Monday, March 26, 2007

Come the Rebellion

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said that "if there is no struggle, there is no progress." Those who profess freedom, yet fail to act - are "men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning, they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters... power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them."

What America needs is a broad bi-partisan movement for democracy. It's happened before: In 1800, with the Jeffersonian Democrats; in 1860, with Radical Republicans; in 1892, with the Populists; in 1912, with Bull Moose Progressives; in 1932, with the New Deal; in l964, with Civil Rights activists - each moment a breaking point after long, hard struggles, each with small beginnings in transcendent faith. – Bill Moyers - A Time For Anger, A Call To Action - a speech given on February 7, 2007 at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

As usual, Bill Moyers has it right. Those of us over a certain age can remember the way things were in forties and fifties. Comparing those days with these should make us all deeply sad and highly indignant. Here are a few examples of what's going on with the country today:



TONY PUGH, MCCLATCHY - The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen. A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year. The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period.

The State of Ohio has documented their plummeting fortunes in a paper you can access at I tried to copy some excerpts, but couldn't make the function work, but the basic picture is that during the 1940s that states job growth rate exceeded the national averages, but since then they have been unable to keep pace. A look at the national picture shows that while states like Ohio were falling behind the national averages, those averages have also been slipping so that people are effectively worse off all around the nation. For instance, here's an excerpt from a February 13, 2007 Congressional testimony by Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Instutute of Washington, D.C.:
• Our current approach to measuring poverty is far outdated and fails to provide an accurate count of the extent of need in America.

• Newer methods that correct many of the problems with the official measure show more people in poverty than the 37 million officially poor (12.6% of the population), including 13 million children. These methods should be adopted to replace the current, official measure.

• The fact that the current measure is adjusted only for price changes and not for income growth, in tandem with rising income inequality, has led to large and growing gaps between the officially poor and the rest of society. Even while today's poor have some goods that were out of reach of the poor in decades past, in relative terms, today's poor are increasingly left behind the mainstream.

• Efforts to gauge the true cost of meeting an adequate, basic living standard in today's economy yield income thresholds that are about twice that of the official poverty lines.

• Relative to prior years, a significantly larger share of poor children are living in families with working parents. The income constraints faced by these working parents underscore the need for increased work supports, including subsidies for wages, health care, child care, housing, and transportation.
His testimony contained this highly important line as well: ". . . to ignore the relative economic distance between the poor and everyone else is to ensure that they will remain outside the mainstream. "
The growing gap is our real problem. I heard the other day that 95% of our nation's wealth is held by less than 10% of our nation's people. Back in the 50s the average corporate CEO made about 30 times the income of the average worker in the corporation. Now it is more like 400 times as much. Those on the bottom have no expectation of bettering themselves, only of striving to keep from falling further behind.

The U.S. government has come close to Marie Antoinette's let them eat cake many times in the last twenty years from Ronald Reagan's famous assertions that "Ketchup is a vegetable" and "They aren't homeless, they're campers." James' McMurty captured the spirit of the BushCo attitude in his song, "We Can't Make It Here.":

"Let them eat jelly beans, let them eat cake, Let them eat shit if that's what it takes.
They can join the Air Force, they can join the Corps,If they can't make it here any more.

So that's how it is, that's what we've got, If the President wants to admit it or not,
You can read it in the papers, you can read it on the wall, You can read it in the wind, if you're listening at all."

When the powers-that-be brag about the growing economy, they aren't talking about the ability of the man on the street to take care of his family. They are talking about the ability of the nation's top CEOs to drag down a few million more a year.

My father was a dentist who practiced in northern Iowa from 1941 to 1976. His income in his highest earning year was $20,000. Our friend the carpenter who lived down the street made about $4,000 a year. He couldn't put his kids through college like my Dad did, but they never lacked for food or a roof over their heads. Today, the majority of people visiting our local soup kitchen on a regular basis are employed, but can't afford to feed their kids.

It's only a matter of time before the masses finally take Jefferson's advice and rebel against governmental policies designed to make corporate heads richer at the expense of everyone else. Why wait? Avoid the rush, start now!

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M.K. Gandhi

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