Sunday, March 9, 2014

This week's posting will be an updated version of my essay, "The Ticking Time Bomb of Inequality"

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

The civil unrest and public protests and demonstrations throughout the Arab world, plus parts of Europe and lately Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine, will soon be arriving on our shores. This is a serious development for our country because 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. America too has become a ticking time bomb of inequality and lack of opportunity.

When I began my writing career several years ago, I did so to pull the fire alarm on some hearts and minds, such as when one wakes a slumbering neighbor from an overnight house fire. I write to get people's attention, to alert people everywhere to a clear and present danger to our freedom, to shock the uncaring out of their apathy, and to light a fire underneath the complacency of the willfully ignorant. 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 and abroad 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 monthly 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 with flying business class?), not to mention 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 disseminate the awful 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 crashes haven’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 will you 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. Consequently there is a greater concentration of wealth at the top of the economic pyramid at the expense of everyone else, and the highest level of health care as a result. Compare that to the fact that the number of uninsured is 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.

Where will all of this inequality lead the American people, or at least the overwhelming majority of the population? What do you get when you add the lack of meaningful employment with the apparent inability for the US economy to create new jobs because they are all being out-sourced overseas? What do you get when you add the rapidly increasing phenomena of middle and working class homelessness with the organized theft of homes and cars due to foreclosure and repossession so they can be resold again and again? And what do you get when you add the economic elimination of retirement pensions and affordable health insurance? What happens when a formerly comfortable – even prosperous – segment of the US population is sent crashing downward into poverty, a poverty from which there is little chance of escape unless you win the lottery or some meaningless game show on TV?

Let me tell you exactly what will occur. As more and more people become disaffected and disenfranchised you will see increasing anger, unrest, and overall dissatisfaction until this ticking time bomb of inequality reaches a tipping point. Once this tipping point is reached – and it is almost there right now – you have the perfect recipe for civil unrest, rioting and demonstrating in the streets, wildcat strikes and consumer boycotts, the spontaneous blocking of major highways plus well-to-do subdivisions and wealthy neighborhoods, the burning of government buildings and police stations, the takeover of radio and television stations and the looting of grocery and big-box stores. Look at the current civil unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya and Palestine, and let's not forget about what happened in London and in Spain last summer [2011-PB] and what has happened in Greece. And let's be sure to include the twin civil wars in Syria and the Ukraine. Anyone who thinks that this kind of social and economic upheaval – this high degree of civil disobedience as a response to government repression – can't happen here in the USA simply hasn't been paying attention to current events.

Speaking as a minister of the Gospel, human equality is Scriptural. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.'” (2 Corinthians 8: verses 13-15 NIV)

If we are going to be successful in our people's revolution, we will have to do so in a peaceful and orderly way. I think the best way to accomplish this is to imitate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by employing his tactics of non-violent marches and protests. I would caution all of you to not be confrontational and to never carry weapons, because that is not my way, not is it God's. But more than just imitating King, who I regard as one of the mentors of my youth, I want to make the lack of jobs, affordable housing, vocational/professional retraining and affordable medical care into 21st century civil rights issues that will take up where Rev. Dr. King left off, reigniting the twin flames of human equality and full employment into the bonfire that this modern civil rights movement is destined to become. If he were alive today, Dr. King would observe an America increasingly divided into two distinct and unequal classes: the rich and powerful, and the rest of us. He'd see bankers prospering as foreclosures increase; insurance executives reaping profits as people die for lack of health care; and the military-industrial-prison complex advocating and perpetuating endless war (and enjoying the spoils) as the underclass fights, suffers, and pays the costs. Rev. Dr. King understood completely that the people must take charge if anything of importance needs to come to pass. He also understood that civil rights issues are really economic issues of enforced inequality. Today in America the working and middle classes are finding themselves relearning these lessons a generation after the King assassination.

Under no circumstances should we fear the inevitable end of the American empire or the demise of free market capitalism, but instead we should regard them as opportunities to build a better world for our kids and grandkids. There are too many people sitting around muttering and complaining about how bad things are, with much pessimism about the future. We need to stop saying to ourselves, “OMG, we're totally screwed”, and start looking around for ways to take charge of our own situation. The days of waiting around for the government to act are over and done with. It's time that “we the people” retook the reins of power from the rich, powerful and well-connected who stole them from us. After all, our Constitution says it is our country.

Some may ask if there are any legal implications to this. Can protesting against the system in a peaceful way get us/myself thrown into jail? Let me just say quite plainly that there is no law against lawful assembly, the organizing of workers and peaceful protest, all of which are rights guaranteed under the first amendment to the US Constitution. You have every right to take back your country and to reclaim your former position as a productive member of the middle and working classes provided that you refrain from engaging in acts of violence (excluding matters of self-defense) and especially vandalism. The US Constitution guarantees this freedom we all share. The truth of the matter is that things here in the US have deteriorated economically and politically to the point where concerned Americans from all walks of life have no choice but to begin protesting, demonstrating and marching for human equality beginning with a fifteen dollar per hour minimum wage, free lifetime health care and public education, ending the endless foreign wars that we can't afford, for ending homelessness, poverty and crime, and for full employment. But it is a sad reality today that we middle and working class Americans, in solidarity with the poor, have none of the above while every other developed country in the world already has all of the above. Well, if our government isn't doing one stinkin' thing to uphold those whom it governs, then we have a government that has no purpose for existence. And a government that has no useful purpose, or who has abused their authority by oppressing or attacking the citizens instead of governing as is currently the case, must be “altered or abolished” (according to the US Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson) by “we the people”.

We're not about to sit by like sheep meekly waiting for slaughter. We must find ways to hinder and obstruct the corporate state at every turn. Nothing will change unless “we the people” begin to organize radical acts of civil disobedience to disrupt our current political system, upping the ante until this massive flim-flam operation known as the US government is thoroughly exposed for the criminal enterprise that it has become. We, the people, must take back our government by peaceful revolution because it will never be given back voluntarily. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." – John F. Kennedy

Americans of all backgrounds and colors regardless of social, religious, marital or economic status have a right to be angry and dissatisfied about the current sorry state of US affairs both domestically and abroad. Therefore, it is our patriotic responsibility to do something about it, to force the system to change. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Instead of racial oppression as was the case a generation or more ago, the civil rights issues of today have to do with economic oppression that knows no racial boundaries. But because this is the case, untold multitudes of oppressed, besieged, disenfranchised, disillusioned and exasperated Americans will rise up together as if on cue against the incurably corrupt, basically unfair and irreparably polluted US government. The fundamentally flawed and inherently biased and discriminatory federal tax code must be replaced by any and all means necessary, even if it means calling for an income tax boycott or a general strike. The right to a livelihood and to earn a living wage, to better economic opportunities through free higher education, to low-cost universal health insurance and to home ownership, and to have a life free from hunger, homelessness, violence and crime, and the right to Internet access, are no longer privileges reserved for the most affluent neighborhoods and families, they are basic human rights that can be denied to no one. In fact the entire governmental system, especially at the federal level, has become so decrepit due to crushing debt from without and from deep-seated corruption from within that trying to get anything done within the existing system is a waste of the American people's time. So considerable civil disobedience, organized protesting, sit-ins and demonstrating, with a tasty touch of peaceful revolution conducted primarily on line and in the streets, is indeed our responsibility as patriotic Americans.

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