Troops With No Choice

As a former stand-up comic, I know only too well the sting of a bungled joke.

After doing stand-up for less than one year, I found myself as the lead of a sitcom, WB's "First Time Out."

All I can say is, if you looked at the Nielsen ratings backward, we were the No. 2 show.

John Kerry fumbled the last in a series of zingers aimed not at our troops, but at the man who sent them to war without a strategy to win.

The comments unleashed a predictable torrent from the right, complete with accusations of troop bashing and demands for an apology.

This is all designed to distract from the substance of Kerry's comments, which strike at the very heart of America's current crisis.

But of course, when have the facts ever stopped this administration?

Serving our country in the military is a great service, one which we all admire and revere, but it's more than that. It's also a job.

And it's a job that many Americans sign up for not only out of a sense of patriotic duty, but also because it often seems the best of few options.

As a Mexican-American from Los Angeles, I find it especially meaningful that Kerry's comments came at Pasadena City College, just a few miles from the high schools of East Los Angeles, where on many campuses, military recruiters outnumber guidance counselors 5-1.

At high schools like these across the country, inner-city and rural students, often from communities of color but almost always poor, do not have many options in George Bush's America.

Jackie Guerra hosts "Workin' It" (www.WorkinItRadio.com) on Air America Radio.

The most obvious path to a better life runs through college. But how can these students get to it?

President Bush and congressional Republicans have slashed the government's college loan programs in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy, and doubled the interest rate on student loans, even as tuitions have skyrocketed.

And if these students' parents are like most Americans, they're working more and making less than they were making six years ago, so they can't help much. Median income has declined since Bush took office, adjusted for inflation.

So these students can't afford college.

Not long ago, however, college wasn't mandatory for a good life. America's great middle class, the backbone of our economic power, was built largely on a foundation of strong union jobs in the manufacturing sector, jobs that allowed working folks to make a good living, support their families, and spend money to expand the economy further.

Now, many of those jobs have been shipped overseas, replaced with lower-paying jobs with fewer benefits, thanks in part to tax breaks that encourage such maneuvers.

At home, Republicans have refused to raise the minimum wage for the last 10 years. At $5.15 an hour, the minimum wage is at its lowest level in 51 years, when adjusted for inflation.

For far too many of these students, the only answer is to get a job in the military.

Of course, there are those who choose to join the military purely because of a sense of duty.

And I don't doubt that same sense is present in all our soldiers. My own brother John served proudly in the Gulf War. But make no mistake, joining the military should always be a choice, and for too many young Americans, it isn't. It's the only option available.

Jackie Guerra hosts "Workin' It" (www.WorkinItRadio.com) on Air America Radio.

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