A few months ago I began receiving emails with a subject line "Submission For Linking" from Jason Miller. I'm not sure how he discovered me or my website, but as began reading the barrage of articles that Jason sent me for linking, I became increasingly impressed with his blogspot and with the person managing it. Upon noticing that Jason occasionally interviewed other progressive bloggers, I requested that he interview me, and the results have been extraordinary, in part, because of the nature of the questions that Jason asks. As a result, I asked Jason if I could interview him, not only to return a favor, but because I am genuinely curious about who this man is and what drives his passion to maintain and manage Thomas Paine's Corner, aka, Civil Libertarian Blogspot.
Jason, I take it that you are not the actor, Jason Miller, who played the Father Damien Karras in "The Exorcist." So having established that, I have some questions for you:
1) Jason, I notice that you live in Kansas City. How long have you lived in the Midwest, and how do you find the consciousness in your part of the Midwest with respect to issues of civil liberties, human rights, social justice, and the other topics on which you write?
I have spent most of my 40 years here in the Kansas City area. My father worked for the federal government, so as a child I did live near Washington, DC for a couple of years.
Thanks to a sustained effort by the moneyed interests wielding the power in the United States, a significant percentage of the US American public remains transfixed by a carefully woven tapestry of lies. Up until two years ago, I was amongst that group. A significant number of our fellow citizens, whether they live in the Midwest, the Northeast, or wherever frantically search for ways to fend off threats to their highly addictive and comforting delusions of American Exceptionalism, benevolence, and moral leadership.
As you are well aware, our Constitutional Republic, which was forged by children of the Enlightenment and embedded with democratic principles yet still marred by the legalization of chattel slavery and the exclusion of Native Americans, has been under siege by a ruthless aristocracy from its inception. Cultural myths of equal opportunities for all, upward mobility, glorious wars to "protect our freedoms", and numerous other bundles of tripe serve to blind most of the public to the realities of domestic economic fascism and the mass murder our military routinely commits to advance our imperial foreign policy.
Many US Americans are too busy adhering to their programmed script and "thanking a vet" for their rights and freedom to realize that soldiers serving in wars of aggression were unwitting pawns of an opulent ruling class determined to increase its wealth and power under the guise of "spreading democracy".
Vision obscured by the "rockets red glare", many of us remain blind to truths that would be devastating to the soft form of tyranny practiced by the deeply entrenched Duopoly. Throughout the relatively brief history of the United States, federalists, slavery proponents, Robber Barons, corporations, monopolists, lobbyists, defense contractors, and a host of other entities have waged war on human rights, freedoms, and civil liberties, in one form or another.
Yet many of the people with whom I engage daily (in person and via the Internet) can't seem to get their arms around the fact that we are living one of the biggest lies ever contrived. Nor do they recognize that the civil rights, consumer and environmental protections, "entitlements", and employment benefits are not there because "our boys" donned uniforms and wasted millions of "lesser" human beings nor because men like George Bush and Dick Cheney have hearts of gold.
From my experience, there are still many Flat-Earthers dwelling in many regions of our country who believe that the freedoms and rights which are still extant in the United States, exist thanks to, rather than in spite of, the militaristic plutocrats who have ruled our republic for years.
2) I notice also that your occupation is Loan Counselor. If you feel comfortable doing so, please say more about that. I'm particularly interested in what it's like in the current economy, teetering on the edge of collapse with millions of Americans in debt up to their eyeballs, to be a loan counselor.
I started working in my current occupation about ten years ago. That was prior to my spiritual and intellectual awakening. If I could turn back the clock, I would have made a different career choice. Obviously, I could make a change today if I so chose. However, to effectively fulfill a sacred responsibility, I have decided to stay in the credit industry for several more years. After that I intend to move into the social service sector in some capacity.
On the surface it may appear that the work I do conflicts with my beliefs, my activism, and my avocation of writing and publishing. Yet despite working in the lending industry, I am fortunate to work in a capacity where I can do a great deal to help my customers. My employer lends money to individuals buying tractors and trailers with which they make their livings as owner-operator truck drivers. I manage a group of loans within the portfolio. Most of what I do involves communicating with customers over the phone to help them manage their loans when they want to make payments, become past due, have wrecks, need major repairs, need information about their loans, have problems with their contract employers, experience insurance issues, or need to modify their loan agreements in some way. Within the industry, ours is the largest lender of last resort, so my managers tolerate a high degree of delinquency. This empowers me to offer flexible and generous arrangements with customers who fall behind and are at risk of losing their livelihoods. Many of my customers are Hispanic immigrants. Having taught myself Spanish has enabled me to assist those who haven't mastered English yet.
I laugh with abandon virtually each time I read or hear about our "strong economy". Many economists consider the transportation industry to be the "canary in the coal mine". Decreased freight tonnage is typically one of the first signs of a weakening economy. Things may be robust for Bush and his "base" on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms, but most of my customers are struggling. I have been working in this industry for five years and this is the worst it has been in terms of delinquency (it is quite high), voluntary repossessions (people giving up on the business and turning in their equipment), and new business (it is way off). I spend five hours a day on the phone talking to thousands of people a month working in various facets of the transportation industry. While I am not qualified to predict an economic collapse, I have gathered enough empirical evidence from my job, reading articles from a variety of sources, and through my recent experiences with personal finances to confidently state that the US economy is rotten for most the poor, working class, and middle class US Americans.
3) You describe yourself as a "wage slave" who has freed himself from intellectually and spiritually. Tell us about your choosing that description for yourself.
I have not stopped to count, but over the last couple of years I have probably composed over one hundred essays which have been published on a variety of alternative media sites. The description you mention in your question is my bio which I include at the end of each of my articles. I tinkered with that little blurb quite a number of times before I came up with that one. I feel comfortable with it because it is simple and apt.
In the United States, if one is not born into the de facto aristocracy, one has few realistic choices beyond working for someone else (wage slavery), becoming a professional (i.e. doctor or lawyer), joining the military, or entrepreneurialism. A relative few have the means or discipline to complete an advanced degree, not everyone is willing to endure harsh indentured servitude to expand the reach of an empire, and a vast majority of small businesses fail.
Through a combination of factors, including birth, extenuating circumstances, and my own poor choices, I wound up working as a corporate "wage slave". While the system is much less rigid and well-defined, there are a number of parallels between the feudal system and American Capitalism, which as many readers have so accurately pointed out to me is not the Capitalism that Adam Smith and his contemporaries had envisioned. Within the framework of that analogy, those people who earn their livings as middle management or non-exempt employees are modern day serfs or wage slaves. Compound that with Noam Chomsky's accurate observation that corporations (which dominate the economic, political, and cultural spheres of our existences in the United States) are structured as tyrannies, the wretched state of publicly funded social services in the wealthiest nation on the planet, and the looming specters of hunger and homelessness, and you have a serious set of impediments to pulling a Johnny Paycheck.
Telling the boss to "take this job and shove it" sounds extremely gratifying and simple enough, but with family, food, shelter, and medical care in the balance, few rational individuals are prepared to take such a drastic step without powerfully compelling reasons or financial security to fall back upon.
Choosing to remain a wage slave has a moral consequence. By working, paying taxes, and consuming, one becomes complicit in the innumerable horrendous war crimes and egregious exploitation committed by the United States. Yet unless one "drops off the grid" or expatriates, one is inevitably culpable in America's crimes to some degree. And there are numerous ways to mitigate one's complicity and atone for it.
To answer your question about freeing myself intellectually and spiritually, I will state quite succinctly that while I choose to conform to certain aspects of an incredibly depraved socioeconomic system, those who metaphorically own me on the physical plane don't possess an iota of either my mind or my soul. I have studied too hard, suffered too much, and striven too painstakingly to let them have an ounce of either.
4) What motivated you to begin your blog? I notice that among the interests listed in your personal profile are: Rights of Minorities; Rights of the Mentally Ill; Gay Rights; Thomas Paine; Volunteer Work for the Homeless; and Human Rights Watch. Can you say more about why you are passionate about the rights of these groups?
One of my teachers from high school with whom I still communicate actually encouraged me to start Thomas Paine's Corner. Writing had been a passion of mine for years. About two years ago, I started writing essays and submitting them to other sites for publication. Initially, I started my blog as a means to self-publish so I could submit links to sites that do not publish full articles, but my little site has evolved into much, much more. My writing only accounts for about 5% of the content now and my site meter has registered nearly 700,000 hits.
I have been fortunate to have forged alliances and struck up friendships with some incredibly brilliant thinkers and writers who graciously include Thomas Paine's Corner amongst their syndication of original publishers. Steve Jonas, Stephen Lendman, Gary Corseri, Don Robertson, Phil Rockstroh, John Andrews, Ramzy Baroud, Andrew Taylor, Gene DeVaux, Rowan Wolf, and of course, Carolyn Baker, each contribute their work directly to my little site. It has also been my distinct pleasure to publish one-time submissions by several authors of note and quite a few talented aspiring writers.
As far as my passion for human rights, apparently I have an innate sensitivity to injustice and abuse that just won't quit. However, there are a number of life experiences that have contributed to my ardor. I grew up in the Methodist Church which was founded by John Wesley, an ardent abolitionist and prison reformer. While the Methodist religion didn't stick, apparently some of its founder's redeeming aspects did. My grandmother was, and my grandfather is, very compassionate, just and fair-minded. As a youth, I often felt like a pariah because my family moved often, I was very studious, and until my senior year in high school I was seriously overweight. My experiences related to my bipolar condition, about which I have written before, have blessed me with a deep capacity (and need) to empathize with the suffering and down-trodden.
I do want to add that I have withdrawn my support for Human Rights Watch. Thank you for noticing that they were still on my profile. After becoming disgusted with their pro-Israeli bias, I removed the graphic/link I had on my site which promoted HRW. They are no longer on my profile.
5) If you are comfortable answering this question, can you say more about being in recovery? How has that affected your concern about the above issues?
I feel quite comfortable elaborating upon my recovery. I consider my bipolar condition to be a blessing for a multitude of reasons. I alluded to the empathy component above. My condition also endows me with a mind that works very rapidly and the capacity to persist relentlessly. Of course, if I don't manage myself, each of the aforementioned gifts can become wretched curses. I learned that the hard way.
On the surface, I was relatively stable until I got into my third year of college. It was about that time that the proverbial wheels started coming off. For the next four years, I went on a roller-coaster ride to Hell. I became heavily addicted to alcohol. I quit school and started working in entry level manufacturing jobs. A serious industrial accident left me with severe burns on both of my legs. I got involved in a very toxic marriage in which my partner and I were very cruel to one another. Eventually I went on a two year "bender" that involved abandoning my marriage and six month-old twins, partnering with a woman who was equally unstable, financial bankruptcy, homelessness, joblessness, self-harming, hospitalization in the state psychiatric facility, multiple fights, bouts of rage, theft and vandalism, thoughts of parenticide followed by suicide, and estrangement and isolation. My rock bottom was at Western Missouri Mental Health where a delusional woman followed me around because she thought I was Jesus, a man twice my size with severe rage issues threatened to kill me because I sat in his chair, a patient tied to his bed with restraints screamed incessantly day and night, the highlight of my day was when an old man came to sing Christian hymns with us for about ten minutes. When I was released, I could not find a soul to give me a ride home, I had no money, no job, and owned virtually nothing.
About that time, a therapist named Lynn Barnett, AA, and a powerful devotion to reclaiming my lost soul and intellect came into my life. It was a slow process, but I gradually stabilized as I learned to work with my racing mind and raging emotions. Eventually, I made amends and reparations to those I had harmed, including my children. If there is someone out there to whom I have forgotten to apologize or repay, I am genuinely sorry.
My concern for the disenfranchised, down-trodden, suffering, and victimized arises largely from the fact that I have experienced homelessness, discrimination because of my condition, severe emotional pain, addiction, joblessness, and deep loneliness. Fourteen years of strenuous spiritual and intellectual effort have enabled me to reclaim my life and empower myself. While my spiritual evolution has been eclectic and I have not subscribed to the AA program 100%, I have derived a number of personal values from AA. Virtually all of my choices and efforts today, including my writing, publishing, and community activism, flow from my implementation of the Twelfth Step. Having experienced a spiritual awakening, I am determined to continue practicing my principles and to be a light (when my shadow side isn't rearing its ugly head) in this world. Maybe just one tiny flickering candle flame, but a light nonetheless.
6) I'm also curious about why you chose to name your blogspot Thomas Paine's corner and/or Civil Libertarian Blogspot. Obviously, the two names go together, but I'd like to hear more about their compatibility in your mind.
When I started my site, I was just becoming a part of a movement for a more just and humane world (meaning I am much more driven by moral, ethical, and social considerations than by political or ideological ones). At that time I had recently joined the ACLU, which ostensibly exists to defend our inalienable rights delineated in the Constitution to shield us from government tyranny. Hence my URL.
Incidentally, I later parted ways with the ACLU because of their support of corporate personhood.
Thomas Paine was one of history's most strident and influential advocates of human rights, civil liberties, and social justice. His intellectual efforts ultimately led to the death of government by monarchy and the birth of government by constitutional republic.
I think the compatibility of my URL and site name speaks for itself.
7) I am particularly fond of your own writing style because I find your writing clear and often very poignant. It always seems to go right to the heart of the issue about which you are writing. At the same time that it exposes injustice for what it is, I hear a great deal of compassion in your writing as well. Can you say more about this?
I think the clarity, depth, and compassion you note in my writing style simply reflect who I have become out of necessity. In order to come back from the brink of self-destruction, I needed to immerse myself in sobriety, critical thinking, cognitive redirection, fearless self-evaluation, self-awareness, empathy, honesty, taking responsibility, making amends, and various other practices and beliefs which I seriously lacked. What began as a viable alternative to suicide as a means to end my misery has developed into a core way of being.
While I strive for ideals, I realize that as a human being, I will fall short of the mark at times. I need only look at my past as evidence of how far short I can fall. Which is why I am slowly learning to feel at least a degree of compassion even for those who commit egregious crimes. That is not to say that I don't believe in rendering consequences. However, if a person is contrite, pays their dues, and truly evolves, I believe in second chances.
As a side note, I see little or no room for second chances for many of the social, economic, military, and political leaders in the United States who continue to cause great harm with impunity. Their denial, hubris, avarice, and hypocrisy are too ingrained and their crimes are too egregious. Try them, convict them, lock them up, and throw away the key! (For those of you who favor execution, I am sorry but I am opposed to the death penalty).
8) How do you see the world we live in at this moment, with all of its human suffering, injustice, complacency, and all the other issues about which we both write? Please comment on your thoughts on the Iraq War; civil liberties; the state of consciousness, or lack thereof, in the United States; the seeming inability to have clean, honest elections in the U.S.; and the presidential candidate selection process. How do you remain grounded and balanced living in the belly of the beast with so much that is dark and depressing around us?
Human suffering and injustice are inevitable. But that doesn't alleviate us of the responsibility to try to mitigate or minimize them.
Bush waged a war of aggression in Iraq. We hanged the Germans we tried at Nuremberg for the same crime. Why are he and his accomplices still alive? There is no mission to accomplish in Iraq other than the establishment of a sustainable puppet regime to enable the United States to control Iraq's oil reserves. The "insurgents" are resistance fighters attempting to drive out our invading army. There would be plenty of US American "insurgents" and "terrorists" in the United States if India sent an invasionary force of 150,000 to gain control of our fresh water supply.
We have plunged Iraq into a civil war and are responsible for the deaths of over a million Iraqis (going back to the Gulf War and including the 600,000 or so who died as a result of US-driven economic sanctions under Clinton). Devastated infrastructure, death, chaos, genocide, physical and psychological disability, torture, hatred, and an environment contaminated with depleted uranium will be our "proud" legacy in Iraq.
Civil liberties in the United States? There are none that are guaranteed anymore. We lost that "luxury" and it wasn't because of those "evil Islamofascists" who "hate our freedoms"! A civil liberty is a limit on abuse of power by government. Presidential signing statements, the Patriot Act, and the Military Commissions Act serve to eradicate most, if not all, of our civil liberties. Our rights are no longer protected from our government by the rule of law. In just six years Bush and his cohorts have managed to eviscerate the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. And they call GW a failure!
9) Who are some of the people who have influenced you?
As I have progressed through my spiritual awakening, a number of people, both contemporary and historical, have influenced me. I already mentioned Lynn Barnett and my teacher from high school, Andy Anderson. Through their books, John Bradshaw, Scott Peck, and Sam Keene have left indelible impressions on my soul. I derive powerful inspiration from MLK, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Henry David Thoreau, and Thomas Paine. Recently, despite my resistance to organized religion, I have been very animated by the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly the Beatitudes. My grandfather, who spent much of his life in poverty until he went to work on the GM assembly line, is populist and pro-labor in his outlook, and who is a paragon of integrity, has been my most important role model.
10)In your complete profile on your blogspot, you list some of your favorite movies, music, and books. Please choose one of each category and tell us how that movie, musical group, and book have influenced you or continues to influence you.
It's a Wonderful Life wins hands down in the movie category. The first time I saw it I was a freshman in college. While its deeper implications escaped me at the time, it provided a life-line to a very depressed young man. Since then I have watched it nearly every Christmas. Its portrayal of the epic struggle between the working class and the moneyed class in the United States is timeless. Yet in our current Gilded Age revival, it is particularly timely. I recently ran across a site called Pottersville which portrayed Dick Cheney as Old Man Potter. Needless to say, I enjoyed that immensely.
My favorite music depends upon my mood. If I am feeling angry, I prefer to listen to Godsmack, for obvious reasons if you are familiar with their music. Queensryche is probably the group that I like the most, regardless of how I feel emotionally. I am particularly fond of their song, Speak (on the Operation Mindcrime CD) and their Promised Land CD.
Choosing just one book would be difficult, but I do have a particular affinity for Golding's Lord of the Flies. As with Capra's film, I suspect it is ultimately the might versus right aspect of the book that captivates me. I also love virtually anything by Dostoevsky and Sinclair Lewis.
11) I don't know if you have children, but you obviously do not write what you write or post the articles you post without an awareness of youth and future generations. What words of wisdom or inspiration do you have for youth and for parents raising them? Feel free to draw on your personal experiences as a parent if you are one, as a loan counselor, as a writer, as a person in recovery, or any other experiences you find relevant.
I strongly believe that we need to make choices with future generations in mind. If we don't significantly change our ways, the extinction of many more species, including homo sapiens, is a realistic possibility. We know little about our vast universe, but it would appear that few planets are as hospitable to life as Earth. We are abusing a precious gift.
The American Philosopher, Don Richardson, has posited:
The moral imperative of life is to live a life that detracts not at all from the lives available to those who will follow us into this world.
As I stated in an answer to a previous question, my values and beliefs are eclectic and wide-ranging. I would not embrace one singular moral imperative, but I have certainly assimilated Richardson's assertion into my spiritual map (which I update frequently). With respect to children, I think we have a responsibility to act in ways that benefit all children, not just our own.
12) Please share anything else you would like to include in letting readers know about you and your work.
I simply want to state that despite my deep commitment to working with those who are striving for a more just, humane, and peaceful world, I realize that my humble efforts are but tiny ripples in a vast ocean. As I do with most situations, I look at the situation as a spectrum, with utter disregard for humanity and the Earth at one end and total devotion to humankind and our planet at the other. My life objective is to spend most of my time closer to the "total devotion" end of the spectrum than the "utter disregard".
While I could certainly do more, and still share a degree of complicity in the systematic rape and exploitation of "Third Worlders" and the Earth, I work hard within my limitations to be more a part of the solution than of the problem. By detailing my efforts below, I am by no means patting myself on the back. I simply want to give people an idea of some of the things they could do help facilitate grass-roots, "bottom-up" changes to a deeply entrenched, profoundly corrupt socioeconomic/political system.
Toward that end, I write my essays to awaken, inform, inspire, and persuade readers to join the growing movement to defy the push toward corporatization, globalization, perpetual war, and the like. I have been blessed to find a number of alternative sites which have published substantial numbers of my articles. My thanks to Rense.com, One Thousand Reasons, OpEd News, Dissident Voice, Trumpet America, Axis of Logic, Alternative Press Review, News from Bangladesh, Information Clearing House, Aljazeerah.info, World Prout Assembly, The Smirking Chimp, Worldwide Renaissance, Margot B World News, RINF, Project for the Old American Century, Signs of the Times, Political Affairs, The Free Press, Online Journal, Counter Currents, Counter Bias, A Word Fitly Spoken, Margot's Web, The Peoples Voice, Peace Earth and Justice News, Saudi Elections, True Blue Liberal, World 5.0, Federal Observer, World News Trust, Populist America, Uruknet, 7th Fire, Four Winds, The American Muslim, Alien Love, Atlantic Free Press, American Chronicle, Daily Scare, Mendacity Review, World News Trust, Poetic Injustice, Today's Alternative News, Cyrano's Journal Online, Palestine Chronicle, Ziopedia, Tlaxcala, Bellaciao, Political Cortex, Selves and Others, Sensibly Eclectic, Bush Watch, Uncommon Thought, and Speaking Truth to Power. My apologies to anyone I might have forgotten. I feel truly appreciative to each of these editors and hope that readers will find the time to visit these fine sites.
I publish my little site to help other people of conscience disseminate their thoughts and analyses, highlight news relevant to human rights and social justice, and to expose the lies of our government and the corporate media.
I boycott or shun Wal-Mart, most television programs, the commercialized aspects of Christmas, credit card debt, fast food, the NFL, pornography, and soft drinks. I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores, recycle eight different types of trash, drive an inexpensive relatively fuel efficient car, buy almost nothing beyond necessities, and live in a modest apartment.
I recently became a vegetarian because of the abject cruelty of factory farming and because meat production is deleterious to the human race and to Earth. It takes 50 times more fossil fuel and 1,000 times more water to put meat on the table than it does other types of food. Satisfying our carnivorous desires also demands deforestation and the grossly inefficient use of land for grazing (instead of crop cultivation). Potable water is in short supply in many countries, fossil fuels are non-renewable, Climate Change is a reality, and 35,000 people die of starvation each day. Meat is a luxury the human race cannot afford.
I donate my extra money and several hours of volunteer service each month to a local entity which provides numerous means of uplift to people who find themselves homeless.
I recently filed an internal whistle-blowing complaint with my employer related to the human rights of a large group of people in the Middle East. I am awaiting the results and/or consequences.
For a variety of reasons it is not in the cards for now, but I intend to begin engaging in war tax resistance at the beginning of next year. If you have strong moral objections to the federal government pouring fifty percent of our tax money into our murderous war machine while poverty, inadequate education, lack of health care, hunger, and homelessness are becoming increasingly prevalent in our nation, I urge you to consider war tax resistance (not to be confused with tax protest). For more information, go to http://www.nwtrcc.org/what_is_wtr.htm
I believe that the inspiring opposition to US global hegemony arising in Latin America coupled with non-violent resistance (each according to their ability) by enough US Americans will ultimately end the brutal tyranny of our ruling oligarchs. Despite my earlier observations that there are apparently still large numbers of people who still believe in the American Fairy Tale, it is readily apparent that the Bush Regime's "bull in a China closet" approach to imperial expansion is beginning to awaken some of our sleepiest somnambulists. Which is why I refuse to accept skeptics' assertions that I am tilting at windmills. I will press onward.
Aside from these specifics, my general objective is to lead an essentially humane and decent life. Even though I have been engaged in this endeavor for fourteen years, I had a lot of atoning to do. And since I am neither perfect nor a saint, I need to continue toiling tenaciously as long as I can sit up and take nourishment!
CAROLYN BAKER, Ph.D., manages her website at www.carolynbaker.org where articles by Jason Miller are frequently posted.