Category Archives: Commentary

Eureka! There They Are.

Mar-a-Lago Club

 

It came to me in a flash this morning. I know exactly what formative experience I’m tapping every time I feel enraged by this Clown Administration, this collection of nodding mimes in the Senate and the House, or the cadre of lunatic robber barons called Governors across our land. And weirdly, it’s not exactly what is being said, although what is being said is disgusting and offensive in any age. It is more how it is being said. And how pitifully smug they think they are appearing while they deal below the table right in front of us. We are supposed to just smile and be grateful for whatever scrap is tossed our way and not only, NOT report them for outright crimes, but to ADMIRE them for their cleverness in dealing with a corrupt system. “I’m a great businessman.”

When I was fifteen, I worked as a busboy and dishwasher at the local country club. It only had a 9-hole course, but it was well-maintained. Our small town had about 10,000 people back then, so I’m guessing membership in the club was not strictly limited to the 1%ers, but generally, it is unlikely there were many outside of the top 5% of the social strata who could claim inclusion. And from my experience in the lower third of that system, it was clear that members wanted a bright and shining line between Members and help. Even inside the “help” categories, there was stratification. Top guy was the Club Manager, and oddly, the Number Two was the greens-keeper. He and his staff of one were on the payroll. All the golf-related jobs were off payroll. The Members contracted with the Pro for lessons and help and he supplemented that with a commission on whatever was sold in the pro shop. Caddies worked on tips and below them were the guys who worked in the fitness and shower areas. They worked on tips too. Odd thing. A caddie might get a $1 tip on nine holes of bad golf, or he might score $50 when your dad’s boss had a good round. Caddies were almost always the sons of Members and/or players on the high school golf team. Guys in the locker room were related to the cooks in the kitchen.

Those of us on the other side had a hierarchy too. Kitchen Manager (not chef!) was the boss. He was salaried. He worked in the kitchen. The bartender worked below him for minimum wage and tips. Waitresses, almost always came from among the popular girls in school but not often the daughters of Members. They were inevitably “cute and perky.” Those who cooked were, oddly for our nearly completely white community, usually Mexican, many of whom shared surnames with those in the locker room. Some of these men were so recently from Mexico as to be without much working use of English. I’m sure they were simply paid in cash, and not very much. Below all of the above was me. The busboy/dishwasher was the bottom of the heap. I could have done the job all summer, nonetheless, if I wanted to.

My pay was the lowest, minimum wage and no tips. I had to punch in and out. On Thursday (Friday was too busy), the Club Manager would hand me a check. As a “convenience” to me (and the cooks, I suppose) he would cash my check on the spot. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was kind of convenient to get cash on my way out the door. (In fact, my next job in town paid in cash too.) Not until years later did I come to understand that if the check showed the deductions to me and I cashed the check with him for the remaining cash, all he had to do was to destroy the check, void it out of the check register and it would be like paying me in cash below the minimum wage. I don’t know if he did that or not. But back then, not a lot of 15-year-olds made enough money in a year to have to file taxes. I didn’t know of any.

Fridays were the busy nights in the restaurant and bar. And it only took a couple of Friday nights to figure out the patterns that had probably been repeated since the place opened. Husbands bring the family in. It is not exactly subdued in tone. I have been in the kitchen for about an hour already making sure every glass, plate and piece of tableware is clean, dry and ready for delivery. When the first Members arrive, I am ready. I keep watch to see when to clear the first round of dishes. I have an appropriate looking outfit, complete with a white long-sleeved shirt and a bleached white folded towel tucked into the front of my belt. From that first clearing it was a steady rise in intensity in the busboy/dishwasher business. Clear, haul, spray, load, unload, stack…clear, haul, spray…. without a break until the dining room began to clear. The ones who lingered were always the ones who kept you from punching out for the night. And they were the ones who usually lingered over drinks. If they started on drinks before dinner too, well, there was no telling how long they’d hang around. And, they were Members so no one was about to tell them to go home.

Through the course of the night, my white shirt and bleached, folded towel always accumulated the detritus of the table as well as the splattering of the dishwasher. It’s why most respectable places won’t let dishwashers clear the tables. Some nights I would swap out the folded towel half way through my shift just to try to uphold some air of appearances. I didn’t on this particular night.

 

The guy at the table had a name. I don’t need to name him now. He’s dead and I’ve gotten over most of it. But this guy happened to be an officer in the local savings and loan. And he was a drunk. He had come in and sat at the bar for a few with a couple of his work buddies while I did my kitchen prep late in the afternoon, left for a little while and came back with his wife. They sat at a table and had a couple before the meal, ate pro forma with a bottle of wine and then lingered over Manhattans until the room was empty. All the dishes were done in the kitchen. The cooks had shut down and left. The only staff left were the bartender, the waitress and me. So, I approached the table and asked if I might clear it for them. I suppose it was a clumsy way to try to prod them into leaving, but at 15 I had no better tactic.

 

When I asked, Mr. S&L froze in place. Visibly froze and held still for about 2 or 3 seconds just staring at the table. I saw a look in Mrs. S&L’s eyes as she waited for what she knew was coming. I didn’t know.

 

Mr. S&L turned toward me and it was the first time I had ever seen a grown man with fury in his face. I had seen plenty of men and boys and women and girls angry. Some angrier that others, but this was fury.  And a look I cannot logically explain. I was standing by his right shoulder, he was still seated but somehow he was able to look down his nose at me with contempt and said: “If you interrupt me again, I will see that you are fired. I am a Member of this club and I sit on its Board of Directors. You will treat me with respect.”

 

I was dumbstruck. I finally sort of stammered something like, “Of course, Mr. S&L, I was only trying…”

 

“Enough! Go back to the kitchen and wait until we are finished here.”

 

I did. I didn’t say anything. I was embarrassed. These years later, I speculate that his wife may have been more embarrassed than he. Maybe not. Maybe she was used to speaking to the help that way. I wasn’t used to it. I wish I could tell you that I quit that job that night. Or that I thought about it overnight and I came in to quit the next day. What actually happened was I showed up for my shift on Saturday and the Club Manager informed me that I had been fired. Fired from my first job. That didn’t speak highly for my future. Clearly I was destined to live out my life on those lower rungs of the social and financial ladder. There was to be no “bootstrap” operation from busboy/dishwasher to Member in America.

 

This is precisely what I am feeling today on the national political scale. I feel like we have somehow awarded all the power and glory, all the money and voice to a bunch Mr. S&Ls with long noses and fury who can and will lash out at others under any provocation, real or imagined. Who will say anything they wish, whether it is true, or based on a story they heard, or a made-up narrative erupting like a boil from their fetid imaginations, or someone else’s fetid imagination in alt-right publishing.

 

Mr. S&L, I see your Mrs.  with her eyes carefully shielded so as not to disclose any tic of emotion or even a shade of compassion. I see brief flashes of real fear in the faces of those around you. And I think I know what that reveals about your character.

 

I see your knowing looks and your secret handshakes with your cohorts. I see how you use coded language between each other so that you can claim that those of us drawing the sheet off the corpse of democracy can be dismissed as having misunderstood or misquoted or taken your words out of context. I hear you telling the people in the kitchen that the only people they can trust to tell them the truth are the people writing and cashing checks.

 

I see the look of desperate ambition upon those who are now in your elite club but whose starts were somewhere closer to the clubhouse kitchen. All of those men who have something to prove. In America we love drive, guts and determination. You see those traits in a few of your sycophants and nod in their direction to trigger actions that shape the lives (or the deaths) of hundreds or thousands. When they act, you praise. If they fail to act, you excoriate them. This is not the America I know. It is not the America I want to leave for my kids and grandkids.

 

In my America, drive, guts and determination are admirable character traits but they are not the goal of character development. In my America, a stronger union is formed on the back of ambition. Ambition is not best used in service to the self. It will take many ambitious Americans to stand up to the divisive politics used cleverly, if nefariously, by those in the National Country Club.  We have found our ambition in resistance. We will resist your personal ambitions to transfer all of the wealth to the Membership. We will resist your narrow and very white version of a national culture. And we will keep spitting in your soup until it is over.

America Shops for Fashionable Fascist Boots (Part 1)

(Today is “Defining the Problem.” Later this week is “What to Do About It.”)

The images are not my images. If you own them and want them taken down, let me know. If you want credit only, let me know. No offense is meant by using them.

This is commentary by Steve Marsh. Nobody else is responsible for it. You may leave moderated comments here or look me up on facebook.

The Oxford Dictionaries define fascism as “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.”

This is a little misnomer in terms of current American politics. It says “right wing” and automatically Americans say “Republican.” Sadly, that is no longer historically accurate. Bill Clinton broke the traditional concept of right/left last century with his “triangulation” of the middle. That was after Reagan broke the traditional concept of “Right” in the ‘80s with his Reagan Democrats and hard turn toward conservatism.

Famously, Jimmy Carter pronounced the American system of politics to be “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery…” Rolling Stone Magazine quoted him as saying, “The same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

Many of us who have been around in both centuries were heard to say, “Well, duh.”

But, as much as I’d like to bask in Carter’s courage to say so, and my beautiful, prescient mind for perceiving it, I’m stuck with acknowledging that this observation alone is not enough. In my estimation, the confluence of oligarchy in America with the populist wave that put Donald Trump in the most dangerous chair in the world means we have now passed on to full Fascism. I do not blame Trump alone. And not even those who voted for him, although any number of them would be happy to put on jackboots. What is left of Democratic voters have been as guilty. I hear my liberal friends recoiling in horror and denial. So let’s take this kind of slow.

It seems that you can find a definition of fascism that will say almost anything you want it to say. Or you can confound a definition with a lot of political language designed to obfuscate. So, how do I know we are in a Fascist Oligarchy instead of just a regular old oligarchy? I found a website that identifies what fascist states do: http://www.fascismusa.com/ The thing this website attempts to do is to define what has been undefinable and implies that we should define the cheetah by her spots.

What does a fascist state do? This site identifies fourteen Cheetah Spots. Here we go.

1. Is America currently affected by Powerful and Continuing nationalism? Well, of course she is and before you get all excited about how we are now going to bash the Trumpsters (and we should) think back to summer 2016 and the images, especially on the closing night of the Democratic National Convention. Do you remember the multi-screen projections of HRC, dressed in stark white, parading in front of dozens of American flags, calling on neo-con General John Allen to assure “our enemies” that “we will pursue you as only Americans can.” Later that night she was joined on stage by Bill in a blue suit, white sh


2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights. That has been true of America since President W decided that it was appropriate for us to engage in prophylactic warfare and fed us all the false data necessary to whip America into a blood lust unimaginable even ten years before when his daddy was the boss. Gone were the restraints against torture, preemptive assassination, striking families and neighborhoods with the most amazingly destructive weapons possible. Back home, the stroke of a pen was all it took after Congress capitulated on the frighteningly Nazi-sounding creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Trumpsters say bring back torture. Trump himself is quoted by CNN on December 3, 2015 as saying: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” But further, did Obama prosecute anyone for water-boarding, even as he stopped its use? No. Did we ever get out of Guantanamo? Lack of human rights? Check.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. Al-Qaeda, ISIS and bad hombres. 9/11, Iraqi attacks (even though the vast majority of participants were Saudi), add Afghanistan to get Osama, add Pakistan because they were hiding Osama, add Syria, Lebanon, Yemen. Immigrants = Mexicans but Immigrants also = Refugees from the wars on Al-Qaeda and ISIS. And then….and then… home-grown terrorists. Self-radicalized individuals. Now the enemies are everywhere and they are brown. Muslims are proudly hated by at least a large plurality of Americans. And now Mexicans, and it spills out to Sikhs and…just Google “mistaken for terrorists in US.” Enemies named and pointed at? Check.
4. Supremacy of the military. Let me parse this one out a little. It says supremacy of the military. It does not say support for military families. It does not say health care for wounded veterans. It’s all about active military and missions. Look at T’s proposed budget. Military +$54 billion, Department of Homeland Security +6.8%, Department of Veterans Affairs +5.9%, National Nuclear Security Administration +11.3%. And literally, just about everything else is cut, including the chief tool for diplomacy, the Department of State -28%. Yup, that is an intentional hard-power budget. Supremacy of the military? Check.
5. Rampant sexism. Beyond normalizing the word “pussy” and demonizing all of women’s health care on the back of “abortion,” the number of women in the cabinet is self-evident. Even his supporters can find a quote or two they are happy to chant denigrating women. Every day, every newspaper in America carries this story or worse, exhibits this story. Rampant sexism? Check.
6. Controlled mass media. How many supporters of T are now firmly convinced that CNN stands for “Clinton’s News Network?” How many say “fake news” about any article with a headline that even obliquely challenges their world view. All sources of news are false, except the two or three sources the central personality deems to be “not fake.” This has been underway since Roger Ailes (ahem, speaking of rampant sexism) opened Fox News for business but now we have reached a new vista in media denial. The Executive Branch Press Secretary has taken to isolating the news source they approve of to hold conferences and to go on lengthy defensive rants if anyone asks a question perceived as offensive. Control the mass media? Check. (at least well on the way.)
7. Obsession with national security. ISIS and illegal immigrants. These stories continue to cycle at the top of lists. They get conflated and mixed up too. Don’t let in any refugees fleeing the chaos created by our enemy ISIS because those people could be ISIS disguised as refugees. Don’t let Mexican (rapists and murderers) come in because they are “bad hombres” and ISIS is probably coming into the country by smuggling themselves into Mexico too. Let’s look at Iran next month and N. Korea this week. National security, keeping you safe from all the danger, danger, danger. Obsession with National Security? Check.
8. Religion and government are intertwined. Fascists use the most common religion to manipulate opinions. If there were more Catholics in the USA, we would see a slightly different version of what is going on. This movement has come and gone over the course of our history but got its biggest burst of power under Reagan. The emergence of the religious right under the moniker of “Moral Majority” has now twisted itself into something far more insidious. What is the advantage to them? LOTS. Normalizing home schooling and getting federal education dollars for religious schools via vouchers and similar programs. That insures the concepts are self-perpetuating through another generation. It makes it easy to demonize the political opponent. Obama, for example was both non-American and non-Christian. Those are long tentacles. And remember it was the religious right who impeached Clinton. Not for a blowjob but for a lie. Religion and government intertwined? Check.


9. Corporate power is protected. Citizens United (what a great lie right in the title), “Corporations are people, my friend.” Gut the EPA, deregulate Wall Street, roll back 40 years of auto emissions regulations, states deferring taxes on corporate owned property, and restrictions on labor is outlined below. But this is the most dangerous trend in my lifetime. There used to be a time when corporations had natural restraints too. To get access to the American market, corporations had to use American labor. Well, just like those two big oceans don’t protect us militarily any longer, they also don’t protect us economically. Many corporations are larger than many countries. That is not hyperbole any longer. Add to the power to do what they want to the power to avoid taxes on the profits they secure in our markets and you have a pretty perfect storm. Corporate power? Check.


10. Labor power is suppressed. Right to Work (another great title lie), opposition of raising the minimum wage, demonize public servants (except cops and firemen…you need them for the riots), permitting two tiered hiring practices, gutting union shop laws, and importantly, long term economic downturns to erode stability and expectations in the work force. Depress the markets for young people generally and black young people specifically and you now have a ready market for people to be recruited into the military. Labor power suppression? Check.
11. Disdain for intellectuals and artists. Gut the NEA, gut PBS, pass laws forcing teaching creationism as alternative to evolution (see #8 above), the culture wars of 20 years ago has “leveled up.” Schools are now deficient if they don’t teach “marketable skills in the work marketplace.” Let’s add some more catch phrases: “I know more than the generals.” Active scrubbing of federal websites in regard to climate change and other scientific research. Fox News says global warming research is a con to get federal dollars for false research. Tweet: “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big.” Schwarzenegger. Disdain for intellectuals and artists? Check.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment. First, think of what he, the T, wants to do with “leakers.” Second, as the states move to legalize the use of medical and recreational cannabis, the new Attorney General says, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Trump notoriously says the murder rate is the highest in 48 years while in fact it is less than ½ of what it was 48 years ago. Crime, both violent and non-violent are actually down in the nation, but the administration is fundamentally invested in scaring people to make them think they are not safe, that they can blame some other kind of people and that we should lock those “others” up in for-profit prisons. Crime and punishment? Check.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Why are so many former executives of Goldman Sachs in the cabinet? It is hard to keep track of that number. Connections to Russia and the political oligarchy there? Plenty. Only took days to start booting folks out of the cabinet for obvious cons involving receiving huge sums of money from Russia and Turkey. How many? Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court? Sure, his mom was the EPA head from ’81-’83 under Reagan. What did she try to do? Slashed its budget 22%, rolled back clean air and clean water standards, prevented the EPA from bringing protection suits to the DOJ. Then she resigned. Why? Mismanagement (you put your own word in here, what does “mismanagement” mean, anyway?) of the Superfund program. This is not a new thing. More on that later. Or this from yesterday: Kellyanne Conway’s husband will be tapped to lead the Justice Department’s civil division. Another import from the Wall Street law firms. Cronyism and corruption? Check.
14. Fraudulent elections. This one scares me deeply. I think it has been going on for a long time. Both political parties are claiming it is ongoing. I think Republican redistricting efforts at the state level have effectively eliminated the democratic concept of “one man–one vote.” The number of federal elections and state elections affected has skyrocketed. And now Trump is blowing smoke over his trail by claiming that millions of illegal aliens voted against him and cost him the popular vote. I have never seen the winner of an election claim it was fraudulent before! The institution of the Electoral College has played into this strategy by the Fascists too. Smear campaigns, armed “poll watchers,” the list goes on. Courts are supposed to be the check here. HEY, COURTS! HELP. We are hanging by a fine thread. Fraudulent elections? Not 100% certain yet but something smells very bad about Russia and the unconscionable voter restrictions going on in communities of color. I’m not willing to put a check here yet, but reconnect with me next week.

So, that’s all fourteen functions, or at least 13 and a half. Do you think we are a Fascist Oligarchy? Well, look at that thing waddling and quacking down the road. I do believe it some kind of waterfowl.