomed into their party with open arms these past three election cycles (2020, 2018, and 2016).

And so, the current stalemate within the party between progressives and centrists makes perfect sense. The very premise of the Democratic Party – a party “for the little guy,” funded by wealthy donors and corporate interests – is a laughable self-contradiction. Should anyone be surprised that it’s having trouble unifying behind even the most modest of public investments like hearing aids for senior citizens?

Comedian and political commentator Graham Elwood aptly describes the Democratic Party as “Goldman Sachs with a rainbow flag.” Tell me that isn’t spot on, and tell me it doesn’t describe Kyrsten Sinema to a tee. If you can’t (and you can’t), then it should come as no surprise that the party of corporate wokeness and virtue signaling neoliberalism is eating itself alive in a doomed effort to negotiate its way out of its own inherent and inescapable paradox.

The Democratic Party had a chance, in 2016, to become the kind of party that would have no problem passing legislation like the Build Back Better Act. Party leadership vehemently opposed such a shift, and a majority of Democratic voters followed their lead. This embarrassing public implosion in which the party “for the people” can’t even unify behind measures as basic as adding dental coverage to Medicare, is just punishment for their disgraceful behavior these past five years.

Unfortunately, we’re all collateral damage.

If you enjoyed this content, please consider helping us create more of it by making a secure donation via Venmo (@duedissidence) or PayPal, or by becoming a member at Patreon. Thank you for your supporting independent media.

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