Friday, June 10, 2005

Losing Our Country

Baby boomers like me grew up in a relatively equal society. In the 1960's America was a place in which very few people were extremely wealthy, many blue-collar workers earned wages that placed them comfortably in the middle class, and working families could expect steadily rising living standards and a reasonable degree of economic security.

But as The Times's series on class in America reminds us, that was another country. The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

But the wealthy have done very well indeed. Since 1973 the average income of the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled, and the income of the top 0.1 percent has tripled.

Why is this happening? I'll have more to say on that another day, but for now let me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by accident. It was created by what has been called the Great Compression of incomes that took place during World War II, and sustained for a generation by social norms that favored equality, strong labor unions and progressive taxation. Since the 1970's, all of those sustaining forces have lost their power.

Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of working families - and under the current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy "reform" that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.

It's not a pretty picture - which is why right-wing partisans try so hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what's going on.

These partisans rely in part on obfuscation: shaping, slicing and selectively presenting data in an attempt to mislead. For example, it's a plain fact that the Bush tax cuts heavily favor the rich, especially those who derive most of their income from inherited wealth. Yet this year's Economic Report of the President, in a bravura demonstration of how to lie with statistics, claimed that the cuts "increased the overall progressivity of the federal tax system."

The partisans also rely in part on scare tactics, insisting that any attempt to limit inequality would undermine economic incentives and reduce all of us to shared misery. That claim ignores the fact of U.S. economic success after World War II. It also ignores the lesson we should have learned from recent corporate scandals: sometimes the prospect of great wealth for those who succeed provides an incentive not for high performance, but for fraud.

Above all, the partisans engage in name-calling. To suggest that sustaining programs like Social Security, which protects working Americans from economic risk, should have priority over tax cuts for the rich is to practice "class warfare." To show concern over the growing inequality is to engage in the "politics of envy."

But the real reasons to worry about the explosion of inequality since the 1970's have nothing to do with envy. The fact is that working families aren't sharing in the economy's growth, and face growing economic insecurity. And there's good reason to believe that a society in which most people can reasonably be considered middle class is a better society - and more likely to be a functioning democracy - than one in which there are great extremes of wealth and poverty.

Reversing the rise in inequality and economic insecurity won't be easy: the middle-class society we have lost emerged only after the country was shaken by depression and war. But we can make a start by calling attention to the politicians who systematically make things worse in catering to their contributors. Never mind that straw man, the politics of envy. Let's try to do something about the politics of greed.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Bush, The Spoiled Man-Child

Mark Morford has a way with words. I just had to add his recent article to my blog. It says precisely what many of us are thinking, but do not have his talent to communicate so effectively to others. Click on the links in this article for even more content and clarification of his views.

Frank John Schreiber

Bush, The Spoiled Man-Child What causes the fall of empires? Why, stubborn leaders who speak like toddlers and never admit mistakes - By Mark Morford, SF Gate ColumnistFriday, June 3, 2005
Know what real men do? They admit their mistakes. Know what real people do in times of great stress and strife and economic downturn? They seek help, understand they don't know all the answers, realize they might not've been asking the right questions in the first place.
Know what great leaders, great nations do at times of war and fracture and massive bludgeoning debt? All of the above, all the time, with great intelligence and humility and grace and awareness and shared humanity. Or they die.
But not BushCo. This is the hilarious thing. This is the appalling thing, still. How can this man remain so blindly, staggeringly resolute? How can he be so appallingly ignorant of fact, of truth, of evidence, of deep thought? In short, what the hell is wrong with George W. Bush?
Here it is, another bumbling, barely articulate press conference by Dubya, one of few he ever gives because he clearly hates the things and is deeply troubled by them, hates reporters who ask complicated questions and hates people who dare doubt his simple mindset, his effectiveness, his policies, his lopsided myopic one-way black/white good/evil worldview.
Bush hates press conferences because can't speak extemporaneously and can't form a complete sentence without mashing up the language like a five-year-old and can't express a complex idea to save his life and somewhere deep down, he knows it, and he knows we know it, and it makes him mumble and stutter and wish he could be somewhere else, anywhere else, like sittin' on the back porch in Texas eatin' ribs and dreamin' 'bout baseball. Ahhh, there now. That's better.
But here he is, instead, stuck like a pinned bug in the Rose Garden, struggling to answer tricky, multisyllabic questions from the godforsaken press. Go ahead, read the Q&A, linked above. It's sort of staggering. It's also very impressive, in a soul-stabbing, nauseating way.
Bush is, to be sure and in a word, unyielding. Determined. Immovable. Also, deeply confused. Myopic as hell. Frighteningly narrow minded. Weirdly random. Childish in a way that would make any good parent seriously question whether it might be time to get their child some Ritalin and an emetic.
Unlike you or me or any human anywhere who happens to be in possession of humility or subtlety of mind, Bush, to this day, admits zero mistakes. He refuses help, rejects suggestions that everything is not dandy and swell. He is confounded by questions that dare suggest he might be somewhat inept, or failing. And he absolutely insists that America exists in some sort of bizarre utopian vacuum, isolated and virtuous and towering like a mad hobbled king over our enemies and allies alike.
He is, in other words, our downfall.
Iraq? Going smoothly, Bush says, happy with the progress there, despite huge surges in insurgent violence and endless uptick of the U.S. death toll and the utter wasteland we've made of that poor, shredded nation.
Iran, North Korea and Egypt? Just dandy. No serious problems at all. Gotta talk more with that "North Korean" guy though, sort out the "nukuler" problem. Sneering thug John Bolton for U.N. ambassador? You betcha, still on track, a good man, despite what everybody -- and I do mean everybody -- says.
Overhaul Social Security, despite an enormous lack of support from Dems and Repubs and the vast majority of the American people? "Just a matter of time," Bush mutters, completely blinded to the fact that it's an enormous mistake. His deeply hypocritical stance on stem-cell research that kow-tows to the deeply ignorant Christian Right? No real answer there. Doesn't compute. Just shrug that sucker right off.
Notice, when you read: There is no eloquent, deeply felt defense of ideas. There is no intellectual breakdown of opinion, no multifaceted explanation, no passionate clarification. And there is certainly no reference to outside ideas, a confession that we might need help, input, wisdom from our neighbors, from science, from the wise and the experienced.
It's a fact we've known all along but which keeps hammering at us like a drunk gorilla hammers at a dead mouse: Bush is able to speak only at one level, to one level. The level of a child. The level of a simpleton. The level of a sweet, bumbling, small-town mayor, addressing a PTA meeting, everyone in soft plaids and everyone drinking light beer and everyone wondering about just what the heck to do about the rusty swing sets and the busted stoplight.
Bush is, of course, not talking to you or me or anyone with a remotely active imagination when he speaks at press conferences, or at his staged, pre-screened, sycophant-rich "town hall" meetings, so full of plain, everyday folk hand-selected for their blind love of Shrub and lack of ability to ask hard questions (read this transcript of a recent town hall on Social Security, and come away stupefied at the man's shocking ability to appear just exactly as gullible and uneducated as his questioners).
He is not even speaking to conservative Democrats or moderate Republicans. He's certainly not speaking to highly educated people who harbor a sincere curiousity for and tenuous understanding of the complexities of the world.
Bush is, of course, speaking to children. He is speaking to babies. It is a decidedly shallow and hollow and oddly deflated type of language that offers not a single nutritious or substantive thought to the political or cultural dialogue, other than to expand his staggering collection of embarrassing Bushisms.
It's all merely a crayon drawing, an intellectual wading pool, a big messy cartoon world populated by manly white good guys and fanged dark evil guys and we are good and They are evil and that's all there is to it so please stop asking weird tricky polysyllabic questions.
Maybe this is appropriate. Maybe this is as it should be. After all, we are, by and large, a nation that refuses to grow up, refuses to take responsibility for our gluttony and its global effects, refuses to see the world as it is now, a mad tangle of interconnected humanity, a global marketplace, a hodgepodge of variegated religions all stemming from the same source and which therefore all require a nimble and nuanced and deeply intelligent leadership, to navigate. Qualities which our current leadership has, well, not at all.
The U.S. still behaves, when all is said and done, like one of those scared wild monkeys, clinging desperately to a shiny object despite the trap closing in all around us, unable to let go of this old, silly, faux-cowboy mentality of boom boom kill kill God is your daddy now sit down and shut up.
What causes the downfall of empires? What causes the implosion of leadership, the slide of great nations into the deep muck of recession and war and mediocrity and numb irrelevance? That's easy. Stagnation. Refusal to change. Refusal to adapt, to progress. Refusal to grow the hell up, to take responsibility for our shortcomings and failures, as well as our successes.
Indeed, George W. Bush would make a great small-town mayor, somewhere deep in a dusty, forgotten part of Texas. His still-appalling inability to speak with any depth or resonance, coupled with his brand of personable, aww-shucks, none-too-bright simpleton worldview is perfect for some cute, redneck, tiny burg. It really is.
But for a major world power caught in the throes of a desperate need to change and grow and evolve, he is, of course, imminent death, leading us deeper into a regressive ideological tar pit from which we may never emerge.
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Native of the Philadelphia "Kensington and Alleganey" northeast area. I spent 4 years in the Air Force (Titan-II missles in Tuscon Arizona). I Am currently retired, and among other adventures I spent 28 years working for AT&T in Telecommunications. I've lived in Florida for 33 years....20 years in Hollywood Fla., and 13 years North Florida. I've been married 42 years, and am a proud father of three adult offspring. All of them contributing to society in a very useful and creative manner.