How The 1% is Killing Us All

 

Income-Inequality

Click on the image for more from Mike Luckovich.

I’m going to tell you a true story* about one man and then I’m going to tell you how I feel this story is basically a micro version of what is happening in the United States to anyone who isn’t a millionaire.

Dave is a handyman in his 60s. He lives in a shop in Kent. It’s pretty much just a garage. It has no running water. It has no electricity. His landlord, Matt charges him $350 a month. He works for landlords fixing up their properties when they need it. He built my front and back porches. He is currently fixing a wall that had some water damage.  He is a likable guy with solid skills. He’s getting old and can’t do as much as he used to, but he’s still working and typically charges about $12 an hour plus material costs. (Charging more has historically resulted in less work.)

One of the landlords he works for happens to be Matt, his own landlord. Dave has been living in his shop for the last four years. In that time he has done dozens of jobs for Matt. One time last year Matt asked him to spray some mold killer and paint over some black mold in an apartment that Matt owned. Dave arrived and found that a family was living there. The room with the black mold was the baby’s room. And the black mold wasn’t isolated to one small spot. It practically covered the ceiling.

Dave called Matt and told him that this was a much bigger job than simply spraying some mold killer and painting over it. This stuff was clearly in the attic as well on the surface of the ceiling. Matt told him that replacing the ceiling and getting into the attic was going to be ‘too expensive’ and demanded that Dave paint over it as requested. Dave refused. Dave then warned the family about the dangers of the mold and how the spores get into the air and cause all sorts of health problems especially for children.

A few months ago Dave was called to that same apartment to fix a leaking toilet. The same family was there. He took a look at the baby’s room and saw that Matt had found someone to paint over the mold and now it was growing through the latest paint job. He again talked to the family but the man he talked to said he was afraid to confront the landlord because he didn’t want to get kicked out and he couldn’t afford to move.

In January Dave did some work for Matt. The work totaled about $1600. When Dave was finished with the work, Matt said that he would pay him soon but that he couldn’t pay him at that time. A month later, Matt had property Tumwater that had been burglarized. He asked Dave if he could stay at the house a few nights until he had it rented out. Dave and his grandson drove from Kent to Tumwater and back for nine days. Shortly after that, Dave’s truck broke down. The transmission had gone out in it.

A week later Matt called him and asked him to do some work on a property in Bremerton. Dave said, “I can’t do it. My truck’s broken down.”

Matt said, “I can drive you there.”

Dave responded, “What you can do is pay me the $1600 you owe me so I can fix my truck.”

“You’ll get your money, but I need this done today. I’ll just pick you up.”

“And where in your Tesla will we put my saw? Where will you put my ladder? How will I get to the hardware store to get supplies?”

By late April he had still not been paid one dime from Matt. Eventually Dave was able to get his truck fixed using money he made from other handyman jobs. (Like the ones my landlord has him do.)

One day just before May 1st, Dave and Matt ran into each other at the grocery store. Dave said, “You owe me rent for the last few months.”

Dave said, “I don’t owe you rent. Rent is $350 a month. That’s $1400 rent for January through April. You still haven’t paid me the $1600 you owe me. By my count you owe me $200.”

Matt got angry and said, “I’m not paying you any money. And your rent just went up to $500 a month which I know you can’t afford so I’ll start eviction proceedings.”

Tomorrow Dave is talking to a lawyer to get this settled. I talked to him today. He said, “I’ll get this sorted out. Until then I’m gonna work. It’s all I’m good for.”

As I said at the beginning, Dave’s story has a lot of things that I believe apply to those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be in the top 1%. He’s paid below a living wage when he gets paid at all. His employer cares only for profits and nothing for the safety or welfare of those who help him make those profits. When someone becomes undesirable, they increase costs to price those people out of the market.

While not everything below applies to Dave’s specific situation, much of it does and the things that don’t apply to many people who are in similar circumstances as Dave. There is a concentrated effort on the part of the 1% to drain whatever power the rest of us have to nothing.

Here is the one and only conspiracy theory I truly believe in because the evidence is everywhere and it requires no collusion or secrecy on anyone’s part. Their attacks are overt. And they do it with impunity because they know we’re as afraid as the guy in the apartment with the black mold who is literally forced to choose between living somewhere unhealthy or not having a place for his family to live at all.

Here are some of the things that get legislated to make sure the poor don’t only stay poor but get poorer.

– Keep cutting funding to public education

– Keep wages low

– Increase cost of living expenses

– Restrict access to health care

– Restrict access to birth control

– Restrict access to abortion services

– Cut public assistance

– Increase taxes on the poor

– Increase college tuition to unaffordable levels

– Replace affordable housing with smaller more expensive ‘luxury housing’

– Give tax breaks to millionaires

– Eliminate restrictions on guns

– Implement mandatory minimum sentencing

– Privatize prisons so they are for-profit
Each of these things has been championed by prominent Republicans across the country over the last thirty years. The result is fairly simple. If you are not rich, you will be working harder and for more hours and less pay in order to simply maintain the lifestyle that previous generations could attain by simply working one full time job. If you fail to work hard enough, there will be no social safety net to save you. One of the few things you can get your hands on is a gun. Two out of three gun deaths are suicides. So maybe you decide to take yourself out after all of society has deemed you a failure for not playing along.

Or maybe you are desperate enough to commit crimes at which point, you end up in prison. Thanks to the for-profit prison system you’ll be able to make corporations money in the same way you would have working a dead-end below-living-wage job. Either way, you’ll be doing your part to make the rich richer. This is the system that is in place at this time and Republicans are only making it worse.

And I haven’t even mentioned the part where if you’re female or not white, your options and advantages are even worse than that. As a woman you’ll make 70% what men make in the same job. As an African American you’ll deal with systemic racism on all levels of society that make getting that job more difficult and authorities more likely to treat you violently.

I don’t have a solution for this. Voting for Democrats might not make things worse, but I don’t think they’re going to necessarily make things better in any real sense regardless of how progressive they claim to be if only because they can’t negotiate with the terrorists the Republican Party has become.

For a long while I wondered what it was going to take before things got violent. Then I realized things have been violent for a while now. It’s just that we aren’t even coming close to being what might be called a Resistance. Instead we’re being slaughtered in the street by militarized police forces and anyone who steps out of line can simply be labeled a terrorist. When someone within the government decided that the government having access to every phone call, email, and cellphone in the country was not okay, he had to go to Russia to avoid prosecution and is labelled a traitor.

I have asked myself what I should do about this and the truth is I can’t do much and neither can most of you because you’re like me just struggling the best you can to pay bills so you can make rent. It’s kind of difficult to make a concentrated effort at resistance when you’re spending all of your energy just trying to make enough money to survive.

As I said, I do not have a solution for you, me, or Dave. My solution for myself has been to enroll in college in the Human Services program. I did this both because I genuinely want to help people and because given all of the things I mentioned, there are going to be millions of people who need professional help. I figure one of the handful of growth industries in this culture is going to be counseling people who are trying to cope with a world so wildly out of balance that the richest country in the world also happens to have some of the highest child poverty in the world. I won’t be able to change the world, but I might make some people’s worlds better. Maybe I’ll find I can do more. Maybe it won’t make a lick of good. But I cannot look at what’s going on and do nothing.

– Jack Cameron

*Names and specific details have been altered to protect identities.

Advertisements

On The Comeback

Gillette Fusion Razor“They ain’t curing AIDS. Shit, they ain’t
never curing AIDS. Don’t even think about
that shit. They ain’t curing it, ’cause
there ain’t no money in the cure. The money’s
in the medicine. That’s how you get paid, on
the comeback. That’s how a drug dealer makes
his money, on the comeback.”
– Chris Rock, Bigger & Blacker

One of the things I want to point out in this series of articles is how companies manage to give you less for more. The funny part about this is that they will usually do this in the name of advancement or convenience. And sometimes this is true. However, most of the time, it’s an excuse to make you buy something more expensive that is less permanent. Making money ‘on the come back’ isn’t just a game the pharmaceutical companies play, it’s played everywhere.

Razors are a perfect example of this. My grandfather and yours too probably shaved with a shaving kit. It consisted of shaving cream, a small bowl with which to mix the cream, a  brush with which to exfoliate the skin and apply the cream and a safety razor with refillable blades that only cost pennies.

Now you’re expected to buy something like the Gillette Fusion Proglide. You can buy this for eight bucks, which doesn’t seem too bad. But then you have to buy the refillable cartridges. Over at Amazon you can buy an 8-pack for just under thirty bucks, which works out to about $3.75 a razor. So let’s say you shave every three days and that each razor can be used three times. So that works out to $3.75 every nine days. That’s about 40 razors or $150 a year. And that’s not including shaving cream.

So what’s the alternative? Over at ClassicShaving.com you can purchase the Complete Celtic Shaving Kit for $99.99. It includes a stylish shaving mug, a high quality badger brush, a double edged, closed comb safety razor and ten blades. And you can buy thirty more for $18. (Three packs of six.)  Even with purchasing new equipment, you’re still over thirty bucks ahead. Safety razors last for years. So in year two, Gillette guy is still spending $150 a year. Whereas the Classic Shaving guy is spending $24 a year or $6 per ten-pack. The bottom line is, even in today’s world, your grandfather had the right idea.

This is just one example of how companies have encouraged our disposable society. Other examples are things like mops. It used to be that you owned a mop. You had a bucket. You put soapy water in the bucket, you soaked the mop and you mopped your floor. All you had to buy was soap. Mops lasted for years. You can buy a good mop over at Amazon for twelve bucks. Now, they want you to buy a Swiffer WetJet for twenty bucks and refills for six bucks per twelve-pack.

This reverting back to the old way of doing things isn’t always best. You won’t see me telling you to turn in your iPod for a record player. However, the idea that you need to shave in five minutes with four blades or that your floor has to be clean to CDC standards is absurd. For starters, shaving can actually be enjoyable if you don’t rush it and take your time. And exposure to a reasonable amount of germs is what keeps your immune system working. A freshly mopped floor never killed anyone..unless they slipped on it.

My point is that there are hundreds of examples like this. The thing to remember is that unless your money is disposable, you shouldn’t be buying disposable items. There are often cost effective alternatives that last longer and are of better quality.

I’m not interested in showing you how to live like you’re poor. That’s not what this is about. It’s about living well with what you have, even if you don’t have much. This is important because the big companies are actually more afraid than you are. They’ve kicked their profit lusting into high gear and they don’t care who they hurt along the way. Netflix just lost 800,000 customers, but it doesn’t matter to them because they also just increased their profits 65%.  McDonald’s just announced they’re increasing their prices. Of course they made sure that announcement was drowned out by the return of the McRib.

If we’re going to get through this without falling into poverty, we’re going to need to help each other. The one thing we can still share is information. That’s what this is about. That’s why I’m putting this online and not in a book. My hope is that these posts will become a conversation. Share it with your friends. Comment below if you’ve got other ideas that relate to this.

Thanks for reading.

-Jack Cameron

Middle Class Warfare or Ruin Your Lifestyle

I’m always running scenarios in my head. I’ll take the information I have and try to figure out where it’s going or at least of where it could go. It’s how I write fiction. I just take one or two blocks of information and then figure out what the most interesting third block might be. What if? I’m always looking at Step 3.
 
So I’ve been gathering various pieces of information and I’m beginning to build a picture of a possible future. I’m not the first to do this and I’m not sure that anything I’m saying is going to be all the revealing. But I do find it interesting.
 
Let’s put together information and see where it leads us.
– Post 9/11 paranoia has resulted in invasive and previously illegal   intrusions into our lives.
– Social networking has essentially made everyone online into their own personal brand.

– Between GPS enabled smart phones, RFID tagged passports and driver’s licenses, ‘Hot Lane’  passes and other devices, finding individual people and their current location has become easier than ever before.

Unmanned weaponized aircraft (UAVs) have become both inexpensive and easy to use and have been used recent weeks to kill alleged terrorists who also happened to be American citizens.

Facial recognition software literally getting better every day.

– CCS International, a security company, estimated that the average person in Manhattan was photographed 73 to 75 times a day and that number is going up.

–  Cash is quickly becoming the least used form of currency. Debit and Credit cards are becoming more and more popular and are instantaneously tracked online.

– Media outlets are doing less true investigative journalism than ever before.

– The authorities are regularly arresting people for ‘terror plots’ that had little to no chance of ever actually getting off the ground except that undercover agents provided the means in order to arrest them.

–  The national and global economy is quickly becoming the Rich and the Poor. The Middle Class American is disappearing and it’s happening fast.

Healthcare in America is getting more and more expensive. At a recent Republican debate when it was suggested an uninsured person be left to die, the crowd CHEERED.

–  Laws are being passed to make DNA sampling part of being arrested.
– People at protests are being arrested, often on no real charges.

– There is a push to make voting paperless, making fraud easier than ever.
 
Okay, I think that’s enough stuff to work with for now. And I think it paints a fairly clear picture. What it says to me is a handful of things.
1.       If the Powers That Be really wanted to, they could probably find you and kill you fairly easily and chalk it up to a victory for the War On Terror. Or at the very least, they can throw you in prison and once you’re part of that system, any ex-con will tell you it’s difficult to get out. On top of that, no one outside of your social circle would know or care.

2.       If you are the sort who wants to fight against the system, the first things you’re going to want to do is get rid of your cell phone, your credit cards, your bank accounts, your social networking profiles, your email accounts and anything else that can be used to identify and track you because, well, see point number one.

3.       If you don’t have at least a few hundred thousand dollars a year coming in, then you shouldn’t expect your life to be very comfortable for the foreseeable future unless you get very creative.

4.       The time to fight what’s happening is at least 10 years ago. Probably 20 or 30. Fighting the power at this time is potentially dangerous and you’re going to want more than a slogan and a sign to do so.

5.        As things get worse, people will get more and more desperate. This applies both to the rich and the poor. Prices for common items will continue to rise, making the middle class standard of living less and less, but not really causing any problems for the rich as the increased prices give them more money in the end.

6.       It would be easier to become one of the rich than it would be to actually change things because the money involved and the resources that money provides makes thwarting any attempt to change things comparatively easy.

7.       If you don’t have a legitimate job with a company, you’re likely to go to prison for whatever you’re doing which will make companies that own the prisons more money. One way or another you’re going to feed the corporate machine.

8.       Unless you’re one of the rich, you’re going to want to figure out what you can live with and what you can’t and minimize your spending as much as you possibly can because it’s only going to get tougher until the Middle Class no longer exists.
 
 
So there are a few of the thoughts I have on what’s going on in our world today. There are more pieces of relevant information and more possibilities with that information. I’d love to start talking about a solution, but I’m still working on that part. I’m still thinking.
 
What now? There are those like the Occupy Wall Street people who have quite literally taken to the streets. This is understandable. But I don’t know that it’s going to help. I’m not sure there’s help to be had.
 
I’m not saying we should give up on changing things. America has a long history of fighting the odds and making good things happen. And maybe the Occupy Wall Street protestors will be the beginning of a revolution, but even in a best case scenario, that’s going to take many years.
 
There are plenty of sites on how best to mount your protest or any other sort of activism you might want to do or be into. But if you’re going to be one of the people who creates true change, you’re going to have to make it your full time life and most of us have jobs and lives. So instead, I think I’d like to write about how to live in America if you don’t have a million dollars and you find yourself with less and less every year.
 
I’ll be posting more about this later. (Along with other unrelated stuff because we still have to keep this site a little fun.)  I’m interested in your thoughts on all of this. Feel free to comment below or email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com