Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bill Maher on air...

My son sent me this exerpt from Bill Maher's Friday night show - "insightful" he says. And he's right. Maher nails it!

"And finally, New Rule: Because it's Earth Day, I get to ask this question: How come we have cars with global positioning systems, satellite radio and voice-activated web access, and we still power them with the black goop you have to suck out of the ground?-- Well, I hate to tell you this, folks, but gas doesn't cost too much; it costs too little. -- Ooh, I know, I know. I know you hear about gas prices over two dollars a gallon and it makes you nearly choke on your four-dollar latte. --

We bitch about gas, but adjusted for inflation, it's the same price it was back when the Pope was a Nazi. -- And that's not the fault of ExxonMobil, either. That's like Kirstie Alley saying her problem is that Arabs control all the fudge. -- Anyone who's been to Europe knows that the price of gas over there is just a picture of an arm and a leg. -- And that's because they tax it heavily and we don't. How come we Americans accepted that you could do that to cigarettes – overtax them because they were bad – but burning oil into the atmosphere is okay? You can't smoke in a bar, but you can drive through a restaurant? --

Monday, April 18, 2005

A few more links...

I can't quit.
I have found so much astounding information and so many articulate writers laying out the case for income and wealth inequity in America and how it is affecting our country that I must add yet another post-script to my original post on the subject.
I really thought I knew how bad it was, but even I have been shocked to read the most recent numbers.
So just to make things really simple:
The richest one percent in America own about half of everything.
The top fifth own 80% of the country.
The richest 13,000 families have as much income as the poorest 20 million.
If that's not obscene, nothing is.
A few links:
Lithuanian author Valdas Anelauskas on "The Land of Misery and Plutocracy" - very clear and very articulate critique of the relation between inequality and social injustice:

To begin with, the colossal level of social inequality in America today makes a mockery of the democratic ideals that this country claims to represent. More than 200 years ago those who founded the United States of America proclaimed solemnly that "All men are created equal..." This stirring phrase has become all but meaningless in modern-day America. Today children are born here into society that is profoundly unequal. ...

In 1976, the richest one percent of Americans owned 19 percent

the material wealth in the United States. By the last of the surveyed years, 1992, the richest one percent of American households (net worth $2.3 million or more) held fully 42% of the wealth in this country. Top 20 percent (net worth $180,000 or more) own 80% of the nation's wealth.

Writing in the Summer 1995 edition of The American Prospect, economist Edward N. Wolff stated that according to data gathered in federal surveys, the wealthiest 20 percent in the U.S. population received 99 percent of the total gains in the economy between 1983 and 1989. During that same period, the richest one percent picked up 62 percent of the new wealth that was created. During the next three years, from 1989 to 1992, they did even better, taking 68 percent of the total.

http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/1120/america5.html

http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/1120/america2.html
full article

http://pnews.org/art/4art/DISparity.shtml
another article by Anelauskas

http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/inequal/indexinq.htm

global policy forum on ineq. of wealth and income – doc list

Some comments from former Republican operative Kevin Phillips:

http://enthusiasm.cozy.org/archives/2002/06/wealth-democracy/

PBU16

A chart....

As a post-script to the income gap post, here's a chart - hey, if you talk about economics, ya' gotta' have at least one chart! So here's my chart. It's pretty revealing... check out the entire site, full of such data!

The following chart shows the effectiveness of a progressive tax system. When the top rates were truly high from 1950 to 1978, American income at all levels grew at about the same pace. But when progressivity was lost in the 80s, the income of the poor began falling, while that of the rich continued growing.

Income Growth by Quintile2

Quintile       1950-1978     1979-1993
Lowest 20% 138% -15%
2nd 20% 98 -7
3rd 20% 106 -3
4th 20% 111 5
Highest 20% 99 18
-from Steve Kangas
Link

The Rich get - obscene!

Our country, and perhaps the entire world, is about to fall into a huge chasm, the consequences of which are likely to be worldwide economic collapse, worker revolution, and social chaos of a magnitude not experienced since the middle ages.

I just paid my income taxes last week. I'm not opposed to taxes, I know it's how things get done, and I'm a big supporter of working for the common good. But there are some issues. The biggest one is how my money gets spent, and I'm not happy about it being used to bomb Iraq and further browbeat them and other countries into following US directions. Another is the fairness of the whole tax project.

Arguments abound on this issue, as a simple Google of “income gap” will reveal, and the facts even are sometimes contested. But the recent data, based on the Census Bureau's 2004 report, are pretty clear: the rich ARE getting richer, and the rest of us are getting poorer. For the decade of the 90's, that top 20 percent increased their earnings by 15 percent, while the poorest 20 percent increased by under 1 percent, according to a Congressional Budget Office study. The top 1 percent – less than 300,000 people – have more income than the lowest 32 percent – about 100 million people. Top executives earn aproximately 500 times as much as the ordinary average worker.

The following numbers are from an AP story on the Bureau's report:

Assuming that the top 20 percent of households represented in the census is a fair definition of “the rich,” their share of the pie went up 6 percent from 1973 to 2002 – up to 50 percent. That's right, the top 20 get half the pie. Everybody else's share went down. The bottom 20 percent dropped from 4.2 percent to 3.5 percent.

In a 2002 article from the NY Times, Economist Paul Krugman looks at families: These days 1 percent of families receive about 16 percent of total pretax income, and have about 14 percent of after-tax income. That share has roughly doubled over the past 30 years, and is now about as large as the share of the bottom 40 percent of the population. That's a big shift of income to the top; as a matter of pure arithmetic, it must mean that the incomes of less well off families grew considerably more slowly than average income. And they did. Adjusting for inflation, average family income -- total income divided by the number of families -- grew 28 percent from 1979 to 1997. But median family income -- the income of a family in the middle of the distribution, a better indicator of how typical American families are doing -- grew only 10 percent. And the incomes of the bottom fifth of families actually fell slightly.

Michael Parenti has put these numbers into graphic form that help to see the gap visually: if children's play blocks represented $1000 each, over 98 percent of us would have incomes represented by piles of blocks a few yards tall at most, while that top one percent would stack their blocks many times higher than the Eiffel Tower. For another, very interesting graphic representation of the gap, visit the “L-curve” site .

Now, admittedly it's probably a bigger pie each year, and so that bottom 20 percent may still be better off than they were in 1973, but is it fair? Is it healthy for society? Is it healthy for the world? The fact that there are more people living in poverty each year, and according to the 2002 Census, a higher proportion of the population living in poverty, suggests that this trend is harmful.

Consider this from Krugman: "The concentration of income at the top is a key reason that the United States, for all its economic achievements, has more poverty and lower life expectancy than any other major advanced nation. Above all, the growing concentration of wealth has reshaped our political system: it is at the root both of a general shift to the right and of an extreme polarization of our politics."

Or this from Steve Kangas' huppi site: over the 80s, as the pie has grown, 70 percent of the extra growth has gone to the top one percent, with the rest going to the next 5 percent or so. The middle class share has simply stayed the same size.15 This means that the average American worker is working harder, producing more, and creating overall growth, but is not seeing any of the rewards. And this largely explains why middle class anxiety, voter anger and economic uncertainty are gripping the nation today.

This info comes from the site “Empty is Form:”

According to the most recent census figures covering the period of 2000-2003:

  • 1.3 million more Americans live in poverty

  • Low income households experienced a 6% decline in income

  • The income gap between rich and poor increased by over 5%

And, suprise surprise, the Bush tax cuts are going to make things worse. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, “even the Senate bill, when fully in place, would give $57.6 billion a year, or 35 percent of the bill's total tax benefits, to the top 1 percent of taxpayers (who make $373,000 or more)...The bill's benefits for the wealthy - averaging $44,293 a year for the top 1 percent - are proportionately a bit more than their share of the tax burden, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington think tank.

Actually, it's probably worse than most of these numbers show, because the Census Bureau numbers don't include the super-rich – they say it's because their computers won't handle income numbers bigger than one million. Some of the studies done by other groups, which are usually dismissed as “income redistributors,” are actually probably more accurate. And... this is all just talking about income. When we look at wealth, the gap is even greater.

The bottom 90% - the rest of us – own much less than the top one percent. Kangas again: "According to the Federal Reserve, in 1990 the richest 1 percent of America owned 40 percent of its wealth -- the greatest level of inequality among all rich nations, and the worst in U.S. history since the Roaring Twenties. Furthermore, the richest 20 percent owned 80 percent of America -- meaning, of course, that the bottom four-fifths of all Americans owned only one fifth of its wealth." (See the link for extensive data and charts.)

Now perhaps this doesn't really matter. Perhaps, as the “trickle down” true believers would have it, this stimulates growth and motivates people to work harder and be more productive and floats everybody's boat a bit higher. Perhaps, as the Bill Buckley crowd back in the day and the neo-con crowd today claim, these people are rich because they are superior and hard-working and they, by God, deserve to be rich, while the rest of us are just muddling along and get exactly what we deserve too. That, by God, may be true. But what I surely know is not true is that this situation is good for the country in the long run. Maybe it's not immoral for these people to be filthy rich, even if they are impoverishing the lives of other Americans whom they could be lifting up, but it is certainly immoral for them to do what they do with all that money. Because the worst thing about this income gap, the worst thing about the obscene level of wealth being accumulated by these wealthy people is that all that money allows them to live in such obscene extravagance, buying such things as vast useless houses, yachts with gold-plated screws (so they don't corrode, you see), fleets of huge inefficient jets/ SUVs /luxury vehicles, and on and on.

As the Christian Science Monitor reports, “The income gap is showing up in booming sales of luxury items. Porsche Cars North America Inc. says sales are up 17 percent for the year. Strong sales at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue overshadow lackluster sales at stores such as Wal-Mart, Sears and Payless Shoes.”

This profligiate consumption inspires and justifies the masses in their pursuit of similar, but bargain-priced, inanities, and the great American juggernaut of consumption gluts on and on, sucking up the world's resources, draining the rest of the world of everything, impoverishing the world by our extravagance.

In addition, this extravagance and its emulation by the rest of the population powers the ongoing destruction of the basis of life itself, disrupting ecological and meterological processes with its heat and molecular pollution, fouling the air, drinking water, even the ocean itself with its chemical and nuclear offal.

The lifestyles of the rich and famous are imminently unsustainable. Economically and biologically.

For a list of articles to broaden your understanding of this issue, visit Common Dreams archives at <http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/inequal/indexinqarch.htm

And then there's the world income gap! Guess that's another post... but just for a single example: Top 1% Earn As Much As the Poorest 57% (January 18, 2002)
“A report by senior World Bank economist Branko Milanovic shows a substantial increase in global inequality. According to the report, four fifths of the world's population now live below the poverty line.” (Guardian)

David McNally's book Another World is Possible shows that this trend is accelerating worldwide:

Growth to Per Capita Income, 1960-80 and 1980-2000:

Latin America (1960-80): +73%; (1980-2000): +7%
Africa (1960-1980): +34%; (1980-2000): -23%

Put baldly, globalization has been nothing less than a 'mechanism for a massive transfer of wealth from poor to rich' ---in other words, exactly what it was designed to be.

And this, as the Zapatistas well know, gives us an important clue to one of the dirty secrets of the neoliberal agenda: that it rests on repression and violence. Indeed, without the use of police and troops, the globalization agenda could scarcely get off the ground.

For more on this and excerpts from the excellent McNally book, see Typepad.

The American project expanded to the globe is having the same effect there that it has in our country. The implications for the world are not good.

We are driving at breakneck speed in a blinding rain and the edge of the Great Rift Valley is just ahead. Will we wake up?

PBU16

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Must-read article

No time to blog, but this is so hot I have to post at least a link... the central issue for all of us should be getting out a clear progressive message. This article from In These Times (a great magazine, right up there with The Nation!) is as clear an analysis of the problem, complete with downloadable charts, as I've seen. It also has a very good summary of what we need to do.

I found the article by accident on "Seeing the Forest" which is an interesting blog, and has its own great article on the subject also: "Folding Narrow Interests into an Overall Progressive Context:"
"So Progressive organizations would do better to combine their efforts into a single, unified voice, reaching out to ALL of America, explaining why Progressive values of democracy and community and sustainability are superior values -- and explaining to people how Progressive values and ideas benefit them more than selfish right-wing values."

I would love to have comments on what people think about the question I raised in my comment on this article: do we continue to support the Dems, or do we go with a third party? That's the issue that keeps popping up for me, so I'm wondering what others think...
Link

Friday, April 01, 2005

Terry Schiavo, abortion, and Iraq

Juan Cole's blog, Informed Consent, is essential reading for progressives. I have relied on him for some time for perspective and information on the Iraq occupation, but his latest entry, 4/01/05, is political analysis at its most astute. He is able to show in a few words the bankrupt philosophy behind the right wing resurgence as nothing more than patriarchy and machismo.

The right-wingers basic male supremecy is shown in the Terry Schiavo case, the anti-abortion argument, and the attack on Iraq. Read Juan's insightful comments.

On another issue, the current plague of attacks on liberal professors, Juan contributes this info on the proposed Fla. law, and this on the proposed action at SUNY.

My friend Steve sent me this report on the Florida situation:

Capitol bill aims to control leftist profs
By JAMES VANLANDINGHAM
Alligator Staff Writer (Gainesville, FL)
Wednesday, March 23, 2005 2:00 am

TALLAHASSEE * Republicans on the House Choice and
Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday
to pass a bill that aims to stamp out *leftist
totalitarianism* by *dictator professors* in the
classrooms of Florida*s universities.

The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep.
Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite
strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on
the committee.

The bill has two more committees to pass before it can
be considered by the full House.

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a
university education should be more than *one biased
view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the
classroom,* as part of *a misuse of their platform to
indoctrinate the next generation with their own
views.*

The bill sets a statewide standard that students
cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which
their professors disagree. Professors would also be
advised to teach alternative *serious academic
theories* that may disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill,
the law would give students who think their beliefs
are not being respected legal standing to sue
professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them
out for *public ridicule* - for instance, when
professors use the Socratic method to force students
to explain their theories in class - would also be
given the right to sue.

*Some professors say, *Evolution is a fact. I don*t
want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist
theory), and if you don*t like it, there*s the door,**
Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a
student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits
from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses
who believe the Holocaust never happened.

Similar suits could be filed by students who don*t
believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe
teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands
medical students who refuse to perform blood
transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to
heal the body, Gelber added.

*This is a horrible step,* he said. *Universities will
have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided
by judges in courtrooms. Professors might have to pay
court costs - even if they win - from their own
pockets. This is not an innocent piece of
legislation.*

The staff analysis also warned the bill may shift
responsibility for determining whether a student*s
freedom has been infringed from the faculty to the
courts.

But Baxley brushed off Gelber*s concerns. *Freedom is
a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things
you don*t want to hear,* he said. *Being a
businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything.
Besides, if students are being persecuted and
ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they should be
given standing to sue.*

During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition
to his bill as *leftists* struggling against
*mainstream society.*

*The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for
students and faculty,* he said, adding that he was
called a McCarthyist.

Baxley later said he had a list of students who were
discriminated against by professors, but refused to
reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted.

Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, argued universities
and the state Board of Governors already have policies
in place to protect academic freedom. Moreover, a
state law outlining how professors are supposed to
teach would encroach on the board*s authority to
manage state schools.

*The big hand of state government is going into the
universities telling them how to teach,* she said.
*This bill is the antithesis of academic freedom.*

But Baxley compared the state*s universities to
children, saying the legislature should not give them
money without providing *guidance* to their behavior.

*Professors are accountable for what they say or do,*
he said. *They*re accountable to the rest of us in
society * All of a sudden the faculty think they can
do what they want and shut us out. Why is it so
unheard of to say the professor shouldn*t be a
dictator and control that room as their totalitarian
niche?*

In an interview before the meeting, Baxley said
*arrogant, elitist academics are swarming* to oppose
the bill, and media reports misrepresented his
intentions.

*I expect to be out there on my own pretty far,* he
said. *I don*t expect to be part of a team.*

House Bill H-837 can be viewed online at
www.flsenate.gov.
And there are two highly interesting articles in The Nation, an editorial and a report on what's happening at Columbia.

The right-wing onslaught against liberal society is beyond all belief. I'm ready to pack my bags.

At least I'm keeping my eyes open and glancing over my shoulder frequently. What was it Orwell said about his vision of the future?.... a boot smashing a human face...
Link