Monday, July 20, 2015

Wealth and Income Gap: Who has faith in the American voters?

"You have to connect the dots
and understand how many troubling
things are interwoven." Robert Reich
"Despite what many Americans assume, the United States actually has some of the lowest and longest-stagnating rates of economic mobility in the rich world – significantly lower than many European countries. This fact should be of concern to both Democrats and Republicans as it hinders this country’s economy.
How has this happened? For a start, the minimum wage has lost much of its purchasing power, and hasn't kept pace with inflation. Indeed, the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in the late 1960s, while wages at the bottom end of the scale have fallen in recent decades, even as worker productivity has grown."   Sen. Alan Lowenstein, D. CA, to CNN, Feb. 2015
I've been following this issue of the ever-widening wealth and income gap in the U.S. for some time. Sen. Alan Lowenstein and other politicians have too, along with journalists and commentators. I'm paying more attention to Robert Reich's articles on the issue.  It truly is a shocking disparity and as Reich and others note with alarm it is destroying the middle class, imbalancing our economy, and harming our democracy. It is benefitting a few huge corporations, mega-banks, multi-national giants now merging into fewer and fewer monopolies, and billionaire employers and individuals who have amassed unlimited wealth and unlimited political power to call the shots for the rest of us.  It's scary.

Reich says it has taken America right back to the late 19th century, when the rich ruled. He's right.  And so are his conclusions that we need to take back our rights to a decent life and the American dream, where ordinary people and workers have a living wage and the giants are restrained.  People who work should not be poor.  Economic growth is not growth if it hurts workers and benefits only a few billionaires. Reich concludes:

"...As we learned a century ago, markets don’t exist in nature. They’re created by human beings. The real question is how they’re organized and for whose benefit....Ever since around 1980, even though the economy has doubled once again (the Great Recession notwithstanding), the wages of most Americans have stagnated. And their benefits and working conditions have deteriorated.  This isn’t because most Americans are worth less. In fact, worker productivity is higher than ever. / It’s because big corporations, Wall Street, and some enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that have enhanced their wealth while leaving most Americans behind. /That includes trade agreements protecting the intellectual property of large corporations and Wall Street’s financial assets, but not American jobs and wages./Bailouts of big Wall Street banks and their executives and shareholders when they can’t pay what they owe, but not of homeowners who can’t meet their mortgage payments. /Bankruptcy protection for big corporations, allowing them  to shed their debts, including labor contracts. But no bankruptcy protection for college graduates over-burdened with student debts./Antitrust leniency toward a vast swathe of American industry – including Big Cable (Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner), Big Tech (Amazon, Google), Big Pharma, the largest Wall Street banks, and giant retailers (Walmart)./But less tolerance toward labor unions – as workers trying to form unions are fired with impunity, and more states adopt so-called “right-to-work” laws that undermine unions.  / We seem to be heading full speed back to the late nineteenth century. 

He's right, but who's listening?  Not enough of us. Not the majority of Americans, who seem to be suckered into sideshows and media dramas.  This is where I am sinking into despair. The facts don't matter.

Will Americans wake up and face reality, or will they fall in line behind big money politics and continue to vote like sheep being taken to slaughter. Will they see beyond media hype and hysteria, beyond inflated rhetoric and hate? Will they listen to the facts, open up, gain some perspective, at the very least vote their own self-interest?

It's all up to the American people. I must say I am not as hopeful as I once was. These are the same voters who elect contentious, extremist politicians to their state legislatures and to the U.S. Congress, the house and the senate.  The same voters who have given us Rep. John Boehner, Ted Cruz , Scott Walker, Joe Cotton--elected officials who will not compromise, who have no respect for the presidency, who slant the truth to their own ends, who are bought by the NRA and the Koch brothers and wealthy corporate lobbyists.  America is in trouble.  And the enemy is within.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

One of Everything Left

By the time you get to my age you have one item of every pair of everything you ever owned still left.  One wine glass of a once-lovely pair. One mug by that nice Nantucket ceramic artist. One earring from every set I once treasured, gold, pearl, opal, silver, handmade. It's even so with my candles, although there's less sentimental attachment. So I've stopped looking for pairs. Now I hold on to the single trophies of a lifetime and marvel at the memories.

"It's okay to wear two different earrings," my daughter says, as I search in vain for the match to the opal pair I got in Australia.

"Seems like I've lost one of everything I own," I tell her. "Like these earrings. Like these mugs."  We sip our coffee and ponder the thought. I'm drinking from an old stoneware set, my daughter from a pretty Christmas set.

Later, at dinner with my friend Judi who lives below me, "Judi down under" I call her, we share wine in two lovely wine glasses that were gifts from years' past.

"This is such a pretty wine glass," Judi says of the delicate crystal she raises.  "I like yours, too."

"I have one of everything," I lament.

"Couples don't last forever," she laughs.  "In any case, at our ages we don't need things.  Memories will do!"

I'll drink to that.  And light a candle from a once pretty pair for good measure.

"I like that Delft candlestick holder," Judi says.  "Thanks," I reply.  "It's from a set my mom had. I broke its mate."

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