Johnny 99 and the 99 Percent

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out lookin’ for a job but he couldn’t find none
He came home too drunk from mixin’ Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call’m Johnny 99

This classic Springsteen song from the Nebraska album went running through my head this morning. Now it’s true that America has always had some significant number of folks barely scraping by–Bruce wrote this 30+ years ago when we were passing through a nasty time with steel mills and factories shutting down all over the country–but seeing news reports showing that one in two Americans are poor or low income makes me think this country has turned a corner. We’re in a bad place, people.

On one end of the spectrum we get the Occupy movement and on the other the Tea Party. Both are fueled by the disparity in income and outcomes, though I like to think one is backed by love and optimism while the other by hate and fear. When Bruce wrote Johnny 99 the average CEO made 40-50 times what the average worker at the same company earned; today the difference has increased an order of magnitude, to 450-500X and this is simply not sustainable.

Well the city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown
He came into the courtroom and stared young Johnny down
Well the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crime
Prison for 98 and a year and we’ll call it even Johnny 99

Most Americans, naively as it turns out, thought that this could be dealt with through the political process. The two parties would balance each other and in the end act in the best interests of the majority. The two movements are recognition that we’ve been naive and that the political process has been captured by Wall Street and other massively wealthy families. How else do you explain Barack Obama’s actions in supporting ACTA, SOPA, NDAA and the unconstitutional use of police powers as well as his administration’s unwillingness to hold individuals criminally liable for the many acts of corporate fraud behind huge ‘settlements’ the SEC and DoJ have made?

I’m surprised we aren’t seeing more crime by men and women desperate after losing their jobs, homes and semblance of a normal life. The most likely explanations are that most people:

(a) are good and even when desperate not willing to take from others, and,
(b) have been distracted by the bread and circuses of false crises spread through modern media, Twitter and Facebook.

But there’s a limit to how long these two factors will stand in the way and I think we’ll reach it all too soon.

Now judge judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand

The ultra-wealthy are unwilling to be discrete. From apartments selling for $88 million to baseball players getting $250 million dollar contracts to the ridiculous antics of the Kardashian family, well, a father seeing this crap and then looking at a wife and baby he can barely afford to feed all sleeping in a beat up old car isn’t going to be too far from deciding some people have too much money and some not enough.

The Tea Party have taken a smart approach, much smarter than I’d have expected. Copying tactics from a previous generation of Republican activists they worked from the bottom up, getting control of local and regional party organizations before the national leadership noticed it. From there they got the likes of Michelle Bachman into Congress and into the Republican Presidential field as a candidate to be taken seriously. Which strikes me as an amazingly good job considering that Bachman is, after all, a complete nut.

The Occupy movement is eschewing the mainstream political arena entirely, recognizing that beyond having been co-opted by the money and drug-like high afforded national politicians the process itself cannot in any reasonable amount of time deliver the necessary changes. This is demonstrated by the widespread use of riot police to suppress Occupy camps and marches with the police action coordinated at the Federal level. Which is, sadly, another way that Barack Obama has disappointed many of the people who supported and voted for him.

Then throw in the onrushing climate change disaster, the looming nuclear threats from Iran, North Korea and Pakistan and the inability of manymost people to see the 18 wheelers running straight at them.

Where this will all end I can’t say. If any of the Sad Sacks who comprise the current GOP field beat Obama next November I think we’ll find out sooner rather than later but even the re-election of Obama is unlikely to defer for long a violent and sad future for many Americans and our companions on this small globe.

At least I get to listen to Bruce for as long as the power grid lets me keep a charge.

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