Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Immorality of Inequality (part 1)

The Ticking Time Bomb of Inequality
(excerpt from, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, by Paul J. Bern)

The purpose of this article is to alert you to the fact that the civil unrest and public protests and demonstrations throughout the Arab world, plus parts of Europe, that you have been made aware of through the Lame Stream Media since early this year have now arrived on our shores. This is a serious development for our country, because economic and political inequality are even worse here in the United States than in Egypt. Like Egypt, its next door neighbor Tunisia, plus Bahrain, Syria, Israel, Libya and most recently Greece, the lack of job opportunities plus extreme economic inequality due to a high concentration of wealth being in the hands of far too few people is turning the entire world into a powder keg. Like the Middle East, America too has become a ticking time bomb of inequality and lack of opportunity. 

Let me first say that I began my writing career two years ago not just to warn people, but to pull the fire alarm on your hearts and minds, to snap you out of your daydreams, to shake you awake from your slumber, to shock you out of your apathy, and to light a fire underneath your complacency. The rich, powerful, and politically well-connected, no less than the top 1% of the US economic pie, have taken over 99% of that pie, leaving the rest of us with the crumbs. And so I am here to alert you that a Second American Revolution, a peaceful revolution aspiring to non-violence, has already been launched. This 2nd American Revolution will remain peaceful so long as “we the people” are not attacked by law enforcement, the military, national guard troops or other abusive authoritarians.

The circumstances and situations that the middle and working classes in the US find themselves in today amount to a series of gross social injustices that demands a sharply focused and well-coordinated response from the entire populace, a rebuttal and decisive counterattack designed and intended to right, correct and re-balance US political and economic power back into the hands of the overwhelming majority of American citizens to whom it rightfully belongs. There can be no doubt that class warfare has been declared in the US, perpetrated by the wealthy against the middle and working classes, carried out and implemented by the top 1% as a strategic first strike against the remaining 99%. This has been done for the sole express purpose of eliminating from society the constitutional majority of working Americans, and it has been accomplished by the complete and merciless liquidation of middle and working class wealth due to the loss of our homes and retirement savings, the loss of our standards of living and relative prosperity due to loss of income, and even our health due to loss of health insurance. The end result has been the largest transfer of wealth in all of human history. I learned this through personal experience.

I was an IT professional by trade with well over 20 years experience before being sidelined due to a stroke and a couple of other medical issues in 2008. When I attempted to return to the job market in early 2010 I discovered that it was just not possible, partly because of the absolutely pathetic state of the US job market and partly because I was already in my fifties. And so I found myself forced into early retirement even though I wanted to return to work and be productive again. Next, I tried to go back to school and learn a new trade only to be told that I couldn't get a student loan because my credit score wasn't high enough. I found myself temporarily stuck as a result, unable to return to work and unable to retrain myself because of an artificial economic barrier that I could not surmount. I could probably return to the job market in a healthier economy, or get vocational retraining, if the system wasn't broken. Instead, I find myself depending on a government that I fear and mistrust for my sustenance.

There are tens of millions of formerly middle class people just like me all across the country who find themselves in circumstances similar to mine to varying degrees of severity. Many have not been as fortunate as me. They have lost jobs and even whole careers like I have, been forced out into the street due to the epidemic of foreclosures throughout the land, had their cars repossessed leaving them with no way to get to work assuming that they are lucky enough to still have jobs, and are hounded by collection agencies for debts great and small. They have no access to health care except to show up at the local emergency room with no way to pay the bill, putting them even deeper into debt than they already are. They have watched their pensions and their retirement savings evaporate due to market manipulations by unscrupulous “financial managers” who earn obscene bonuses whether they succeed or fail, and all at the expense of their clients. Either that or they have spent their savings during interminably lengthy periods of unemployment after their jobs were downsized or out-sourced overseas to the third world, never to return again. And their children, the ones lucky enough to be able to go to college, are graduating with crushing student loan debts that will take decades to repay if they can be repaid at all, depending on whether they can find suitable work or not. What good is a four-year degree if you wind up flipping hamburgers, stocking shelves, bagging groceries or digging ditches? 

Meanwhile, the best jobs, the best educations, and the best incomes are reserved for the wealthy and their families. The same goes for the best health care, the nicest cars and boats and even airplanes (why bother flying coach?), and the best retirement plans. All of this and more are systematically being procured by the top 1% economic bracket in the US at the expense of everybody else. It's always steak for them and beans for the rest of us, and that is a great social injustice if there ever was such a thing. And so revolution, a peaceful revolution and a civil rights movement of “WE THE PEOPLE” modeled after that of Rev. Dr. King, Jr., is now underway and gaining momentum, and I am asking each of you to do what you can to get involved in the retaking of our country from the elite 1%.

Social and economic inequality, the symptom of which is rampant class warfare, is a cancer growing within the body politic and social fabric of America. Spearheaded by visionaries such as Mahatma Ghandi in the 1940's and 1950's, Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950's and 1960's – and more recently beginning in the 1990's by the release of Nelson Mandela from incarceration in South Africa – race relations, equal economic opportunity and social parity have come a long way; of that there can be no doubt. But there is the remaining issue of social and economic inequality that has been festering just underneath the surface of the American political landscape, an enforced and entrenched inequality that flows through the bloodstream of the American middle and working classes like an invading disease. This social disease of inequality has penetrated the corporate body of middle America right down to the marrow, becoming so severe that the very existence of the US middle and working classes is now threatened. This same social and economic disease transcends race, and it ranges across nationalities, ethnic groups, and diverse cultures with no preference regarding age, gender, marital status, religion, social or economic status, sexual orientation or anything having to do with the background of the affected individual. The social disease of inequality is not at all peculiar to America, but rather it spans the entire globe and threatens to swallow up any and all chance at opportunity for all peoples, crushing the dreams and aspirations of untold billions. 

If people the world over – starting here in the US and later propagating abroad – don't begin to organize and fight back against the rich, powerful and politically well-connected oppressors who are holding us all down as they squeeze the life out of each of us, we will all find ourselves neutralized at best, and obliterated at worst, while an ever-increasing percentage of the nation's wealth becomes ever more concentrated into the hand of an elite select few, rendering the remainder of us powerless and penniless. As time goes on, the ticking time bomb of inequality is gradually but inexorably growing worse. As it does, the plight of the American middle and working classes, and especially that of the poor, gets progressively more desperate along with it.

What can we do to reverse our nation's disastrous course? Obviously, those of us like myself can continue to write about the class war and our battle for survival as we continue to tell the truth about what's happening to our beloved country and its workers. But a positive message starts with a clear statement of what we are for: A fair economy that works for everyone, not just the rich and powerful. An economy where everyone works and where full employment is more important than record profits. An economy that promotes democracy, not economic and political hostage taking. This is an economy that operates from the moral basis proposed by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, "The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

Based on Internal Revenue Service figures, if middle- and upper-middle-class families had maintained the same share of American productivity that they held in 1980, they would be making an average of $12,500 more per year. That bears repeating: $12,500 of your money every year to the richest 1 percent, and $600 more to pay your share of their tax cuts! Inequality in the U.S. doesn't get the attention it deserves. Many of us brush it off, thinking, "So the rich get richer – it's always been that way." Or we think: "I'm doing OK myself – and I want to be really rich someday, too." Since our economic system is based on individual freedom, most of us believe in the inalienable right to make unlimited amounts of money. The thought of taking back a greater share from innovative and industrious business leaders is (shudder) "socialism." But it's not that at all. Socialism is based on a collective economy similar to communism, and it depends on a large governmental bureaucracy in order to rule over the land and its people. In other words, socialism relies on big government, whereas I am advocating exactly the opposite. Furthermore, I am very much in favor of private ownership and free enterprise whereas socialism excludes both. Enough said.

Fortune magazine reported that the 500 largest U.S. companies cut a record 821,000 jobs in 2009 while their collective profits increased threefold to a record $391 billion. According to Forbes magazine, the top 20 private equity and hedge fund managers took an average of $657.5 million in 2006. The salaries of these 20 people could have paid for 25 police officers, 25 firefighters, and 50 teachers for every one of the 3,000 counties in the United States. Instead we see counties like Ashtabula in Ohio, which cut back its police force from 112 to 49, while a judge advises the residents to "get a gun" to defend themselves. Actually, people have already begun doing just that. As of this writing, there were 5 million handguns, rifles and shotguns sold in April 2012 alone. Millions more have already been purchased by patriotic Americans who love their country but despise their government. We’re in a class war. It’s the corporations and the very wealthiest against all the rest of us.
In 1962 the wealthiest 1 percent of American households had 125 times the wealth of the median household. Now it’s 190 times as much. From 1975 to 2010 median family income rose $42,936 to $49,777. That’s not quite 16 percent over 25 years, less than six-tenths of 1 percent per year. Then came the crashes of 2001 and 2008 and the recessions that followed. The crash hasn’t changed anything. Things have become worse. From 1990 to 2005, adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is down 9 percent while production workers’ pay is up only 4.3 percent over 15 years. At the same time, the rich get richer: Corporate profits are up 106.7 percent. The S&P 500 is still up 141.4 percent since 1990. CEO compensation is up 282 percent. Call it transfer of wealth. Or call it class warfare. If current trends continue, the United States by 2043 will have the same income inequality as Mexico. Countries with high levels of income inequality are third-world countries. When a country is, or becomes, a third-world country, the other thing people can do is run. To some place richer and freer. Like America. But when America becomes Mexico, where you gonna run to?

Beside loss of income and loss of residence, there are two additional ways that social and economic inequality are being enforced all across middle America. First, for those old enough to retire, their pensions are being systematically looted and/or confiscated by the top 1% tier of US wealth. Simply put, the elderly are superfluous to capitalism. With high rates of joblessness being the “new norm,” more and more people are being made disposable. This leads to an efficient if brutal logic: cutting old-age income and health care will make it easier to scrap old, useless workers. In fact, this reality is already coming to pass. I know all about this from personal experience, as I described earlier.

The final way that social and economic inequality is being maintained and enforced is by an insidious and masterful plan to rob the US middle and working classes of their ability to take care of themselves by taking away their health insurance, or vastly inflating the cost thereof, in the hopes that some of us will have to leave the workforce sooner due to disability, or worse yet to die sooner, consequently leading to a greater concentration of wealth at the top of the economic pyramid at the expense of everyone else. The number of uninsured is now in excess of 56 million as of mid-2012. There are now nearly as many uninsured non-elderly people as those receiving Medicaid or other public insurance such as Medicare and military/veterans coverage.

The gaps in our health care system affect people of all ages, races and ethnicities, and income levels; however, those with the lowest income face the greatest risk of being uninsured. Not having health insurance makes a difference in people’s access to needed medical care and their financial security. The barriers the uninsured face in getting the care that they need means they are less likely to receive preventive care, are more likely to be hospitalized for conditions that could have been prevented, and are more likely to die in the hospital than those with insurance. The financial impact can also be severe. Uninsured families already struggle financially to meet basic needs, and medical bills, even for minor problems, can quickly lead to medical debt.

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