Monday, August 28, 2017

Week of 08/28/2017

The Very Real Effects of Income Inequality
So you may have heard this story in your community or out on the Internet.  It certainly became a subject for the Atlanta area news on a few occasions: local law enforcement aren’t getting paid enough to make ends meet.  The men and women that are supposed to keep law and order (operative words being “supposed to”) are having to go on food stamps because they’re so poor.  You know, food stamps... that government welfare program that conservatives and neo-conservatives hate with a venomous passion and think that anyone who needs food stamps should undergo sick, sadistic trials of shame and disgust every time they use them.  And we’re talking sadism at a level that would even make the Marquis de Sade sick.
That should shock you, right?  The very idea that our police officers are needing to go on food stamps.  Well that’s what the law enforcement community want you to believe, and I’m really not going to disagree with them on that.  Quite the contrary… I’m going to side with them on it. 
But I’ll only do so with a caveat: we’re all in the same boat as them.
Or... most of us are.
A recent report from the job-hunting website CareerBuilder says that eight out of ten Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.  Eight out of ten!  And the disturbing thing about this is that we’re not just talking about people at the poverty level or even the mythical middle class.  This is including people who make six-figure incomes.  And, according to this same report, it is because of the debt they’ve accumulated that they can’t get rid of.
So what does this have to do with the supposedly underpaid police officers?
Who do you think really pays the salaries of police officers?  We all do through our various local taxes.  The reason the various law enforcement communities are bitching about being underpaid is so they can guilt us, the taxpayers, into giving them more money through higher state and local taxes.
They certainly can’t go to the retail community and demand more money!  Are you kidding?  They’re falling apart!  The malls are become wastelands!  Wal-Mart is destroying your mom-and-pop stores, and, if they aren’t, then Amazon is, and let’s not forget Sears-slash-K-Mart going down the drain faster than White House credibility.  They can’t cough up the extra money to pay the police.  Ask them, they’ll tell you!  They work long hours and have their people work long hours for low money just to keep the business open.  Not to mention that they’d just have to raise prices to make up the difference, which means that we, the customers, would end up having to pay for it anyway.
And we certainly cannot expect the big-money companies who sustain and employ the community to cough up the money!  If you try to approach them with the bill to pay for higher salaries for police, then they would reply with “You try to stick us with this and we’ll pack up our bags and go find another community.  Maybe even someplace in another country that is more appreciate of us!”  These are the major players that enjoy all sorts of local and state tax breaks for the “privilege” of being there and keeping the masses employed and continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck.  They can’t be “bothered” by paying the police more money.  That’s not “their” problem.  That’s the “community’s” problem.  In other words, it goes back to those “ungrateful” working peons who are “stupid enough” to live paycheck-to-paycheck.
You see, boys and girls, the real villain in this story is a little thing that the conservatives and neo-conservatives and the Donald Trumps of the world don’t want us to talk about, and that is income inequality.
How is it that the economy can be so great and companies can report record profits and yet people are still struggling to make ends meet?  Because the business world has a mad-on fetish for profit at all costs, and instead of rewarding employees for good work, they reward the high-ups for their supposedly “sound business sense”, which just happens to include keeping wages insanely low to cut down on overhead.
And this is not something that can be blamed on Donald Trump or Barack Obama or the Great Recession or George W. Bush, or even Bill and Hillary Clinton.  This has been slowly happening for decades now.  This is a generational swindle.
It goes like this: in order to cut down on overhead and maximize profits, employers pay new employees less and they give the current employees smaller raises, expecting the experienced workers to be overjoyed at getting anything extra.  The problem is, though, if you get a 1.5% raise and the cost of living goes up 7%, then you’re not getting ahead.  You are actually losing 5.5%.  But nobody really notices it because they’re still being told that they’re getting a raise and that they should be grateful about even getting that.
Now if that only happens for maybe one or two years, then that’s okay.  That can be managed.  But this is happening year after year after year after year, during good times and bad, during economic booms and busts.  And we are conditioned to believe that this is okay.  If times are tough, just get a second job, or a third or fourth, or look for new work.  There are supposedly all sorts of jobs out there now, at any given time.  The onus always being put “on us”, the supposedly “ungrateful, lazy, and irresponsible” masses to work two or three jobs.  To quote Bush Junior, that’s “uniquely American”.
And guess what else has been happening while this is going on?  The lifespan of major appliances have been getting shorter and shorter.  A television set used to last us a decade.  Now you’re lucky if it lasts half that time.  And that’s not a coincidence or because of supposedly “sloppy workmanship”.  That means that we have to spend money that we don’t have just for things that used to last but now don’t.
Let’s not forget the script!  The damnable consumption script that tells us that we “have” to get a new car, that we “have” to get a new home, that we “have” to get that new cellphone, that we “have” to go on that cruise or take that vacation, that we “have” to get the latest and greatest and best things for ourselves and our family.  And if money is an obstacle, banks will be “happy to help” by putting us further in debt.
That, my friends, is how someone making $125,000 a year can still end up working paycheck-to-paycheck.  Because they have to pay for that new house and that new car and that new TV set and that new wardrobe and that new cellphone on top of the basic necessities which continue to get more and more expensive while their own pay stagnates.
Let’s not forget that other script – the one recited like a church hymnal on talk radio and Fox News – that says that taxes are too high and they need to be cut and government is too big and too bulky and too cumbersome and it needs to be trimmed.  You cannot regurgitate that mantra and at the same time say that the cops deserve raises.  Where do you think the money comes from?
Let’s get brutally honest here… these are all the long-term effects of systemic income inequality here in the United States of America.  Because greedy companies put profits ahead of people, especially when it comes to their own workers, there is less money for people to pay for the basics, which continue to get more and more expensive, and it also means that there is less money for them to pay the taxes that would keep wages competitive for public employees such as cops and teachers and firefighters. 
Something needs to give here, and it can’t continually be those supposedly “ungrateful, lazy, irresponsible” masses.  History continually shows that when that happens, it does not end well.  The French and Russian aristocracies found that out the hard and bloody way.  And even when it doesn’t get violent, it does lead to things that conservatives and neo-conservatives and Trumpets claim to despise as well.  Things like socialism and communism.  If you really hate these things, then you need to stop being the very reason for these things to take hold. 
This is a problem that cannot be resolved overnight.  We’re having to fight decades of entrenched social scripting as well as a system that rewards profit above everything else.  But we still need to start somewhere, and a good place to start is a new message going up to those on the other end of the income inequality.  The ones at fault; the ones that created this mess in the first place through their blind stinking greed. 
They need to hear this message and heed this message loud and clear: If you don’t want history to repeat itself, if you don’t want to be fighting the encroachment of things like socialism and communism, if you want people to afford the things that you expect them to buy, if you want cops and teachers and firefighters to be paid better, then it is you, the wealthy and the powerful, that have to give something up for once.  You need to give up the greed.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Week of 08/21/2017

It Is Time To Truly End The Civil War
Leave it to the late and great comedian George Carlin to put things in perspective.
In his great recital of American history, he talks about how this country was founded with double-standards.  He basically described America’s founding fathers as “slave owners who wanted to be free”.  Insert uneasy laughter here.
Well, yeah, he has a point on that.  Most newly-made Americans were not allowed to take part in the actual voting process at the time.  Only white, Christian, land-owning males were allowed to vote for that new government at the time.
Eighty-or-so years later, we supposedly fixed that with the abolition of slavery.  But, as Carlin said, “Not so you’d really notice it of course; just kinda on paper.”  And that, of course, led to the Civil War.  Or, as my Southern neighbors cultishly chant, the “War of Northern Aggression”.  You know, where southerners threw screaming temper tantrums with rifles over the Emancipation Proclamation and wanted to form their own country and then lost.  Yeah, my collective neighbors are really nasty-sore losers over that, and they weren’t even alive when it happened.
Now the Civil War has been over with for over 150 years now... but, as George pointed out perfectly, “not so you’d really notice it.”  And while George was talking about the Civil War buffs who reenact the battles and joking suggest using live ammunition, it’s not the only part of that bloody conflict that is still around.
Yes, my friends, the South never really got over the fact that they lost the Civil War.  There are still plenty of good ol’ boys that fly the Confederate flag on their pickup trucks, they still try to subvert voting for certain people... or, as they call it, “goin’ after voter fraud”... and they still have their monuments.  And we’re not talking placards saying “So-and-so slept here” or “This general took a dump in this hotel”.  No, we’re talking statues.
Yes, the good ol’ boys in the South love their Civil War “heroes”.  The men who so hated being told what to do that they led armed insurrections against the United States of America.  Southerners really love that.  These are the same “patriots” who chant “our country, right or wrong” and “if you don’t like it, leave.”  Believe me when I say that the blatant hypocrisy does not go unnoticed.  It’s a double-standard worthy of those uneasy jokes of George Carlin.
But the truth of the matter is that these monuments of the Civil War were put up during times when the South refused to behave like they’re part of the United States.  First, they put up the Civil War monuments during the “Jim Crow” era, a few decades after the last battle was fought, when dominant white Christian males wanted the rest of the nation to know that they were still the ones in charge down there.  And the second time these things started showing up in large numbers was during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950’s, when “separate but equal” was challenged and overthrown like a third-world tyrant.  They were put up to remind the “little people” that they were still in charge, not those “Northern aggressors” or “Yankees” or them “damn lib-ur-uls”.
I want you to think about this for a moment... imagine Bostonians waking up one morning and seeing a statue of British Private Hugh Montgomery standing atop the site of the Boston Massacre, pointing his musket at the masses to reenact when he first opened fire on innocent civilians in 1770.  Imagine seeing a statue of King George III in Virginia instead of President George Washington.  Imagine a statue as large as the one for World War II memorial right next to the White House of the British soldiers that ransacked and burned that building in the War of 1812.  How about a statue of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito in Pearl Harbor?  How many of you would want to see that?
Oh, but we can’t tear those down, can we?  “Heritage!”  “History!”  “These are symbols of our past!  We can’t just throw them away!  We can’t throw away our history!”
Sounds silly, doesn’t it?
And yet, just a couple of weeks ago (as of this column’s posting), that’s exactly what people were throwing temper tantrums over.  Statues and symbols that were designed to reinforce the idea of social dominance of one group over all others.
Now remember those hypothetical instances I brought up?  If, one day, we saw statues of King George III and Emperor Hirohito and the British soldiers behind the Boston Massacre and the burning of Washington DC?  Do you know what else they have in common with the Confederate leaders?  They are all losers!  They are all on the losing side of history!
This is one of the reasons why we had a hard time putting up a memorial for the Vietnam War.  We lost that conflict.  We invested a lot into it, it divided America across political and generational lines, and we lost.  But at least with that, we were still able to say that it was over.
Not so with the Civil War, which is why Southerner still refuse to acknowledge it, why they still fly those flags, and why they still support the underlying supremacy ideas, even if they cannot bring themselves to admit it.  They still refuse to accept that they lost the Civil War.  They didn’t put those statues up to “honor” those men in their place in history.  They were put up in defiance of it.  They were put up to say “we refuse to accept that we lost!”
Let’s get brutally honest here… it is high time that we truly end the Civil War.  The South lost.  Period.  Accept it.  Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and the others who took part in the Confederate States of America were on the losing side of history, just like King George III and Emperor Hirohito were on the losing side of history.  That fact doesn’t subtract their respective places in history.  Rather, it puts them in the proper perspective.
How many of you supporters of Southern “heritage” were upset when we helped tear down the giant statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq after we liberated Baghdad?  How many of you were upset when you see newsreel footage of us blowing up the old symbols of the Nazi regime that littered Europe after World War II?  How many of you were upset when the people of the old Soviet Union started tearing down images of Lenin and Stalin?  How many of you were screaming “heritage” and “history” at these instances?  I’m guessing the total number of you who were upset at these things was pretty close to - if not at - zero.  Funny how your appreciation of “heritage” and “history” is limited only to the things that you support.
Statues and monuments are powerful symbols of dominance, which is why insecure tyrants are fixated on putting statues up and why other people are hell-bent on tearing them down.  But, in and of themselves, they are neither historical nor accurate representations of heritage.
People in the South have waged a war of denial with the rest of the United States for a century-and-a-half, and it has done nothing but bring shame to themselves and the nation they claim to love “right or wrong”.  If you truly claim to love America, then you can’t keep holding on to the reasons that divided it, or to the symbols of that denial.  Let the statues and the other symbols of division go.  You won’t be forgetting history when you do; you’ll be putting it in its proper place... in the past.