Friday, June 22, 2007

We're All Fucked

A friend of mine who reads my blog pretty regularly recently sent me an email listing several general topics/observations that she would like for me to write about. Her list included things like the recent minimum wage bill, the high interest rates and penalties on credit cards and loans, the lack of jobs, the fact that she and so many other people everywhere you look are just barely struggling to get by, and the debate on immigration and its effect on the economy. I was thinking about how to narrow down the issues that she was pointing out into something specific--a specific economic or policy trend, specific bills--and considered writing about the current debate, such that it may be, on a specific issue--immigration, the economy, trade, healthcare. But I couldn't figure out exactly where to start, not because I can't think of at least 15 specific issues off the top of my head all very much related to one or more of the things in her emai, but because there are so many reasons why she and I, as well as countless other Americans who have somewhat decent jobs, work very hard and get to spend very little are just scraping by. And we're the fortunate ones who don't work in slightly more than minimum wage jobs with no benefits. So, I finally concluded, as the title of my post says, that, to put it simply and effectively, we're all just fucked.

There really is no other way to start addressing the economic woes and catastophes that are effecting most Americans these days, plights that the mainstream media rarely addresses at all and never in a coherent, connected and in-depth manner. As a matter of fact, if you watch TV and look around at the endless images of wealth and rampant consumerism on display everywhere and even if you watch the news and read the front pages and business sections of just about any newspaper you will get the impression that ours is a strong, healthy economy and that most Americans are doing just fine and are happy. A little overworked and stressed out with the pace of modern life maybe, but happy, healthy, and sane nevertheless.

The occasional economic or social problem potentially facing the average American is presented by the media and the corporate and political elites as little more than an unfortunate side effect of an overall healthy system. This is a lie. Whether a conscious one of the part of particular journalists who know what is happening but won't write about it or an unconscious one because these journalists know on some level that they couldn't get their story published or aired in most mainstream news outlets even if they did. The assertion or assumption that there is nothing seriously wrong with the structure of our economy and our society is a lie that is spoonfed to Americans in the purposefully skewed debates and news stories and in the morass of issues left unexplored. Of course, there are exceptions but they are few enough to go unnoticed. Meanwhile the devastating facts and the realities pile up while the happy lie continues to get printed and spewed out of the mouths of TV pundits as a result of the editorial or managerial processes and decisions that utlimately determine what gets reported, in what outlets and by whom in the increasingly consolidated American corporate media.

The lie is so insistently and so repeatedly told that if the average person didn't hear the same familiar refrain from friends, family, and acquaintances of endless debt, inadequate pay, and the ever rising cost of living, he or she would believe that the particular circumstances in his or her life sufficiently account for the economic problems of his or her situation. This person would thus believe without question that his or her circumstances are the result of a few years of consistent and unrelenting bad luck, some kind of crisis, a pathological habit of making bad choices or some combination thereof. And if, in an attempt to understand what's going on, this person could not find a satisfactory explanation among these reasons and justifications, he or she would make up reasons and explanations if only for the simple, human psychological imperative of needing a reason why, needing to understand and just needing a fucking explanation. In most cases, this too would be a lie. But this person would succeed in convincing him or herself that this is just the way things are and have always been and that nothing ever changes. This too is a lie and so on it goes.

Behind all the lies, however, the facts and realities keep piling up and if you stop listening to and repeating the lie, these facts can start to help you understand what's really going on. The gap between what we see on TV, on the news, and in the constant bombardment of corporate propoganda desguised as advertising and what we here from elites in the business community and their paid for political hacks in the government on the one hand, and the facts, statistics, and realities that we and those around us experience daily on the other, is where we can start to understand the real explanation, the real reasons why we're all fucked. What follows is a long list of statistics and pesky facts, offered with little or no comment becuase for most of us it only confirms what we already know through experience:

  • figures show that from 2003 to 2004, the latest year for which there is data, the richest Americans pulled far ahead of everyone else. In the space of that one year, real average income for the top 1 percent of households - those making more than $315,000 in 2004 - grew by nearly 17 percent. For the remaining 99 percent, the average gain was less than 3 percent

  • In all, the top 1 percent of households enjoyed 36 percent of all income gains in 2004, on top of an already stunning 30 percent in 2003.

  • In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, the top 1 percent of households owned 57.5 percent of corporate wealth, generally dividends and capital gains, up from 53.4 percent a year earlier.

  • [as of 2004] The top 10 percent of households had 46 percent of the nation's income, their biggest share in all but two of the last 70 years.

  • [as of 2004] The top 1 percent held a bigger share of total income than at any time since 1929, except for 1999 and 2000 during the tech stock bubble.

  • for most American households - the bottom 60 percent - average income grew by less than 20 percent from 1979 to 2004, with virtually all of those gains occurring from the mid- to late 1990's. Before and since, real incomes for that group have basically flatlined.

  • the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans accounted for 33.4 percent of total net worth in 2004, compared to 30.1 percent in 1989. Over the same period, the other Americans in the top 10 percent saw their share of the nation's net worth basically stagnate, at about 36 percent

  • the bottom 50 percent accounted for just 2.5 percent of the wealth in 2004, compared to 3.0 percent in 1989.

  • In 2006, the average tax cut for households with incomes of more than $1 million - the top two-tenths of 1 percent - is $112,000 which works out to a boost of 5.7 percent in after tax income

  • [the average tax cut for ] the middle fifth of households [was a] 2.5 percent increase [and that] of the poorest fifth of households [was a] 0.3 percent gain.

  • Earlier this year, President Bush signed into law a measure that will cut $39 billion over the next five years from domestic programs like Medicaid and food stamps, and $99.3 billion from 2006 to 2015.

  • the Bush administration's own Economic Report of the President in 2006 shows that average annual earnings of college graduates fell by 5 percent from 2000 to 2004. In those four years, the difference between the average yearly pay of a college graduate and a high school graduate shrank from 93 percent to 80 percent.
All of the statistics above were reported in a single artilce,"The Rise of the Super-Rich" by Teresa Tritch. However, they come from various sources ranging from studies and research done by academics and economists, private companies, and the federal government. There are many more sources from which I can draw and that I will use to write about the issues evident in this post, as well as the specific issues mentioned at the beginning of the post. There is so much more to discuss as to the how and the why we're all fucked. But just to provide a basis for further discussion, no matter how you slice it in terms of the rich/poor/in between, richer/poorer, richest/poorest, the evidence is clear that the everyone below the very top of the economic strata in our society is sinking more and more to the bottom every day. This is not accident and it doesn't have to be this way, and anyone who tells you otherwise it lying.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Survivor Nation

Personally, I hate most reality TV. There have been a few shows that aren't as bad as most, but overall reality TV just sucks! I fear, however, that the worst part of this phenomenon might not be having to watch the shallow twits who actually appear in these shows make the characters in the movie Heathers look like Ghandi, but that reality TV is further eliminating Americans' ability to tell the difference between reality, things that are scripted to mimic (or distort) reality, and pure fiction. This has gotten so bad that one of our Supreme Court justices has recently used a character from a fictional TV drama (not even a TV "reality" show, just a TV drama) as the basis for a heated arguement in defense of his position on torture. I realize that our Founding Fathers did not have access to the wonderful and enlightening vision that is modern television when they took a firm stance against torture, but somehow, limited as their insight was in the pre-Apprentice/Bachelorette/Bridezilla days, I still trust them more on a question of such philosophical and moral importance than I do the creaters of 24. Call me crazy, but there it is.

If It Isn't Broke, Leave It the Fuck Alone

Bush has nothing but contempt for the system of government that has served this country well since it was founded. He has absolutley no respect for or understanding of the concept of separation of powers. Bush "has used signing statements to rewrite some 1100 laws enacted by Congress, which is more than all other presidents in our nation’s history–combined." He likes to terrorize the American people and insist that national security interests trump quaint concepts such as the separation of powers, but his usurpation of powers not granted him by the constitution and his dismantling of our system of government is not limited specifically to national security. Didn't he make a remark once, something about things being easier if this were a dictatorship.

Filed Under: Why Bother?

Remember those military personnel, over 50 of them, who spoke fluent Arabic but were nevertheless kicked out of the military in recent years becuase they were gay. Couldn't we have let some of them help out at the Bagdahd Embassy where there are only 10 out 200 Foreign Service Officers, including the Ambassador, who are fluent in Arabic? Oh hell, what's does it really matter how many Arabic speakers we have working for us while we're occupying a couple of countries in the Middle East. After all, here in America we twice elected a president who can barely even speak English.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I'm not your average, traditional, macho everyman, I just play one on TV

A good way to understand the real nature of the Republican party these days is to pay attention to the things they unite against, like anything that might redistribute wealth from the spoiled CEO class to the blue collar types. This way it's harder to be taken in by their silly, macho, moralistic, "I really do represent the values of the average American because I'm not an effeminate, elitist like those lefties" poses that they stike in front of TV cameras. Their need to have this hollow image branded into their party's identity explains their love for actors turned politcians, Regan, the Terminator, and the latest dipshit Fred Thompson.

Women Should be Able to Make Choices Because They too Have a Conscience

So, apparently the idea of women's rights and the idea that women are human beings and thus are equal to men shares an interesting history with the concept, beleaguered as of late, of the Separation of Church and State. Via Talk to Action:

In 1636, when Roger Williams founded Providence Plantations (now Rhode Island) he created the first purely civil state formed by social contract. It granted religious liberty to every inhabitant, guaranteed that no one "should be molested for his conscience," and ascribed power to the magistrate "only in civil things."

The first case to test Williams' new principle of civil government came in the spring of 1638 when Joshua Verin was disenfranchised at a town meeting "for restraining of liberty of conscience." Williams and others had organized the first Baptist church in America. Attendance at its services was entirely voluntary. Joshua Verin didn't care to attend the settlement's church services. His wife did. She exercised her liberty to attend a preaching service without his permission and, according to town records, "He hath trodden her underfoot tyrannically and brutally . . . with his furious blows she went in danger of her life...."

William Arnold, one of Verin's defenders, is reported to have said "when he consented to that order [liberty of conscience] he never intended that it should extend to the breach of any ordinance of God, such as the subjection of wives to their husbands."

That last bit sounds a lot like something you might hear coming from some leaders of the Religious Right these day. Coincidence?

Quote of the Day~"we reject as a candidate for Chief Executive and Commander in Chief and hell, Big Chief Fucklebunnies..."

Via one of my favorite sites in all of blogtopia, Whiskey Fire, on why it does matter at this point in the game whether the people who hold public office understand and acknowledge what a huge fucking mistake Iraq was from the beginning, not just that it's fucked up now :

The constant between the original decision to invade and the question of what to do now is named GEORGE W FUCKING BUSH....Even at this late date in his miserable presidency, he calls the shots with respect to Iraq....What the fuck do "we" do "now"? For openers, we reject as a candidate for Chief Executive and Commander in Chief and hell, Big Chief Fucklebunnies, anyone who doesn't have the stones or ovaries to say that this war was a goddamn stupid fucking idea and to fire and bury its planners, and to discredit its unrepentant enablers....What the fuck IS it with these people? Honest to Christ, the building is on fire and these dickheads are toasting cheese and debating the finer points of the Ontology of Getting out of the House v. the Ontology of Getting Charred to a Fucking Cinder.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

So, It's Not Because of Homosexuals, Feminists, or Separation of Church and State

Via The Grey Matter: The religious right is working to make America more secular:

In a paper in the American Sociological Review, Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer announced the startling fact that the percentage of Americans who said they had “no religious preference” had doubled in less than 10 years, rising from 7 percent to 14 percent of the population. This unexpected spike wasn’t the result of growing atheism, Hout and Fischer argued; rather, more Americans were distancing themselves from organized religion as “a symbolic statement” against the religious right.

Law and Order Republicans

I wonder how Republicans feel about those mandatory sentences (see today's first post) when it comes to one of their own, namely Giuliani's SC campaign chairman for charges related to cocaine.

Groundhog Year~1984

The Army is considering whether it will have to extend the combat tours of troops in Iraq if President Bush opts to maintain the recent buildup of forces through spring 2008....Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren testified Tuesday that.... the decision to extend tours from 12 to 15 months was made to ensure soldiers were guaranteed one year at home. Previously, soldiers deployed for 12-month cycles but were unsure when they would be sent back.

Americablog: Yes, we're going to extend their tours AGAIN so that they get more time at home. Kind of like saying, I have to work late tonight so I can spend more time with the kids. Here's a thought, why not just bring them home?

Quote of the Day~"it is often best to keep the lights off"

The above quote comes from a column in today's Washington Post by Richard Cohen. In his column at Salon, Glenn Greenwald demonsrates beautifully how the position that Cohen takes in his column, and more particularly, the mentality evident in the this sentence, so spectacularly "captur[es] the essence of our Beltway media."

Cohen is essentially lamenting the fate of Scooter Libby, the guy who more or less formed the basis of the my previous post. Greenwald spells out exactly what this quote means when he states that "when it comes to the behavior of our highest and most powerful government officials, our Beltway media preaches, 'it is often best to keep the lights off."' But the real quote of the day comes from Greenwald himself. The quote is rather long, but Greenwald outdoes himself in exposing the profound sense of victimzation that the powerful feel when they are called to account for their actions:

The Libby prosecution clearly was the dirty work of the leftist anti-war movement in this country, just as Cohen describes. After all, the reason Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate this matter was because a left-wing government agency (known as the "Central Intelligence Agency") filed a criminal referral with the Justice Department, as the MoveOn-sympathizer CIA officials were apparently unhappy about the public unmasking of one of their covert agents.

In response, Bush's left-wing anti-war Attorney General, John Ashcroft, judged the matter serious enough to recuse himself, leading Bush's left-wing anti-war Deputy Attorney General, James Comey, to conclude that a Special Prosecutor was needed. In turn, Comey appointed Fitzgerald, the left-wing anti-war Republican Prosecutor and Bush appointee, who secured a conviction of Libby, in response to which left-wing anti-war Bush appointee Judge Reggie Walton imposed Libby's sentence.

"Fist in the Air in the Land of Hypocrisy"

Sometimes I run across a story here and there, something that doesn't receive much attention because it isn't exactly groundbreaking news, but which, nevertheless, makes me stop and think a little differently about the stories that have recently been dominating the media landscape. Everyday there is a barrage of news and information that inevitably gets overlooked in the daily coverage of important events. I'm not trying to comment on the relative importance of certain stories and this is not a post about the media's obsession with the trivial and the absurd. This is more of a "that just figures" kind of rant. These snippets of recent news that I stumbled upon just seem to, coincidentally of course, put the major events of late into a crisper perspective if you will, and so I just wanted to share them.

Not too long ago "I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby - once Vice President Cheney's most trusted adviser - [was] sentenced to 30 months in jail for perjury. Lying. Not a white lie, mind you. A killer lie. Scooter Libby deliberately poured poison into the drinking water of democracy by lying to federal investigators, for the purpose of obstructing justice. "

Amidst the coverage in recent weeks of Libby's sentencing, the uproar among conservatives and a few pseudo-Democrats who "flooded the judge's chambers with letters of support for their comrade and took to the airwaves in a campaign to "free Scooter" and the endless calls from the same crowd for Bush to pardon him, there have been some less significant stories that have stuck out in my mind for some reason.

One such story was reported Sunday in the Boston Globe. According to the Globe, "The Bush administration is trying to roll back a Supreme Court decision by pushing legislation that would require prison time for nearly all criminals." It seems that the Supreme Court took issue with mandatory sentencing guidelines in the past, which has sparked a "debate, pitting prosecutors against jurists, [that] has been ongoing since a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that declared the government's two decades-old sentencing guidelines unconstitutional." Bush's Justice Department, currently under extensive investigation by Congress that potentially implicates important people in the White House, believes that "a growing number of lighter sentences [is possibly] proof that crime is rising because criminals are no longer cowed by strict penalties."

Despite the Justice Department's concern, many agree with the Supreme Court's decision and there has been "a larger debate about whether sentences for crack cocaine are unfairly harsh and racially discriminatory." According to "US District Judge Paul G. Cassell, chairman of the Criminal Law committee of the Judicial Conference, the judicial branch's policy-making body[,] 'the vast majority of the public would like the judges to make the individualized decisions needed to make these very difficult sentencing decisions."' He further argues that '"Judges are the ones who look the defendants in the eyes. They hear from the victims. They hear from the prosecutors."'

All of this started me thinking about the larger issue of justice in our society and so, when I ran across this article, "Twenty Things you Should Know About Corporate Crime" reported Saturday in Alternet, I was immediately interested. This article was full of interesting statistics that I was not aware of. For example, I had no idea that "the losses from a handful of major corporate frauds -- Tyco, Adelphia, Worldcom, Enron -- swamp the losses from all street robberies and burglaries combined." While the "FBI estimates, for example, that burglary and robbery -- street crimes -- costs the nation $3.8 billion a year" it seems that "Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year."

I was beginning to get excited about those mandatory sentencing guidelines but upon further reading I found out that "corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live." The article describes how corporations "have marinated Washington -- from the White House to the Congress to K Street -- with their largesse" and how "out [of] the other end come the laws they can live with."

Thinking about the seeming injustice of it all, I tried to comfort myself with the thought that corporations aren't like street thugs who go around with guns killing people. I mean, really, the loss of affordable medical coverage, a pension, investments or a livelihood is not likely to kill you and anything is better than being dead. But then I remembered that I had just previously read that "corporate crime is often violent crime" and that the "FBI estimates that, 16,000 Americans are murdered every year" as compared to "the 56,000 Americans who die every year on the job or from occupational diseases... and the tens of thousands of other Americans who fall victim to the silent violence of pollution, contaminated foods, hazardous consumer products, and hospital malpractice."

Monday, June 18, 2007

God, I'm Glad I Don't Live in New Jersey

According to the Bush Administration and its enablers we have to continue to fight a war in Iraq to protect ourselves from terrorism, a war that's costing, oh, somewhere around a trillion dollars with billions of that unaccountably being poured into the coffers of private contractors and war profiteering corporatons. Ok. Fine. But if protecting America from devastating terrorist attacks is importat enough that Bush the Decider decided we had to invade a country that didn't attack us, depose its dictator, and drain the treasury and the military then we must surely spare no expense at securing areas that are at high risk for a terrorist attack on American soil. In case, you know, a few terrorists somehow slip through the cracks in Iraq (or elsewhere in the world where there just might be terrorists) and actually make it, you know, "over here" to attack us. Personally, I am not so confident that all the terrorists in the world are and forever always will be in Iraq that I wouldn't take heed of the following:

less than two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11,...publicly released government documents disclosed the existence of more than 100 factories and other facilities where a successful attack would produce toxic clouds with the potential to severely sicken or kill at least a million people.

But apparently that's just me. Personally, I thing that when it comes to things that might actually keep us safe, spending money seems like a good idea. Bush and his Administration see things differently. They want to prevent congress and state legislatures from passing and enforcing laws that "require stringent anti-terror security measures at facilities storing poisonous materials such as chlorine and methyl mercaptan." So, taxpayers can pay for waste and excess in Iraq but when it comes to anti-terror regulations for chemical plants at home Bush suddenly has a problem with "tax increases and runaway spending." I feel so safe.