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.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What do Soulja Boy and Fox News have in common?

What Soulja Boy did to Hip-Hop

"She call my phone like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)
We on the phone like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)
We taking pics like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)
She dial my number like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)"

-Soulja Boy, "Kiss Me Thru Tha Phone"

If you read that quote without managing to laugh or facepalm, then you are probably a Soulja Boy fan.

But if you did laugh or facepalm, then you might, like me, also be wondering what the hell happened to Hip-Hop music since Soulja Boy's debut in the Rap game.

You see, Soulja Boy is what Hank from the Sugar Hill Gang would refer to as a "sucka MC." Since his inception, radio-played Hip-Hop and Rap have been corrupted with total garbage like his collaboration with Gucci Mane on "Waka Flocka" and Drake's "Find Your Love." Hip-Hop and Rap have sadly degenerated into much like what Afrika Baby Bam of the Jungle Brothers described in the oldschool hit "Doin' Our Own Dang."

"The industry's filled with copycats
R and B mixed with sloppy raps
Tribes like us always open doors
But what for, so you can get yours?
You ain't into it, all you want is profit
So I ask you please to stop it."

-Jungle Brothers/Q-Tip/De La Soul/Monie Love, "Doin' Our Own Dang"

Hip-Hop, back in its golden days, used to be about inspired collaboration with fellow MCs, writing creative rhymes to go with dope-ass beats, breakdancing, graffiti, and lyrical expression of the struggles of inner-city life.

This is not to say that good Hip-Hop still doesn't exist today- you can find some really amazing lyrics and beat work in the music of MCs like Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Nas, Lupe Fiasco, and a great many others who keep the founding principles of Hip-Hop sacred. For example, consider the brilliance of these lyrics, both in their meaning and their rhythmic flow-

"I sell rhymes like dimes
The one who mostly keep cash but brag about the broker times
Joker rhymes, like the "Is you just happy to see me?" trick
Classical slap-stick rappers need Chapstick
A lot of 'em sound like they in a talent show
So I give 'em something to remember, like the Alamo
Tally-ho! A high Joker like Spades game
Came back from five year layin' and stayed the same
Sayin' - electromagnetic feeling blocks all logic, Spock
And G- shocks her biological clock"

-MF DOOM, "Rhymes like Dimes"

Even Rap music, an offshoot of Hip-Hop music made more for the sake of dancing in a club than for mere listening purposes, has MCs who make hits perfect for dancing in a loud, dark room with dozens of scantily-clad strangers. I may not be able to sit and listen to Lil Jon with some headphones, but if I'm crunk in the club and the DJ doesn't spin some Lil Jon, I'd be outraged. And if you've been in a club when Notorious B.I.G.'s "Get Money" was being played, or even 50 Cent's "Candy Shop," you've had the full experience of what Rap music was intended for.

But that all changed with the advent of 17 year-old Soulja Boy, with his hit "Crank Dat Soulja Boy." It came in a complete package; a song, a video, and a catchy dance so its complete novelty would catch on from the youngest of kids all the way up to Greek parties at colleges. Most of us have heard the inane, mindless lyrics in songs like "Crank Dat" and "YAAAHHH," right?

"Ain't got time for chit-chat,
I'm tryin' ta get dis money
So get up out my face
You doo-doo head dummy

-A-rab and Soulja Boy, "YAAAHHH"

The effect Soulja Boy has had on popular Rap music, and indeed, the perception of Hip-Hop and Rap outside of the music's longtime fan base, is perhaps irreversible. Those of us in my generation who grew up with good Hip-Hop hardly have anywhere to turn when looking for good new music; we have to dig deep these days to find the good stuff. And as far as convincing someone outside of the fan base to consider an open mind when listening to good Hip-Hop goes, forget about it. Older generations are completely turned off to even being introduced to Hip-Hop and Rap even by aficionados because of the garbage that gets airtime on the radio.

Hip-Hop pioneers like Snoop Dogg have gone to great lengths to disparage the crap that Soulja Boy puts out and labels as "Hip-Hop." And fans of oldschool Snoop, are dumbfounded that Snoop even shares the stage with Soulja Boy. Ice-T calls Soulja Boy the MC who "singlehandedly killed Hip-Hop."

"This ain't no East Coast/West Coast...Ain't no North or South, I love the Dirty South. If there's any war, it's gonna be good Hip-Hop, against WACK Hip-Hop."

Soulja Boy tarnished his genre so much that not even its reputation is salvageable to the masses, at least not yet. It'll take a lot of work and a balance of excellent Hi-Hop to even begin to counter what Soulja Boy has done to the genre.

So what does any of this have to do with Fox News, you might be asking?

Soulja Boy singlehandedly killed Hip-Hop.
FOX News has singlehandedly killed the news media.

What Fox News did to the Mainstream Media

"And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama...uh, uh, Obama. (laughs) Well, both, if we could."
-FOX News guest commentator Liz Trotta

Fox News likes to boast that its "Fair and Balanced" coverage makes it the most-watched news network. They love to repeat "We Report, You Decide" on their network ad nauseum. However, a close analysis of their coverage reveals Fox to be overly favorable to right-wing commentators, viewpoints, stories, and coverage in general.

For example, this study shows that for all of the major cable networks, stories about the BP gulf oil spill was dominating the public discourse, as it should have been. There were hundreds of angles to report on; from the sheer size and scope of the disaster, to the wanton abuse of federal oversight, collusion with oil companies and lack of regulation on the part of MMS, the lack of regard for safety on the part of Transocean, and the egregious greed and lack of compassion from BP CEO Tony Hayward. There are still stories pouring out of the gulf from the shrimpers, oysterers, restaurant owners, charter boat captains, and other generators of economic activity who are now largely broke, unemployed and hopeless thanks to the damage from the oil gusher. While CNN dedicated 42% of their coverage to the event, and MSNBC a third of their coverage, FOX contributed merely 18% of their airtime to covering the biggest story of the country. They were too busy framing liberalism as "tyranny" and framing the Park 51 community center as the "Ground Zero Mosque."

But Fox's negligence of the truth in favor of being the propaganda arm of the GOP goes far beyond their oil spill coverage- a prime example of their incompetence was brilliantly highlighted by Jon Stewart. Through dissecting their favorable coverage of opposition to the Park 51 mosque, Stewart found that the guy funding what FOX called the "terror mosque" is a Saudi Arabian who is the biggest shareholder of FOX news next to the Murdoch family. TPM has taken the liberty of cataloguing FOX's most notable mistakes.

FOX's most-watched pundit, Glenn Beck, a man who makes his living by throwing hatred and insults at anyone from 9/11 victims, Katrina victims (he calls them "scumbags"), veterans wounded in combat, and countless others, has the audacity to urge us, "don't hate." While posturing for a self-aggrandizing rally he dubbed "restoring honor," which basically amounted to a chest-beating "God and Country" rally in Washington, he spent time on airwaves insulting the President's Christianity. This is the same man who accused President of Obama of being a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for White people and White culture." Katie Couric exposed him for the charlatan he is, while FOX News owner Rupert Murdoch defended what Beck said. Beck finally retracted this statement months after the fact. Folks can say that TV pundits don;t have power and that mere speech is meaningless, but Beck drew a crowd of 90,000 to the national mall for his "Restoring Honor" rally. His upcoming 9/12 rally could likely draw similar numbers. He may be a hatemonger and a peddler of fear, lies, historical revision and hatred, but people still take him seriously. And that is a dangerous thing.

Despite their claims of being "Fair and Balanced," FOX News' parent company, Newscorp, owned by Rupert Murdoch, recently gave a million-dollar donation to the Republican Governors' Association for their 2010 efforts. Along with news coverage favorable to right-wing politics, FOX now puts its money where its mouth is. If FOX is deserving of a title other than "propaganda arm of the GOP," I'm all ears.

But I guess most of you already knew most of this. And if you're still reading, you may be asking why I'm comparing FOX News to Soulja Boy, yes?

Just as Soulja Boy is busy killing Hip-Hop with his simpleton lyrics and FruityLoops beats, FOX News is killing all credibility Americans still had in their news media. I believe FOX News' ultimate goal is completely undermining the news media in being the one entity Americans depend on for reliable information.

Think about it- since the mid-nineties (FNC began operations in 1996), we've seen a growing distrust in the American news media. It used to be that we could take what we got from the news at face value when Cronkite was at CBS- this is the information of the day, do with it what you will. Cronkite's only hints at being personally involved with his news coverage were his editorial on the effectiveness of the Vietnam War, and the dramatic removal of his glasses when announcing that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Today, the news is a completely different beast.

Now, the mainstream networks have followed FOX's lead instead of dismissing them for the propaganda artists they are. Networks from CNN to MSNBC to FOX all are now geared more towards pundits and opinion instead of newscasters delivering the news. After all, sensationalism and shouting matches make for better ratings; nobody is interested in watching some suit prattle on about facts and happenings with no emotion attached. Because everybody watches FOX, from conservatives who take what Hannity says religiously, to liberals who enjoy fact-checking Glenn Beck. And the rest of the cable news networks want a share of the massive ad revenue FOX gets from their increased ratings.

So, networks match FOX pundit for pundit, screaming match for screaming match. Admittedly, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Rick Sanchez are all incredibly tame compared to Beck and Hannity, because those four still choose to rely on facts and documented evidence to support their opinions. But Hannity and Beck still garner the ratings, because blatant lies attract viewers from both sides of the aisle.

So, now that the rest of the networks have given FOX credibility by allowing their news coverage to also degenerate into sensationalism and opinion shows, FOX is now taken as a legitimate news organization. Political candidates get interviewed on their shows. FOX has a second-row seat in the White House press room, and was a contender for a front-row seat just months ago.

Much like Soulja Boy transformed Hip-Hop from a once unique and creative genre of music into a breeding ground for materialist, empty lyrics, FOX has transformed the news media from news anchors who deliver reliable information to the public into sensationalist opinion-givers and pundits.

So what does this mean for society in general? Why did I spend hours writing this in hopes that you'll read what I say and take heed?

Dire Consequences

"The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power."
-Malcolm X

Soulja Boy's ultimate goal isn't destroying Hip-Hop, although he has indeed done plenty of damage to an entire genre of music; his goal is just to make money. But FOX's goal, as I stated earlier, is not merely to enable the Republican agenda with right-wing news coverage posing as "journalism," but a more nefarious goal. They seek to destroy all integrity in mainstream media.

By undermining the media's credibility and generating an atmosphere of apathy and distrust, which they have succeeded in doing, FOX news has driven the American public away from a key source of information. Now, most Americans don't strive to be informed in this age of constant and unlimited information; they just want to be left alone. And when Americans are no longer interested in keeping up with current events, this enables the oligarchs who run the world's economy and governments to continue getting away with murder.

What's to stop an oil company from completely disregarding safety standards and ignoring red flags to make money, when nobody is paying attention to the only folks who call them out on it?

What's to stop multinational corporations from buying elections if nobody pays attention to which company it is, and the candidates to which they're throwing millions of dollars?

What's to stop right-wing extremists and bigots from engaging in religious persecution, if there's no honest media to report on it and no public to watch or care?

The media is an essential part of Democracy, because it informs the public on important events and the activities of leaders in politics and business. Democracy fails when there is no longer an educated voting public to select the best candidates to represent them, and to demand accountability from those who undermine founding principles, those who harm human beings, and those who destroy the environment for higher stock numbers.

Soulja Boy's damage to Hip-Hop can be overcome in time. But I fear FOX News' damage to the media and to public discourse is irreversible unless we all decide to collectively stop watching FOX, and until our politicians stop giving them legitimacy by appearing on their network.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I Picked Up My First Hitchhiker Today

A Long Drive

He always dreaded the trip back home. Not being home, of course. But just driving there. It was a 9-hour drive from Mississippi to Kentucky, and all he had to keep him company was the satellite radio and the stack of 100 CDs at his feet. He always silently thanked a heavenly power before each trip for even having the choice of music to play, much less 100 funky jams he's been collecting since high school and XM's myriad music stations. And today was a Saturday, and a Saturday on Labor Day weekend means college football. So if all else fails, at least there'd be a game to listen to while making the monotonous slog up the interstate.

There were only two choices he could make- either take the I-20 East to Birmingham and then ride the I-65 North all the way up to his hometown's exit, or take I-55 North to Memphis, I-40 East to Nashville, and ride the 65 the rest of the way. The 55 route was a smidge longer, but at least he felt like he was getting somewhere. That trip was in three legs, while the I-20/I-65 route was just an endless stretch of concrete for hours and hours, before an even more endless stretch of concrete. For an energetic and easily-distracted guy like him, the best trip was the one with the most turns and most cities to drive through. So he made the decision to take the Memphis route.

It was about 11 AM CDT, and he figured that accounting for the time zone change, he'd be home by 9 or so if he drove the speed limit. He sipped his mug of coffee and riffed through his CD stack before settling on Too Short's "Get In Where You Fit In," the loud, explicit rap lyrics pleasantly blasting from his open windows into the tamed suburban ears of his tame, suburban neighbors. The trip may be a long one, but good music, as always, will ultimately prevail.

He sang along to the insanely outrageous lyrics until all of the album's good songs had been played, and he casually pressed eject, waiting for the CD to pop out while using his free hand to turn the XM knob to the blues station. The air conditioning was starting to slightly chill the tips of his nose and fingers, so he shut it off and pressed the DOWN button on the power windows instead, both driver and passenger side.

Muddy Waters' "Big Leg Woman" blared over the car speakers, and he then shifted his free hand to the sunroof and pressed down on the rooftop button until the sunroof had fully extended outward.

There, much better.

He somehow couldn't stand the closed-off feeling of a car when all the windows were rolled up and the sunroof not in use, especially on a beautiful Southern Summer morning like this one. He turned the stereo up as loud as it could go, and unabashedly crowed out Muddy Waters' lyrics while others drove by, ogling.

It would always surprise him that other people were so serious in their cars all the time, especially by themselves. The way he saw it, if you can't have fun and let loose in your own car with nobody in there but you, then when can you ever be free? Why were people so serious while driving? Why weren't they also blasting their favorite tunes, singing loudly and foolishly, belting out their own harmonies with nobody else to judge them? And more importantly, why are people judging other drivers having fun behind the wheel? Whether it was at a red light or on the interstate, he always found it quite off-putting that whenever he looked at a passing driver while in the midst of musical reverie, they always had an astonished "well-I-never" sort of expression. He felt life was too short to be so unhappy all the time. If you've got good music, enjoy it. Wanna dance in your seat at a red light? Play air guitar? Drum along to that drum solo? Go for it. And screw anyone else who hates on you for having fun in your own vehicle.

He'd been on the road for about three hours at this point, and was getting near Memphis. Usually a little after passing through Memphis was when he made his first bathroom break/fillup of the long way home. The line marking how much fuel was left in the tank lingered just under the 1/4 mark. Maybe another hour or so to go before the next fillup. He wasn't in any hurry. It was a beautiful day, and he wouldn't be home until nightfall. Maybe he'd stop for food before getting to Memphis- the next exit had a chinese buffet close by. Eat at one of those around one, and he'd be good until 9 that night.

A Long Walk

At a gas station outside of Memphis, Tennessee, the man giving young Dillon a ride from Little Rock opens the door of his truck, and steps outside to pump. Dillon sighs, runs a hand through his hair, slings his backpack over his shoulder, puts Ruby in the re-usable Wal-Mart tote bag, and thanks the man who drove him Eastward on the I-40.

It was a brutally hot one today; the heat index had to be in the nineties, which shouldn't be happening in September. Back in Maine, where Dillon was from, even the hottest August days rarely reached 80. And even then, there was always a cool breeze blowing down from Canada. Here in the South, all Dillon had to go with the oppressive heat was the sweltering humidity; the sun pounded down upon his long hair and pale face, while the black asphalt, reeking of a fresh layer of tar, blasted the heat collected from the sun upwards into Dillon's makeshift denim shorts, which used to be jeans once upon a time.

To make matters worse, poor Ruby looked up at him with those adorable 4 month-old puppy dog eyes and whimpered as they set out on foot from the gas station to the exit ramp. She was a trooper, and could walk for about a mile or so before simply stopping, cocking her head, and whimpering for Dillon to pick her up and carry her more. She made for good company on the road, and was extremely protective. The nights he spent sleeping in the woods were a little easier with her love and comfort, and safer too, as she growled when even a squirrel came within a 30-foot range of her master. Ruby was also the deciding factor in a carload of 17 year-old girls picking up the 21 year-old long-haired hitchhiker with the smelly green t-shirt, torn jeans and scraggly beard. He loved his dog, and she loved him.

Dillon found out right away that Tennessee was not the friendliest state toward hitchhikers. It was somehow even worse than Spokane, where the police officer had told him straight away while waiting on the ramp that if he came by again and he was still trying to hitch a ride, he'd be arrested and jailed. At least in Spokane, people acknowledged Dillon's existence. In Memphis, Dillon had been lucky to even get a bird flipped at him from drivers passing by on the ramp. He did his best to make sure people saw that he was wearing a backpack, meaning that he had some semblance of a destination in mind and had made preparations for the trip. He also made sure people saw Ruby. He figured having a cute puppy in his arms would make drivers more apt to at least slow down and look.

After more than an hour in the oppressive Tennessee heat, Dillon decided to start walking. Maybe people at the next exit ramp were a little friendlier. Surely they would react to the puppy, and be more receptive to Dillon's best attempts to look non-threatening. The walk started off optimistic; Dillon didn't bother sticking his thumb out. The drivers whizzing by at 70 miles per hour, even if they were the kind of folks who picked up strangers, just didn't have the means to pull over immediately, let Dillon aboard, and merge back into the path of thousands of cars traveling at 100 feet per second.

One mile became two. Two miles became four, and five, and then six. Dillon passed another ramp, but this one didn't have any nearby gas stations or restaurants, so trying to thumb a ride there would likely be futile. The heat only seemed to build in intensity. The cars that flew by only cast more warm air at him, his matted, oily hair becoming more disheveled, Ruby huddling deep inside of the bag, the sound of the monstrous diesel engines of the 18-wheelers undoubtedly making her squirm.

All Dillon wanted was to get home to his parents; this trip had been three or so years off and on, from East Coast to West Coast and back. His open-minded New England family was surprisingly encouraging when he told them of his plans to see the country via hitchhiking and depending completely on the hospitality and altruism of total strangers. Sure, there were come creeps out there, but Dillon's friends who had hitchhiked before just told him to trust his gut. If the driver who wants to pick you up seems like the kind of guy who would rape, stab and rob you, then don't get in. If it's too dark, pitch your bedroll and find a scattering of trees out of sight from where anybody would see you. Drink lots of water. He'd be just fine, they all said. And so since age 18, Dillon had enjoyed his life on the road. It was somewhat stressful not knowing how or when your next meal would come, but it was also incredibly liberating to be off the grid, to not pay rent, to not worry about day-to-day obligations with which the career-oriented folks were consumed. And every once in a while, Dillon would make it back home to Maine, and always had a bed to sleep on, family to love on him, plenty of food to eat, and familiar faces around the community. He hadn't been home since May, and the last few months had been especially trying.

By mile thirteen, Dillon's energy and patience had slowed to a trickle. It was mid-afternoon, and Dillon's body ached from the walk. His water jug had emptied around the ten-mile mark, and his thighs started to chafe from the same boxer shorts rubbing the insides of his legs raw. His belly rumbled, but his pockets were empty. He felt like he should be sweating more considering the weight on his back and the convection oven of heat he was trudging through, being attacked on all sides, from above and below, by triple-digit temperatures. Nobody even showed the slightest interest in even slowing down, let alone stopping.

He finally stopped on a ramp just outside of an Exxon station outside of Memphis. It was still another 50 or 60 miles to Jackson, TN from here. Easy. All he wanted to do was get to Knoxville; his map showed that there was a road there that connected to I-69, and if he hopped on that, he could miss Virginia entirely and head straight to Pennsylvania. But first, he had to wait and hope a car getting back on the road would be willing to open its doors to a smelly stranger with a ponytail, a dog and a backpack.

Two and a half long, hot hours passed, and not one driver even looked his way. Dillon was on the verge of once again slinging his bag over his shoulder and trekking along the interstate, having to be content with making incremental progress and sleeping off a day of stomping on concrete. Would he ever get out of Tennessee?

Taking the Risk

The needle hit the empty line, and his car beeped annoyingly as his mileage meter was replaced with a message proclaiming "LOW FUEL." The driver pressed the trip reset button on the dash to clear the message, grumbling.

"I KNOW I'm out of gas, baby, just hang with me," the driver said to himself, oblivious to the absurdity of talking to machinery. The next exit was the Arlington/Collierville exit, just a few miles outside of Memphis. He figured it was good enough for a stop, as the bulk of the Memphis traffic had thinned out at this point. It was a good 50 or 60 miles to Jackson, TN from here, and it'd be another 100 or so to Nashville. And after Nashville it was easy as pie to cross over to Kentucky and drive the final leg to Elizabethtown.

The clock on his dash read 2:55 PM. It was on Central time, albeit 25 minutes later than the actual time. He figured this stop and maybe one more down the road, and he'd be home right like he'd scheduled.

He stepped out of the Saturn and briefly admired the collection of bumper stickers he had accumulated over the months thanks to the number of online grassroots issues and causes he aligned himself with. He hoped the "BOYCOTT BP" and "BP: Billionaire Polluters" stickers would serve as a healthy balance of public discourse on the road, considering the number of "DRILL HERE, DRILL NOW, PAY LESS" stickers he'd seen in Tennessee.

After a quick trip to the bathroom, he impulsively bought a green tea tallboy before prepaying for gas.

"That'll be $1.08," the cashier informed him. "That gonna be all for y'all?"

"Naw," the driver replied, doing quick math in his head. "Lemme get this and...$23.92 on pump 4."

"25 even, bud." The cashier swiped his card and handed the driver his receipt, which the driver politely declined with a wave of his hand as he made his way toward the door.

The driver held his finger lossely on the pump's trigger as the gas flowed into his tank, careful not to squeeze too much air into the tank. He recalled reading somewhere that squeezing the pump too hard means more air and less gas, meaning less bang for your buck. Unemployment and bills were squeezing him pretty tight as it was, so he was content watching the numbers tick upward slower than usual. The man at the pump behind him gave him a glare as they made eye contact. The young driver told himself it was either his Mississippi license plate or one of his bumper stickers. Hell, maybe it could've been the soccer jersey he was wearing. Or maybe the guy glaring at him was just a dick.

The pump stopped at $23.92, just under 9 gallons. At 32 mpg on the highway, 9 gallons would take him almost all the way home. Awesome. The driver hung up the pump, dilaed around the XM dial to find the SEC channel where Kentucky and Louisville were facing off in the second quarter, and started off down the exit ramp.

The driver noticed right away a guy wearing a plain-looking green t-shirt, with long, greasy hair and a backpack. He was carrying a puppy in his arms. The driver remembered the words of a couchsurfer from the Czech Republic he hosted, who had made his way from New York City to Mexico by thumbing rides.

"Never pick up a guy who isn't carrying anything. Chances are likely that he's shady. But I can guarantee you that just about everybody carrying a backpack has somewhere to go, and someplace to come back to. So they aren't gonna kill you, because they actually need a ride."

Even though the driver never picked up a hitchhiker before, he felt strangely at ease as he pulled up onto the shoulder and rolled down the passenger side window.

"Where you headed, my brotha?"

"Knoxville, man," the hitchhiker said. "But I'll go wherever you're going."

"Well, I'm headed East to Nashville, and the 24 picks up there and takes you right to Knoxville. Hop in, dude!"

And with that, the hitchhiker climbed inside the Saturn, put his backpack in his lap, and cradled the puppy in his arms while the driver took off down I-40, putting more miles between them and Memphis.

"Man, thank you SO much for picking me up. You have no idea how long I waited," the hitchhiker said.

"No prob. You looked like you could use a hand. And I figure a dude carrying a backpack and a dog can't be all that dangerous. You know you're the first hitchhiker I've ever picked up?" The driver said to his new passenger.

"That's cool, man. I'm glad you did. I was seriously about to start walking down the 40. I just walked 13 miles from Memphis, dude. I'm wore out. My name's Dillon, by the way."

The driver shook his hand and told him his own name.

"What about your little buddy there?" The driver asked, scratching the tired puppy's head as she dangled it over her master's lap. "What's his name?"

"Her name's Ruby. I got her while I was on the road; there was a father and son selling a whole litter of puppies, so I got the cutest one."

"Sheeit, I'll bet that gets you all kinds of rides, eh?" The driver chided.

"It depends, man. Certainly not in Tennessee. Nobody picks up hitchhikers here. You're the first one since Little Rock."

And with that, Dillon filled in the driver on the details of his trip, how he'd chosen vagrancy and travel since age 18, and about which places were better for hitchhiker's luck, and which ones weren't. The driver sat entranced, listening to the hitchhiker's stories while he riffed through his CD collection, looking for a mix that he felt would vibe most harmoniously with Dillon's style.

Making a New Friend

"Hey man, you like the blues?" The driver asked.

"I don't know much about it, but I like what I hear so far, I guess."

The driver popped in a homemade CD, and a simple, almost tribal-sounding wailing blues guitar riff blared over the car stereo.

"This is T-Model Ford. Probably one of the coolest bluesmen still alive. He's 90 years old, doesn't remember his birthday, can't read or write, did time on a chain gang for killin' a man, and didn't pick up a guitar until he was 58."

"No shit? Where's he from?"

"Forest, Mississippi," The driver said proudly. "Mississippi's the home of the blues. Memphis tries to claim the blues and Elvis, but they got nothin', because both of those things came from The Sip. T-Model was probably one of the coolest interviews I've ever had with anyone."

Dillon asked the driver his story, and as the miles piled on the odometer, the driver told his new friend the story of him moving to Mississippi to take a job and falling head over heels in love with the state, her people and her culture in the meantime.

The CDs rotated in and out of the player, one by one, and the mid-afternoon haze steadily morphed into the milky gold of early dusk, where the sun is right in one's line of vision. The flat Western Tennessee landscape soon transformed into steady rolling hills dotted with the lightest accents of early Autumn on the very tips of some of the trees as they drew nearer to Nashville. The driver took time relaying the last few months of current events to his passenger, who sat silently as his ride prattled on about the Gulf oil spill, the state of the economy and his own projections for what would come out of the upcoming midterm elections. He told Dillon about the book he had written, and the one he planned on writing if he ended up going on a grand bohemian adventure of reckless vagrancy of his own.

At the driver's request, Dillon, in turn, filled him in on what his family was like, his part of Maine, his likes and dislikes, what he carried in his pack for a cross-country hitchhiking journey and the various blessings and hardships of life on the road. Much of the time Dillon simply spent sitting quietly, enjoying the feeling of air conditioning on his unwashed face and of Ruby's affection. Occasionally she would climb over to the driver's lap, lean against him and lick his face while he drove. The driver would eventually hand her back to her master when she started putting her paws on the steering wheel.

Before long, darkness had set in and the two had talked their way through Nashville and all the way to the Kentucky/Tennessee border.

"Hold on, I'm gonna call my boy real quick," the driver said, pulling out a cellphone.

After a short conversation, the driver informed Dillon that they would be meeting his friend at "a hellacious BBQ joint" just outside of Elizabethtown, in nearby Munfordville, just across the time zone border. Time was meaningless to Dillon, who hadn't owned a watch since age 18. After telling his ride, the driver laughed in disbelief. The driver told Dillon he thought it remarkable that two people living in the same country, speaking the same language, could have such vastly different lives.

The two made excellent time, Munfordville being their first stop since Dillon had first gotten picked up outside of the service station roughly five hours ago. Neither had been hungry or thirsty or needed to use the bathroom, and Ruby slept soundly the entire way. Dillon had a brief conversation with the driver's friend from Munfordville, while the driver walked into a small shack just off the exit ramp, sporting a sign that read "BIG BUBBA BUCK'S BELLY-BUSTIN' BBQ- TASTES SO GOOD YOU'LL SMACK YA MAMMA!"

The driver emerged carrying a sandwich wrapped in foil and a handful of napkins.

"It's pulled pork, hope you're not a vegetarian or anything," the driver said. "The barbecue here is really good, you'll see cars from all kinds of states in the parking lot here."

The air outside was much cooler, compared to the blistering mid-afternoon heat in Memphis. The driver, clad in shorts and a soccer jersey, shivered slightly. Ruby, restrained to a leash, was suddenly energetic after eating a bite of Dillon's sandwich. She jumped on the driver, eager to be petted and glad to walk around. The three of them stood outside of the restaurant, Dillon smoking a cigarette he had bummed from the driver's friend. Night had fully set in at this point, and the only lights around were the faint glow of the fluorescent lights of nearby gas stations and the moon overhead.

"Is your sleeping bag warm enough?" The driver asked. "It's a lot colder up here that it was in Mississippi this morning."

"I'm from Maine, so this is nothing," Dillon assured the driver.

After a few more minutes of conversation, the driver wished his friend well and climbed back into the car with Dillon and the puppy, heading down the road.

"So how does one hitchhike at night?" The driver asked.

"You don't," Dillon said with a polite chuckle. "You don't want to ride with anyone who would pick up hitchhikers at night, and no normal driving at night would stop to pick up a hitchhiker. I just sleep in the woods. Ruby keeps me company."

The driver put on a Jazz CD, and the two rode on in silence as the sound of ride cymbals and saxophones pierced through the night air and the steady hum of the tires on the road. Dillon watched the different signs go by as the Saturn traveled onward through Southern Kentucky- Kentucky Down Under, Horse Cave, Glasgow, Abraham Lincoln's Birthplace. The driver filled Dillon in proudly about his home state's claims to fame; the Kentucky Derby, Bourbon whiskey, fried chicken, tobacco and college basketball.

"Kentucky is a state that bases its economy and culture on gamblin', drinkin' and smokin'," The driver had said casually. "That's why we're all so crazy."

The driver maneuvered the Saturn onto exit 94, going up the ramp toward Elizabethtown. The Saturn stopped at a red light a half mile down the road, the turn signal blinking almost exactly in time with the beat of the Jazz in the background. Ruby whimpered softly in Dillon's lap, sensing that she was about to leave the comfort of the warm car where she'd been for the bulk of the day.

"This is home for me, bro. I'd say you can come on in and sleep on the couch and be warm, but I'm not sure how my parents or my cats would feel about me bringing in a hitchhiker and his dog late at night. But I'm gonna drop you off at a trailhead down the road, you should be alright there."

"Oh, don't even worry about it, man. This ride really helped me out. And all I need is a sleeping bag and some tree cover anyway," Dillon said.

And just as soon as he had climbed in the car in Memphis, Dillon climbed out, puppy in his arms, backpack on his shoulder, and opened the passenger door. The driver offered his hand and told him his name once more.

"Stay safe, bro. Hope you get back to Maine in one piece."

Dillon thanked the driver once more, and disappeared into the woods.