Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas in Mississippi: Three jobs, can't pay rent.

Yesterday, I just finished a 2-mile run at the city park close to my house, and was waiting in line at the local grocery store. I had all the delicious nutrients of a Naked juice in hand at the cash register. I dug into my shorts pocket and pulled my EBT card from my wallet to pay for it.

Now, I still qualify for food stamps as long as I make under $1100 a month. And believe it or not, working six days a week as a substitute teacher and waiter in the daytime, and my night job as a bouncer at a gay club in a sketchy neighborhood on Friday and Saturday nights don't add up to that. In fact, it just barely adds up to the $550 I pay per month in rent (washer/dryer included, internet, cable, big backyard for the dog). Before I finish this story, let me take you for a walk in my shoes right quick.

A day in the life of a broke Jacksonian

I tell folks I live in "the nice part of the hood." The roughest part of town is just a mile or so away. All that really happens on my street is my neighbor, Phyllis, occasionally coming over at 7 AM to bum a cigarette from my roommate. And sometimes Do-Right (his real name is Dudley) knocks on my window as I'm leaving for work, asking with his noticeable stutter if he can bum a ride to the liquor store. There's bars on some of the windows on my street, but other than that, my neighborhood isn't too bad.

Also, being a bouncer and a waiter at the same time means my weekends are hell.

Last Friday, I subbed a 9th grade AP English class, then worked at the club from 9 PM to 4 AM. After reading the last 30 pages of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and playing djembe for my classes, I stood out in biting cold weather that night. I changed from a suit and tie in the morning to a wool trench coat at night, with a secret service-style radio in my ear, looking intimidating and holding the door for the hundreds of patrons. I'd watch the scene inside periodically to get warm, and then escort them all back to their cars if necessary and chasing off carjackers. I usually get home around 5:30. At 8:30, I came to work at the restaurant and waited tables until 3. After some coffee, I went to a friend's house in the country for a Christmas party at 5, and then came back to the club at 9. I was there until 5, and then slept a few hours before waiting tables again at 10. I'd get off around 4, take my homeboy Steven home (one of our cooks who doesn't have a car) in the hood and hang with him for a bit before heading home.

After all that, I sit down in my chair with a tallboy in hand, a Labrador at my feet, and the Saints on TV. It's a well-deserved break after almost 40 hours of work in a 48-hour time period.

Broke on Christmas

While probably 25% of this country is either unemployed or has eventually just stopped looking for employment. I'm the lucky guy in this economy; I have three jobs. I'm working like a horse. The problem is, waiting tables four days a week at a restaurant that splits tips amongst the waiters and the cooks (we get paid federal minimum wage in return) means a pitiful check at the end of the week. Subbing comes very intermittently, because certified teachers working under Haley Barbour's public sector don't want to take too many sick/vacation days knowing that their jobs may become budget sacrifices in July. Bouncing pays a c-note, straight cash at the end of a Saturday night. but when you factor in the costs of travel, along with daily costs, bills and rent, my three jobs mean I may or may not have the $550 at the end of December.

Life is pretty rough, but life is also dealing me some really interesting cards right now. I still find time to perform slam poetry on the weekends, time to do theatre at night, time to work out in the afternoons, time for the occasional blues jam or drum circle, and even time for every 23 year-old in Mississippi's eternal pursuit of beautiful Southern women. Being young, single, childless and in good health has its advantages. Three jobs and a demanding social life means not much sleep, but I can always do that when I'm dead.

After a run at the park, I'm standing in line at the store. Manheim Steamroller is playing obnoxious hair metal Christmas music over the speakers above us. Nobody is talking to or looking at each other. their looking at phones or grocery lists or shelves, and politely mumbling a stifled and insincere apology if they bump into another person not looking at anyone. We're all ants on a mission. Get up. Drink coffee. Go to work or look for work. Get groceries. Eat food. Go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. There's an air of misery throughout the place. You can almost smell the desperation. And this is North Jackson, where folks are generally doing better than folks in South or West Jackson.

The cashier gets to me and swipes my Protein Zone Naked Juice. She's done this a thousand times today. i can tell she just wants her job a little less mundane when she decides to stir the still air with some meaningless conversation with a sweaty stranger clad in shorts and a t-shirt. She and I aren't making eye contact. Her eyes are on the price on the screen, and my eyes are on the console as I swipe my food stamp card. (Yes, I buy my Naked juice on food stamps. It's three servings of fruit in a bottle. Don't judge.)

"Finish your Christmas shopping yet?" She asks as she stifles a yawn.

I look up at her, stunned.

"Christmas presents?!?" I can't help but start laughing. "Who has extra money to spend at Target? I've got three jobs and can't pay my rent!"

The cashier starts laughing too. The other customers in line behind me start to chuckle. The folks in the line next to me and shopping in the aisle behind us all start giggling. We all start exchanging pleasantries about how broke we are. About working multiple jobs and struggling just to pay the bills at the end of the month. About making mix CDs for family members this Christmas. Everyone leaves with a smile on their face; we may be broke, but at least we have money for food, and cars to drive back to the house.

There's no middle class around here. The last of it is dying off. We all may drive cars, homes and regular jobs, but we're holding on to the very last strands of financial stability. We all know those last few strands will be taken from us soon by our corporate owners. But right now, we're living hard and doing whatever it takes to hold on.

I'm just thankful my boss at the restaurant gave me and the other waiter and cook a voucher at Honeybaked Ham for a ham or turkey to take back home. That's my Christmas present to them this year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Republican Revitalization of Fascism

Defining Fascism

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."
-Benito Mussolini

Those are the words of one of the original creators of Fascism. Benito Mussolini is credited with establishing the key principles of fascism in the time he led Italy's government. He defines it as a government built upon rabid nationalism, collusion between government and corporate power, the belief in expansion, and most importantly, a nation that was anti-Communist. Mussolini heavily believed in the need for Fascism to actively censor the media at will and distribute propaganda favorable to the big business/big government establishment. Mussolini was a key Axis ally for Imperial Japan and the Tojo Regime, and was also Hitler's European ally in his own conquest for global Nazi supremacy.

By the end of World War II, Mussolini's body hung upside-down by a gas station on public display. He had been captured and decapitated by his own people.

Calling Fascism for what it is

"Capitalism has defeated Communism. It is now well on its way to defeating Democracy."
-David C. Korten

By the end of 2008, the Republican party was leaderless, divided and in disarray. Most political reporters claimed the Republicans had had their last gasp.

Then just about a year ago, after the John Roberts SCOTUS ruled 5-4 in favor of Citizens United vs. FEC, which equates money with political speech, and multinational corporations as real people. Then after drinking some overly rich and bitter tea, the Republicans suddenly got a whole lot of new friends and much kinder treatment in the corporate media.

Suddenly the teapublicans had momentum. They won the day on November 2nd after a primary and general election season filled with platitudes decrying Congressional corruption, and flooding the media with talk about changing "business as usual Washington politics."

In the midst of their anti-DC corruption, anti-special interest rhetoric, teapublicans wrote their "Pledge to America" with the help of corrupt DC special interests. Brian Wild, listed as the Pledge's author, made big money as a big-time lobbyist for big insurance and big oil.

Not surprisingly, this Pledge to America was an exact carbon copy of Newt Gingrich's "Contract to America" back when the Republicans made big gains in 1994. Two years later, John Boehner would later be caught handing out checks from big tobacco in the halls of Congress.

See, Republicans have always been corporate America's pawns; the same robber barons of the gilded age who fought like hellcats to prevent FDR from passing Social Security are the same Wall Street fat cats and K Street brokers who fight President Obama's progressive goals tooth and nail. They fill the campaign coffers of their Republican Congressional allies, and in turn, those Congressmen fight for policies that benefit their corporate benefactors even if that policy harms their own constituents.

It really shouldn't surprise any of us to hear that John Boehner, the new presumptive Speaker of the House, appointed a big-time lobbyist as his chief of staff. Or that the GOP's America Speaking Out project consisted of closed backroom meetings with K Street. Nor should it surprise us that 13 incoming teapublican congressmen are giving corporate lobbyists control of their DC offices. Government collusion with corporations is an essential facet of fascism, and the Republicans make no bones about fighting for the wealthy few and against the rest of us.

Such policy is blatant fascism. It's time to call them out for it out in the open. This new breed of Republican leadership is proto-fascist. Fascism is their ultimate intent; it always has been, back when George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott, engineered an unsuccessful fascist coup during the Gilded Age.

Fascism: The ultimate goal of the far right

"It is our conduct, our patriotism and belief in our American way of life, our courage that will win the final battle."
-Senator Prescott Bush (R-CT), grandfather to President George W. Bush

Numerous historical comparisons can be made between the 1930s and the 2010s. It could be in the unemployment numbers, or the vast income inequality between the wealthiest 2% of Americans and everyone else, the repugnant, rapacious greed of today's Wall Street robber barons, or a number of other factors. Did you know that today, in what our leaders would call the most prosperous nation on the planet, literally one in seven Americans are living below the federal poverty line? Or that 1% of this nation's population owns 24% of the nation's wealth, up from 9% in 1976? This Great Recession is the worst economic morass we've seen since the Great Depression. Speaking of historical comparisons...

In 1933, right-wing businessmen, including Prescott Bush back when he was a railroad executive, hatched a nefarious plan to violently overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt and set up a fascist dictatorship akin to Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. These American fascists believed that being business partners with the Nazis and the Fascists was the only way to beat the Great Depression. Incredibly, Prescott Bush looked after his own pockets more than the future of our freedom fought for by our founders. Even after we entered WWII, and even after it was known that the Nazis were planning on exterminating the Jewish race, Bush maintained his foreign assets and investments in German companies during World War II until they were seized in the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1942.

The final battle that Prescott Bush spoke of in the above quote was likely of his own collusion with Mussolini and Fascism against FDR and Democracy. Today, it is the class war waged by today's fascists against what remains of our Democracy. And as you can see from the numerous links and evidence in this piece, the fascists have almost won. Their machine of corporate money to promote corporate politicians in the corporate media to further tighten corporate America's stranglehold on our Republic has succeeded. The last elections were a direct result of unprecedented corporate influence on our Democracy, as permitted by the Citizens United decision. We will only see this fascist cancer spread and infect more of this nation until we pay it proper attention and systematically cut it out.

The Fascist machine

"I hope we shall...crush in its birth the aristocracy of our
moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our
government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of
our country."

-Thomas Jefferson

I can't stop quoting Jefferson enough with that statement, because it's even more true today than it was in 1816, when he wrote those words to George Logan.

Remember the health care debates that raged all across cable news from 2009 to early 2010? Right from the start, far-right politicians, their corporate financiers and the corporate-owned media were working together in their failed effort to defeat the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Here's how it worked:

Initially, progressives asked President Obama for health care reform. They wanted, most of all, a single-payer system that negated the need for private health insurance companies. Progressives see health care as a human right, not as a commodity available only for those rich enough to afford care.

When the President didn't even fight for a single payer system, progressives asked for a robust public health insurance option that folks could choose instead of a private insurance company that charged sky-high premiums. The words "public option" became a rallying cry for progressives. When the pollsters asked the people, they learned the idea of a public option was pretty popular. The right-wing machine then went to work.

First, AHIP, Washington's lobby for big health insurance companies, coined the term "government option." Folks liked the idea of having a public option, but focus groups learned that if you replaced the word "public" with "government," support for the idea waned. This idea worked.

Next, AHIP instructed Fox News, the mouthpiece of corporate America and the far right, to use the words "government option" when referring to the public option. This was intended to gin up anger against the president and his health care legislation. This also worked.

Finally, with the media and the national political discourse on their side, the politicians paid for by AHIP and big insurance dollars went around the country demonizing the public/government-run health insurance option. now, the only work left to do was for big insurance to forge an "understanding" with the Obama Administration that any health care legislation that made it to his desk would not include a public option. And as we've seen, this worked as well.

Fascism has come to America. Corporations are in bed with right-wing government officials and the right-wing media, and they are systematically taking apart everything we fought long and hard for, piece by piece. Those recently elected to our nation's highest political offices have openly pledged to repeal a century's worth of progressive reforms in the name of higher corporate profits. We have a right to be frightened. But we have a right to fight back, and call out fascism for what it is.

Even though I fully expect a lot of my readers to condemn me for calling new Republicans fascists, I hope more of you will speak out against the ongoing corporate takeover of our Republic by the richest 2% of this country. I doubt, but continuously hope the media will be courageous enough to explore and shine light on this egregious threat to Democracy. More than anything, I hope my young friends in my generation will become politically engaged and make a daily habit of fighting for the greater good in society.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Our Economic Salvation vs. Mindless GOP Posturing

Driving in Ohio

With all due respect to my friends in Ohio, your drivers are terrifying. If there's someone on the interstate leapfrogging from lane to line, nearly sidswiping sedans full of passengers as they fly by at 90 mph, chances are they usually have Ohio plates.

City traffic is just as terrifying; I remember both times I was in Columbus driving two different cars, I was scared of erring at least a little bit, lest the driver behind me, who was literally an inch away from my back bumper, run right into the back of my parent's or friend's car. Driving in Ohio isn't for the faint-hearted, and I'm sure my Northern Kentucky and Ohio facebook friends can probably back me up on that.

Now, my parents are both from Northern Kentucky and Ohio; my mom is from Erlanger, and my dad is from Cleveland. My brother graduated from Oberlin. I remember many hours spent in the backseat of a car as a kid, riding from Kentucky across the singing bridge to Cincinnati, and sometimes all the way into Cleveland. Or we'd go Northward, almost to Michigan, and drive through Columbus on the way to Oberlin. Sometimes me and my best friend from college would go visit her mom in Portsmouth, just across the river from Ashland. Drivers in Southeastern Ohio are just as erratic as in the other parts.

One trip I always enjoyed making was the trip to see my aunt and uncle in Alexandria, VA, just outside of DC. I didn't like the 12-hour drive so much, but I always loved riding the Metro trains around DC. They're so damn convenient. A little $10 card will get you all over the city with ease, back home again, and you'll still have a few bucks left on it at the end of the day.

As much as I loved humming along to the sound of the rubber tires on the blue singing bridge like Dustin Hoffman did in Rain Man, and as pretty and charming as Amish country may be, I always thought Ohio was far too small of a state to spend so long in a car going from place to place. As I grew older, I thought surely, there must be cheaper ways to travel other than filling up every few hundred miles, driving on taxpayer-funded interstates always cracked and in need of repair, always depending on petroleum, which isn't gonna be here forever.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a high-speed light rail system connecting Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus? No more 6-hour car trips and frequent fill-ups from city to city. No more needless fretting in city traffic. No more unnecessary wear and tear on public roads and needless cost to Ohio taxpayers. No more harmful emissions from thousands of cars on the highway. And thousands of jobs to boot, certainly. Ohio could use it, as could lots of other states. It'd be like riding the Metro, except it would be all across the state of Ohio, and a hell of a lot faster.

I'm sure the trucking and big oil lobbies wouldn't like it, but hey.

Land of Prosperity

Sadly, the emboldened words above titling this segment are not in reference to the United States of America this time. Well, unless you're one of the richest 10% that owns 70% of the nation's wealth. Or one of the richest 1% that owns 34% of the country's private net worth. Their prosperity is just fine, and most likely will be for a very long time. I was actually talking about our top creditor: China.

China is in pretty good shape right now. Partly because we owe them $2 trillion for the ten years of tax cuts we gave to Paris Hilton, and other members of that elite club comprising the top 2% of the USA's wealthiest. But China is moving on up, and fast. Literally and figuratively. From the article:

Many of the trains plying the new railway between Shanghai's western suburb of Hongqiao and Hangzhou will travel the 126 miles in 45 minutes - about half the time trains usually take to make the trip at their fastest speeds.

The China-made CRH380 train has been clocked at almost 262 mph - a world speed record - though it will usually operate at a maximum speed of 220 mph.

The line was opened as China prepares to have 10,000 miles of high-speed rail in operation by 2012.

Instead of spending billions every year to just maintain asphalt roads that suffer from the regular wear and tear, China decided to get smart and move forward with their high speed rail system. And in two years, they'll have 10,000 miles of track used for both freight and passenger trains. The Swiss government's investment in rail systems for freight is also about to hit pay dirt in the next few years. From the article:

Completion of the Gotthard Base Tunnel will cut the travel time between Zurich and Milan in Italy by 60 minutes to two-and-a-half hours and provide an easier and more economic route for heavy freight trains.

The tunnel -- which is in fact composed of two single-track tunnels -- cost $10.6 billion (£6.6 billion).

Since the first preparations for the tunnel were laid in 1996, over 2,500 workers have taken part in its building according to AlpTransit Gotthard, the company constructing the tunnel. It is due to be operational by the end of 2017.

Freight traffic in the entire Alpine region will grow by as much as 75 percent by 2010, according to a study by the EU Commission.

The Swiss have already created jobs for 2,500 people through tunnel construction, and will likely keep a fair portion of them on staff for maintenance and repair of the track and Gotthard tunnel itself. It's assumed that the rail system currently being built by China will create thousands of jobs for Chinese workers in the manufacturing, transportation, installation and maintenance of the HST cars, tracks and tunnels.

High-speed rail is clearly the future of transportation, and is already showing dividends for the nations that chose to make the initial investment. Rail systems are revolutionizing transportation of people and goods and creating thousands of jobs in the process. It's clear that China and the EU are already leaving us behind economically. Surely the Republicans that recently got elected to state and national leadership positions are taking notice of this growing global trend and acting accordingly, yes?

Republicans- Champions of the Outdated and Irrelevant

GOPosaurs wasted no time in killing jobs as soon as they took power. Remember that awesome light rail idea in Ohio I mentioned in the first part of this piece? I sadly can't take credit for that- I give props to the Obama administration for allocating funds specifically for a light rail system that connected Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. However, Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich decided that making a political point was more important than jobs for Ohioans, just 12 hours after winning office.

"Passenger rail is not in Ohio's future,'' the Republican said at his first news conference after Tuesday's win over Gov. Ted Strickland. "That train is dead."

He was referring to the $400 million federally subsidized project to restore passenger rail between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, along the so-called 3-C corridor.

Not to be outdone, Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker has been eager to kill the $810 million-dollar rail connecting Madison and Milwaukee. Just days after being elected, Wisconsin's transportation chief announced that construction of the railway would be put on hold. This means 300 workers are being let go so a teapublican can make whatever oil company-funded, right-wing political point he was trying to make.

A good number of the teabagging Republicans who won office on November 2nd made sure to mention the "Obama/Pelosi job-killing liberal agenda" they were fighting. Yet, the first thing these Republicans did was kill jobs that President Obama and Speaker Pelosi brought to their states.

How to Beat Them

Isn't it frustrating? The solution to our myriad economic problems is staring us in the face, and our friends overseas in Switzerland, China and elsewhere are putting that solution to good use and already seeing incredible results. Yet, the only method our Republican elected officials will accept as a true "solution" is extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% at a cost of $700 billion. Can you hear them?

"Seriously, those other 8 times we cut taxes for the rich were just primer- this next tax cut for the rich means that Paris Hilton is finally going to finish the blueprints for that national light rail system! And think about all the new chauffeurs, landscapers and maids rich folks will hire with another tax cut!"

Think about the mind-numbing logic needed to be an elected Republican in 2010; keep things EXACTLY THE SAME as they have been for the last ten years, and our economy will bounce right back! Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

My message to Republicans: You want to create jobs? How about letting us be the job creators and using that $700 billion to...directly create jobs! What a novel concept! We could invest that $700 billion in a national light rail system that would connect every major city. And even if it was only a railway for freight, imagine all the free road space drivers would have without tens of thousands of trucks on the interstate. Or how much cleaner the air would be, or how much less we would spend on road repair and maintenance. It would be $700 billion well-spent, and the lower and middle class would benefit the most. Combine that with the wealthiest 2% paying the same tax rates they paid under Clinton (when the economy was booming) and it would paint a better picture for America as a whole.

We have until January until the teapublicans take over the House and obstruct any hope of actual progress. That's why I'm urging you to call your Congressmen- especially your outgoing Congressmen- to extend middle-class tax cuts ONLY, let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, and instead use that $700 billion for actual job creation.

Got a few minutes to spare? Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask for your congressmen and senators, and tell them what we need- jobs, not tax cuts for the rich. Save that number in your phone, call it every day; in the line for lunch, in traffic jams, whenever you can.

A good way to get the word into the public discourse is simply by writing a letter to the editor- keep your letter under 200 words, be clear and concise, and write from the heart. When your community gets the message in their local paper again and again from fellow community members, eventually the message will stick. Change happens from the ground up.

The problems are vast. The solutions are simple and within grasp. Let's get the word out and make sure everyone hears us.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sheriff of Nottingham Strikes Back


"We are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect.... We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago."
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know what Robin Hood was about; stealing from the rich, and giving to the poor. FOX News would call that socialist wealth redistribution. Martin Luther King would call it the Poor People's Campaign. Five years after his "I Have a Dream" speech, MLK called for poor America to build a tent city on the national mall and participate in a massive civil disobedience campaign to ask for economic justice.

At a total of $240 billion to the benefit of the poor and middle class since 2009, the Obama Tax Cuts are well-deserved. However, poor people are still very much present today as they were in 1968. I and many others are members of that club. I've felt the unemployment blues, and still find myself counting down the days until my food stamp benefits renew. However, unlike 2,000,000 of the 14.8 million of us without jobs, I can still count on $240 a week in the state of Mississippi until I get hired again. Those 2 million other folks are about to lose that last line of help and hope in the midst of the most crippling recession since the Great Depression eight decades ago unless Congress extends their benefits. The price tag for extending benefits through 2011 is $65 billion dollars, which Republican lawmakers unanimously oppose on grounds that it would increase the federal deficit. We've heard this before. But now they're taking it a step further.

Compassionate Conservatism

"Jesus looked at the man, and his heart went out to him, and he said, 'There is still one thing wanting in you; go and sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall heave wealth in heaven; then come and follow me.' But the man’s face clouded at these words, and he went away distressed, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked round, and said to his disciples: 'How hard it will be for men of wealth to enter the kingdom of God!'

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again: 'My children, how hard a thing it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to get through a eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'"

-Gospel of Mark, Ch. 10, v. 21-25

It's safe to say Jesus wasn't a capitalist. If we were truly a Christian nation like the social conservatives always say, then we'd be a Social Democracy. And if this nation were truly founded on Christian principles (it wasn't) then the far right would have no problem paying progressively more based on how much you earn., and they would jump for joy at social spending for the lower and middle classes.

Of course, that isn't the American way. Not according to U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, anyway. The Sheriff of Nottingham's concern over the deficit is so great that he's willing to cut off the last string holding up 2,000,000 of his countrymen (255,000 in his own district) if Democrats don't agree to another $700 billion tax bailout for millionaires. And he's putting the deficit gun to the head of the jobless just in time for the season of joy and giving, no less. Happy holidays to you too, Pete.

Now, I know $700 billion is a much bigger deficit buster than $65 billion, but Republican governance doesn't require logic or reason. Nor apparently does it require proficiency at math. All it really requires is the hatred of wealth redistribution, unless wealth is being redistributed from the poor to the rich. In 2005, the average CEO earned more in one day than the average worker earned in 52 weeks. Today, that income disparity has only worsened, thanks to the class warfare being waged by Wall Street and Congressional Republicans against the rest of us. Today, there is more income inequality in the United States than in traditional banana republics like Venezuela, Guyana and Nicaragua.

I know "class warfare" is a strong term, but strong terms need to be used when Republican Congressmen would rather have 2,000,000 poor people get kicked out into the streets instead of the wealthiest 2% of the population paying modest Clinton-era taxes. Taxes, which, by the way, are still 10% lower than what they paid under their hero, Ronald Reagan, during the majority of his administration.

My point: Republicans are holding a gun to the head of 2,000,000 poor Americans over $65 billion. They won't let them go until we sacrifice another $700 billion to millionaires, who have already fattened their pockets at our expense over the last decade.

I'm not saying we need to grab our pitchforks and torches. But we need to be loud and be heard, especially before January.

A Final Call to Action

"We don't want people lingering at home. In fact, we don’t even want people to use unemployment, if they don’t have to. If you lose a job, just go out and find another job. There’s jobs out there, you’ve just got to be willing to work.”
-Congressman-elect Steve Palazzo (R-MS)

Republicans say they're putting an ear to working America's voice, yet they champion policies that put a boot on working America's neck. They say they're the party of Christian values, yet their policies are the exact opposite of what Christ calls us to do. They say tax cuts for the wealthy are necessary, yet the last ten years of tax cuts for the wealthy have been the worst on record for job creation. Republicans have no problem playing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham; they'll fight to for the riches of themselves and their campaign contributions even as the rest of us suffer.

Such blatant hypocrisy is not unusual for Republicans- we should expect it by now, and not just about the deficit. For example, take Maryland's Andy Harris, a physician and newly-elected Republican who campaigned on repealing "Obamacare." He had a hissy fit when he found out he wouldn't be getting his government health care until a month after being sworn in. He'll fight like hell to take your health care reform away, but he'll fight like hell to get his own government health care.

The mantra of the teapublicans? Please, don't redistribute any wealth, unless it's from the poor to the rich! Please, no government health care for the uninsured, just for me!

Are you mad yet? Good. use it. The Democrats have control of both chambers until January. Only a majority vote is needed to extend unemployment benefits, to extend middle class tax cuts, and to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The final session of the 111th Congress started this week.

Call the White House and tell your president that he must fight for the other 98% us. Call your congressmen and senators and tell them to listen to the other 98% of us.

White House- 202-456-1111
Capitol Switchboard- 202-224-3121

Call now. Call tomorrow. Call often. Be heard. Make them hate their jobs. That's what we pay them for.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Letter to President Obama: Where's Our Commission?

Dear President Obama and Democratic Leadership,

Have you ever looked in your empty fridge, the needle on your gas tank meter getting dangerously close to the E, the two digits in your checking account and then at the calendar, counting down the days until your food stamp benefits renew?

Have you ever gone a whole day without food, and then made a stop behind your neighborhood grocery store that night after a fruitless day of jobhunting to see if there was anything good in the dumpster to eat?

Have you gotten the letter from your energy company telling you that they're going to have to resort to a collection agency if you can't pay your $65 light bill within two weeks?

Have you ever brushed the dust off of your bachelor's degree and looked at it proudly before putting it back in one of several cardboard boxes that you have lying around because you've been changing addresses like you've been changing socks?

Now, I know it's been a rough few years for you guys. Every time you break your backs to achieve another groundbreaking progressive accomplishment, you have to battle the right-scream media while they call you Socialists, Marxists, Kenyans, Muslims, Nazis, Fascists, Communists, and every other name under the sun. And I know that accomplishing great change in times like these where the American people have a shorter attention span than ever, and a 24-hour mindless news cycle that leaves valid stories in the dust while over-hyping nonissues is probably frustrating.

You created and saved millions of public sector jobs with the stimulus program, and now that the Small Business Act has been passed, the SBA is giving out loans to help small businesses grow more private sector jobs. PPACA, while it leaves more to be desired, is certainly a step in the right direction toward getting more Americans' health insured. You guys are actually getting a whole lot done in a very short amount of time against tremendous odds and infinite money being spent to go against your agenda. And you are still succeeding. And yet, nobody gives you any credit. I can't imagine it, but I'm sure that's rough.

But all that being said, it's time for you all to throw us a bone. Something. Anything.

Remember us? The people who went door to door in our neighborhoods with armloads of your literature, telling people they should believe in you in November? That they should support you and your message of helping the lower and middle class? That if elected, you would put an ear to neighborhoods, working families and small businesses instead of Wall Street and K Street? That you would fight for us if given the chance to govern?

We're still here. And we're hurting. And while there's anywhere between 12 to 20 percent of the population on the record as not working, there are 40 percent of us who are literally one pink slip away from tumbling into poverty. And of those not working, there's folks who have been out of a job for so long that they've stopped looking all together. We're working hard at our job and possibly a second one just to feed ourselves and keep the lights and the heat on.

In the land of prosperity, most are fighting just to hold on to their property. Many of us are looking at poverty directly in the eye. And believe it or not, we're also the folks who went through four to six years of debt for a degree that we were told would make us employable in a globally competitive 21st century economy. We worked hard and sacrificed our whole lives to try and win in the system you provided for us. We stayed in school. We ate our vegetables. We listened to our parents. We went to our Friday morning classes at 8 AM despite partying the night before so we wouldn't miss our exams.

And then we entered a world where playing by the rules didn't get you anything except an inbox full of rejection emails from employers we're more than qualified to work for. We entered a world where employers, thanks to a lack of regulation and a generous helping of greed, shipped all the jobs that used to be for folks like us to China and India and told us, "tough luck."

We entered a world where people who took home more than a million dollars a year gripe about four extra percentage points on their tax form and get coddled. It's the same world where a clean-cut, college-educated, rule-abiding citizen has to dig through garbage cans for food because there's no jobs for him. We want YOU, our leaders, the people we broke our backs to support time and again, to fight for us. And what did we get?

We got a commission of panelists telling us that the deficit is more important than jobs. These panelists that you appointed tell us to tighten our belts, that they're going to start chipping away at the future we've been saving for with each paycheck earned. The same rightful future of ours that requires a lawyer and hefty legal expenses just to access. These panelists all say they've harpooned every fish, and a few minnows, yet somehow missed Wall Street, the hulking whale devouring all of the sea's resources. These are the same people who literally have their salaries paid by groups that lobby for lower taxes for the rich and less social spending for the other 98 percent of us.

Forgive me if I'm a little upset that you listened to the bloviating radical right instead of us, who said fiscal austerity was more important of an issue than the citizens' prosperity. I'm a little upset that you put together a deficit commission instead of a jobs commission. Or an environment commission. Or a commission to save the middle class. Forgive me for the cliche, but where's our bailout?

Mr. President, we're hurting. We're on our last breath. We're tough, and we're fighters, but we're getting beat up hard and fast. We urge you to listen to us, and fight our fight. It may seem daunting to take on big money and the established status quo, but if you do, we will fight for you and with you by your side, as we always have.

I'm not asking you for a fat government check or an eternity of food stamp benefits. I'm not asking you to pay my rent or my light bill or for a tank of gas. I'm not even asking you for single-payer health care, a new WPA program to build light rail infrastructure or throwing BP and Goldman-Sachs executives behind bars, although those would all be nice.

I just want you to fight for the American way. To fight for more jobs and less greed. To fight for the idea that living a virtuous life and trusting in an education will pay off in the end.

Please think of me and the millions of others like me, Mr. President. Fight for us, and we'll fight for you. We don't have much time left.

Respectfully Yours,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Austerity vs. Prosperity- What Germany is Teaching the Rest of Us

The Other Half of the Story

"It's the economy, stupid."
-President Bill Clinton

The midterms are almost here. And while all the networks are simultaneously refusing to cover the biggest crowds President Obama has drawn since his inauguration, the "liberal" media, from FOX News to the BBC, loves to endlessly beat the same dead horses of pre-conceived narratives for millions of viewers. You've heard them. You know, like how the the president isn't connecting with voters. Or how Republicans are going to take majorities in both houses of Congress because after 8 years of Republican rule, the Democrats somehow didn't make the rivers flow with milk and honey after two years of Obama in the White House. Or the narrative that because the $787 billion stimulus package didn't fix all of our problems, government spending in a recession is somehow useless. That voters are blaming double-digit unemployment and no money in the bank on Democratic majorities, instead of corporate greed made possible through Republican deregulation and big money owning Congress.

And not surprisingly, the "liberal" mainstream media isn't telling the whole story. After all, the whole story doesn't sell nearly as much as a pre-conceived narrative does.

One place where the anti-government, anti-liberal narrative doesn't mesh with reality more than anywhere else is Germany. But what's so hot about Germany right now?

Beating the Recession with Big Government

In the second quarter, the US economy grew by 0.6% in terms of raw GDP. Germany, in the meantime, grew by 2.2%, their strongest growth in two decades. This growth is unlike China's recent 9% 3rd quarter growth, because China is growing their economy by devaluing their currency and then overloading the global market with their exports, made by people who are working because of the West's outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.

Germany, in the meantime, grows their economy through the underlying principle of keeping German workers working no matter what. When the recession hit everyone, America and most of Western Europe chose fiscal austerity. Germany, on the other hand, is faring quite well due to progressive taxation, business regulations that favor the employee and strong labor unions; coincidentally, all of which have been demonized by the champions of Reaganonomics and the "liberal" mainstream media.

The benefit of a strong domestic workforce and a prosperous middle class is not lost on the German government, as it seems to be in the USA. Germany's chief fiscal policy during this recession has been to keep unemployment numbers low; after all, the more people there are working, the more money gets spent in local economies. Not to mention the revenue gained from more people paying income taxes.

Germany's export market is also a chief factor of her prosperity. When demand for American products goes down in the global market, firms are quick to cut wages and drop workers from the payroll, so profit margins aren't lowered by paying their employees a fair salary. But Germany has instead relied more on furloughs instead of firings, meaning that manufacturing plants still stay open, and when demand improves again, there are still trained workers ready to do the job productively. And the demand for German-made products has indeed gone up, so Germany gets the benefit of nearly $800 billion in export revenue, with plenty of high-salaried workers with benefits and job security protected by unions, to make those products. Germany is a workers' paradise. This economic growth will eventually result in population growth, meaning increased tax revenue, meaning better government infrastructure for all, meaning an overall more prosperous nation as a net result.

The United States and other nations, like Spain, for example, have chosen instead to scale back stimulating the economy, and cut budgets even more. This means less loans for small businesses starting up, which means less people working, which means less people spending, which means a weakened economy and a less prosperous nation as a net result.

Some fiscal conservatives might like to blame the economic downturn on "big government" interference in the private sector. But the fact is, big government has yet to be tried here like it's been tried in Germany. Big government has been proven to be a force for job creation and economic prosperity for all, both for FDR during his tenure as he led us from depression to the introduction of the American middle class, and for Germany as they prosper in the midst of global recession. Pragmatic socialism, while the word has been demonized by the far right, is a tried-and-true way to overcome a stale economy.

So how could a social market economy save the United States?

How Obama can Save the US Economy

Germany's already found prosperity by taxing progressively, although interestingly enough their top income tax rate is 45%, which is still lower than Reagan's rate of 50%. And I've mentioned Germany being called a "workers' paradise" because of its dedication to keeping its domestic workforce strong and healthy, as well as its labor unions. These measures can come over time, although the Obama administration lacks the political capital to implement those right now. But Obama need only to launch one major project to regain that political capital and launch the US from broke to rich.

That project must be a new, WPA-style program aimed at building an efficient light rail system across the nation. We could do it by simply building 30 to 40-foot platforms with tracks on highway medians. There would be rail stations in every city, just like there are exits on the interstate. We would create literally millions of jobs in the manufacturing, installation and maintenance of both the railway itself, the rail cars and the renewable, sustainable energy sources that could power them. And we could get the funding to finance the project by taxing the top 1% of the richest in the country, who currently own 95% of the nation's wealth. Traveling by car would eventually be a thing of the past. I'm sure Big Oil would lobby against it tooth and nail, which is why it will take electing progressives to Congress to make sure it happens.

Think about it- FDR stimulated the economy with his New Deal programs that created millions of jobs for folks who had none during the worst economic crisis in history. There was the Civilian Conservation Corps (courtesy of the Unemployment Relief Act of 1933), where young men from their late teens to mid-twenties from unemployed households were given construction jobs, and expected to share their wages with their families. There was the Public Works Administration, which used $3.3 billion to improve public infrastructure and promote economic growth in places that weren't suited for economic growth. The Works Progress Administration created 8 million jobs in and of itself, and rejuvenated downtrodden urban environments. There were numerous other projects in the New Deal that stabilized the economy through stimulus and regulation, all of which eventually resulted in the biggest economic boom in history, from 1949 to 1973. The media likes to push the narrative that World War II was what spurred such growth, while ignoring the fact that us currently being involved in not one, but TWO overseas conflicts has only bankrupted us.

But big government spending to create jobs isn't merely a Democratic idea; Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower took the White House and oversaw the creation of the Interstate system. While these roads were originally intended for quick evacuation from a potential nuclear attack, it ultimately resulted in millions of jobs created and a highly-efficient system of travel. However, we now have the technology to transcend beyond ribbons of concrete and a dependence on petroleum- a light rail system built in similar fashion to the Interstate system would revolutionize both the energy and transportation of this nation as well as catapult us to economic prosperity.


Conservatives might suggest that if government stimulus actually stimulated the economy, the ARRA failed miserably, as we're still facing high unemployment and job losses even after its passage. But as Paul Krugman notes, the "stimulus" package was almost completely made up of tax cuts and bailing out broken state governments, not any real stimulus programs to create jobs. Sure, there might have been several billion dollars allocated for road repair and teacher rehiring, and the stimulus that we did get certainly helped in those aspects. But the ARRA lacked any legislation or funding allowing for the mass creation of jobs.

Could you imagine, a week before the midterm elections, President Obama and the Democratic Caucus in the House and Senate standing behind him on the Capitol steps, on all of the networks to announce a major economic initiative? Could you imagine the "American Job Security and Energy Independence Act of 2010," consisting of progressive taxation to fund a light rail system, and an infusion of funds into the private renewable energy sector to power it? It would be an out-of-the-park grand slam for Democrats, Obama, and Progressive economic policy. It would reverse the media narrative about the midterms. Democrats would sweep the 2010 elections as they did in 1934, increase their majorities instead of lose them, and our nation would witness a period of economic growth not seen since the 1950s.

History has spoken in favor of stimulus overpowering recession, while simultaneously not rewarding austerity with anything but wealth and income stagnation. Will we listen to it once more, or will we continue with the failed status quo?

Monday, October 11, 2010

They Are Buying Our Elections

GOP: Best Friend of Foreign Multinationals

Remember when Republicans at least pretended to be looking out for the common man? When they at the very least put on a show every two years to convince you that they were, indeed, still the party of the working class folks, looking out for American families and jobs? Let's recap the last few months of Republican activities, just in case you might be unclear on where they stand.

Since the Citizens United decision, any regard for the working man has gone out the door. They're done even pretending to be your friends. They want to make sure the United States government is government by and for the wealthy. Just in the last few months, the right-wing Republican politicians in the pocket of corporate America have openly protected companies who outsourced American jobs overseas. They voted against providing loans to small business trying to create more private sector jobs. They voted against help for states and protecting endangered public sector jobs because it might raisetaxes on big Pharma's offshore bank accounts. They voted against regulating the big Wall Street banks that ate our 401ks and rewarded themselves with obscene bonuses. They voted against helping familes and children of homelessveterans. They even voted against giving healthcare to sick and injured 9/11responders, for chrissakes.

But what have they done?

They jumped in bed with a British company that polluted American waters and completely destroyed an entire region's economy. They've pushed candidates to the fore running for prestigious national offices who advocate againstmasturbation. Who want to repeal Social Security and Medicare. Who want to eliminate social safety nets that keep the hungry fed and the jobless from becominghomeless, at least for everyone to whom they aren't directlyrelated.

Just in case we still aren't clear on where the GOP stands in its relations to the working public vs the corporate special interests, they had a Pledge to America written by a former lobbyist for Big Oil. And their entire network of "grassroots organizations" that push a pro-corporate, anti-regulation agenda, from Freedomworks to Americans For Prosperity, are funded from the pockets of two arch-conservative oilbillionaires.

The Republican party is the party that pledges to protect millionaires and billionaires, at the expense of you and me.

And this is exactly why those millionaires and billionaires are giving them unprecedented amounts of money to make sure they retake Congress this November.

Elections For Sale

The most money ever spent on an election in the United States was $1B, back in 2008. One billion dollars for one race. And a billion dollars is not a small chunk of change. Of course, this was before the Citizens United vs. FEC 5-4 ruling by the John Roberts Supreme Court, back when corporations could only donate so much to a political campaign.

Since that decision, the floodgates have been opened on corporate spending, and a record $4B is being spent on the 2010 midterm elections. And it's mostly on negative attack ads focusing on Democratic candidates in US Senate races.

Now, in terms of party committee spending, the Democrats actually win in that category. It was reported fairly recently that the RNC was drastically short of funds needed to take them all the way to November 2nd. This new flood of spending comes from corporations, not campaign committees. And some of those corporations aren't even based in the United States. which, by the way, makes political donations from them illegal.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a fiercely right-wing lobbying organization for corporate America, is allegedly funnelingmoney from foreign multinationals to the 2010 races. This money is specifically being used to attack progressive Democrats who pledge to fight for the people, not for corporate profits. Since the U.S. Chamber is a 501(c)(6) organization, they don't have to disclose who their donors are. Because business is done globally in the 21st century, and because the Chamber represents multinational companies, it's hard to imagine that foreign multinationals aren't using the Citizens' United decision to throw money at flooding airwaves with
negativity. Tax laws allow for lots of leeway. Here's ThinkProgress' take:

These foreign members of the Chamber send money either directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or the foreign members fund their local Chamber, which in turn, transfers dues payments back to the Chamber’s H Street office in Washington DC. These funds are commingled to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) account which is the vehicle for the attack ads.

So how can we stop this? It's simple.

Get. Out. The. Vote.

A Republican majority in Congress means that when the corporate boot is on the neck of the American people like it is right now, what the people will get is a kick in the face instead of a hand up. If you're tired of conservative leadership in Congress that votes no on job creation and yes to coddling the rich with trillion-dollardeficits, if you're fed up with half of America's children depending on food stamps while billions of tax dollars go to Big Oil, or if you're just tired of government by and for the wealthy, then PLEASE vote Democratic in November.

America NEEDS you at the polls. Put the car in Drive, not Reverse.