Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is the United States of America. Our pilot and crew are under the influence of unseen forces. Our position is unknown and our time is growing short. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
There's "May Day" and there's "Mayday." "May Day" is a celebration of life and renewal. For the last 125 years or so it's also served as a rallying cry for the rights of working men and women. "Mayday," on the other hand, is the international phrase which indicates that a vessel, building, or person is in imminent danger and needs help immediately.
It's May Day. Mayday.
The word "Mayday" comes from the French phrase venez m'aider: "Come help me." It dates back to 1923, an era when French was the language of diplomacy (hence the term "lingua franca") and diplomats frowned on espionage because "gentlemen do not read one another's mail."
The FAA's protocol for a distress call is to say the word "Mayday" three times. You then state your identity, the nature of the emergency, weather conditions, the pilot's intentions, your present position and heading, and "the number of souls on board."
I like the old-school charm and dignity of the word "souls," don't you? It appears in that sentence so unexpectedly, like a visitor from a more honorable and chivalrous time.
The May Day holiday began as a Pre-Christian festival of renewal in Europe. Later it was Christianized into a celebration of the Virgin Mary. You remember the Virgin Mary: She was a teenaged mother who lived in an occupied land, under a colonizing power whose rulers loathed her religion and despised her people.
And speaking of mothers and children: All across the country they'recutting assistance to lower-income households with children. Budgets for primary and high school education are being slashed. Mitt Romney says he'll cut these funds even more and boasts that he'll separate poor mothers from their kids to teach them "the dignity of work."
They're slashing public university budgets, too. As tuitions keep soaring, millions of young people lose the chance for a better life. Others have reached record levels of indebtedness to get their diploma, only to graduate into the worst employment market for young people in generations.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is the United States of America. We are abandoning our mothers and our children. Our position is unknown and the time is growing short. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
May Day became a labor festival in 1886, after strikes escalated into violent clashes and four marchers were shot to death by policemen in the city of Chicago. (Chicago's current mayor, corporate apparatchik Rahm Emanuel, is outsourcing his city's functions and duties to business entities.)
Historian Peter Linebaugh gives us the words to a song the strikers sang back in the 1800s:
"We want to feel the sunshine;
We want to smell the flowers;
We're sure God has willed it.
And we mean to have eight hours."
Today the eight-hour workday is being eroded through the misclassification of workers as "managerial" and the widespread hiring of workers as "contractors" instead of employees. Corporate-friendly politicians help the paymasters with bills like Sen. Kay Hagan's "Computer Professionals Overtime Act," which would disqualify many technical workers from overtime pay.
Why? Because, as the Charlotte Observer notes, "Computer giants such as IBM have invested thousands of dollars lobbying politicians to clarify labor laws that would allow them to give their computer employees more flexible work schedules, but also to stop paying them overtime."
Inflation-adjusted wages for most working people have been stagnant for decades.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. Working people can no longer defend their rights or negotiate for better wages. We're losing our standard of living. Our industrial cities are in ruins. The middle class is dying. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
Poll after poll has shown that most Americans, including a majority of Republican voters, oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare to balance the federal budget. Yet the GOP is aggressively pushing for cuts, and for dismantling Medicare altogether through a voucher system.
And rather than fight for these popular and highly successful programs, too many Democrats are undercutting them by endorsing the far-right "Bowles/Simpson" plan. The voices of reason are being drowned out by a conservative consensus and battered by a false "bipartisanship."
The smart (and politically popular) approach would be to increase our inadequate Social Security benefits and rein in the for-profit health-care system that's harming Medicare and endangering the government's long-term fiscal security. Instead they keep talking about a "Grand Bargain" that would do the opposite.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. We're abandoning our elderly and disabled. We can't afford medicine for our sick and injured. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
As austerity economics destroys Europe, our leaders continue to pursue it at home. The Ryan/Romney budget would essentially board up the government -- except for legally mandated programs, and of course the war machine. And at a time when there's an urgent need for government investment in the economy, too many Democrats would rather boast that they'd cut the deficit more than the Republicans would.
Most Americans think that millionaires and corporations should pay more taxes. But even the president's tepid "Buffett rule," which only mandates that they pay at least the same percentage of their income as their secretaries, has no chance of passage. We won't be able to lower the deficit without taxing millionaires and billionaires more fairly.
Calling someone a "tax-cutting deficit hawk" is like saying they're a "vegetarian butcher." It doesn't make any sense.
Sure, the deficit needs to be addressed -- after we've fixed our economic emergency. But making it our number-one priority now is like worrying about water conservation when your house is on fire.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. When it comes to the economy we're losing altitude, and the pilots want to point the nose down even further. The only thing they're debating is how much further down to aim. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
We're arguing over the scientifically settled fact of climate change -- even as tornadoes and hurricanes rip through our cities and towns. And with no apparent sense of irony, Congress keeps cutting funds for storm prediction and natural disaster response.
Bank deregulation created the financial crisis, and environmental deregulation allowed BP's greed and negligence to devastate the Gulf. Yet we keep hearing stale rhetoric about "wasteful regulations." Most of it comes from Republicans, but not all of it. A lot of Democrats are still repeating that worn-out mantra, too much for their own good -- or ours.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. Our cities and towns are defenseless against storms and floods. We're losing our last protections against the environmental and economic devastation wrought by unrestrained greed. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
Civil liberties? Our government reserves the right to kill anyone - even its own citizens - anywhere in the world. Nowadays its weapon of choice is the flying death-robot known as a "drone."
And while it's been lenient enough not to kill most of us yet, the government spies on us every day with digital edifices that rival the Great Pyramid of Cheops. These electronic antennae of the NSA, as wide and vast and vibrant as the world's great cities, probe our communications and our computers. The catacombs and skyscrapers of electrons and silicon invisibly inspect both our hard drives and our habits. They trace the electronic fingerprints of each digital touch, map the intimate geographies of our social landscape.
Warrant? We don't need no stinkin' warrant!
Democracy? Citizens United was the act of a body whose majority members were identified, filtered, and trained through radical groups like the Federalist Society. They were appointed because they possessed the only quality that mattered: a willingness to use the law to impose corporate rule where democracy once stood.
Their theory of "corporate personhood" says corporations have the right to speech -- with their only vernacular, money. At least they're bilingual, offering politicians both cash and checks.
Mitt Romney readily agrees that "Corporations are people, my friend!" And, as we all know, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world...
Since corporations are people and not dogs, they ride inside the car and not on top of it. They can even drive the car - and they do. Who are they? We don't know. The political shock troops of corporate America are fighting a "DISCLOSE Act" which would let us know which corporations are behind which campaigns.
So if you still don't think we're living in a Catch-22 world, consider this: That means corporations are "people" who have the right to speak - without ever being heard.
But listen. Did you hear that? "If there is anyone in the vicinity, please respond ..." The signals are finally coming through here and there. They're even forming a rescue party or two. But the ideas and the volunteers are still few in number.
Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is the United States of America. Our democracy and economy are failing. Our lives are endangered by greed and weather. We are abandoning our old and our young, our poor and our disabled. Our blood and wealth are being squandered in deserts and mountains.
Our rights are being sacrificed on a cash-and-carry altar. We're threatened by faceless corporate entities, by the technologies of espionage and intrusion and remote-controlled weaponry. Our political offices are "remote-controlled machinery" too.
Our pilot and crew are under the influence of unseen forces. Our position is unknown and our time is growing short. We have 311 million souls on board. We are in urgent need of assistance.
In other news, we've been told that the White House Correspondents' Dinner was very entertaining.
It's May 1, 2012. It's May Day. Mayday.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future and the host of The Breakdown, broadcast Saturdays nights from 7 to 9 p.m. on WeAct Radio, AM 1480 in Washington, D.C.