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.