Wednesday, November 23, 2005
WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PARENTS AMERICA?
I volunteered to work Thanksgiving day. It is hard to look at what has happened to the America my Dad and uncles fought so hard to build and feel thankful. Sad and angry, yes. Thankful, NO!
Tom Brokaw called them THE GREATEST GENERATION. If you look at what my parents generation accomplished, it is truly amazing. Besides saving the world from Fascism, they ended Jim Crow in the south, guaranteed voter rights for blacks, and desegregated schools. THE GREAT SOCIETY tackled pervasive poverty, especially in the rural south and Appalachia. And there was that little thing about putting a man on the moon. And just to prove they still had it, they went out and won the Cold War. By the time they started retiring around 1980, poverty was at an all time low, the gap between the wealthy and the working class was at an historic low, and American's were enjoying a standard of living unseen in history. Most Americans had affordable health insurance, and union negotiated retirement plans allowed them to retire in comfort.
So what has happened in the intervening 25 years? In 1980, less than 11% of Americans lived below the poverty line. Today, over 18% live in poverty. Millions of Americans who have worked their entire adult life expecting a decent retirement are about to find that their companies were allowed to underfund their pensions, and that retirement is about to go up in smoke. According to the Dept. of Health and Human Services, 38 million Americans live unsure where their next meal is coming from. 40 million Americans are without health insurance, and an equal number are under insured. The wealthiest 1% of Americans control more of the nations wealth than the bottom 90%. The average CEO makes 500 times what his average hourly employee makes. Not even the Robber Baron's controlled so much of the nations wealth. As billionaire Warren Buffet put it, "we're engaged in a class war, and my side is winning".
In the last 25 years, neo conservatives have managed to reverse most of the economic gains the greatest generation made in 50 years. How did this happen? Call it Madison Avenue's greatest accomplishment! A concerted effort to purchase influence, combined with a strategy of dividing the opposition, has allowed this small number of men to accumulate vast amounts of power and unimaginable wealth. They have accomplished much of this through the politics of divide and conquer.
In one of my many incarnations as a student a few years back, I was one of sixty some students in a sociology course. The professor asked us this question. Which minority group has benefited most from affirmative action? a) Black men; b) Black women; c) White women; d) Hispanic men; e) Hispanic women. And conversely, what group has been most adversely affected by affirmative action?
All but a handful of students agreed that Black men had benefitted most, while white males were most adversely affected. But in reality, it was White women who by far benefitted most from affirmative action. And in fact, Black males were most adversely affected (due to the fact that if an employer hired a black woman, he effectively got credit for hiring two minorities, leaving Black men SOL). Even though there was no remote basis in fact for the belief, a vast majority of these students, even the Black students, were convinced that Black males had benefitted to the detriment of White males. This is how the politics of divide and conquer works. Play to the irrational fears of your opponents, in this case race. And conservative politicians did it brilliantly. Remember Ronald Reagan and the story of the welfare queen in Detroit who had thirteen illegitimate children and drove a Cadillac El Dorado? He repeated this story all over the country, even though there wasn't an ounce of truth to it! But, he repeated it so often and so convincingly that people believed it to be true. Conservative politicians and commentators managed to convince white male workers that somehow THEY were the victims of discrimination! Now it would seem obvious that White workers would have more in common with Black workers than with the wealthy elite. Yet White male workers, and in particular unionized White male workers, crossed over by the thousands and voted Republican. In large enough numbers that the Republicans were able to wrest the South and some key Northern constituencies from the Democrats, and win the Whitehouse. And how did Reagan and the Republicans repay the so called Reagan Democrats? By immediately pushing legislation to effectively hamstring the very unions responsible for all the gains workers made in the previous half century. One only need look at health benefits and pensions to realize how effective they were!
So I am working Thanksgiving Day. Quite frankly, it is impossible be thankful while watching all the monetary, health, and welfare benefits my Dad and uncles fought so hard for carelessly discarded. To watch as corporations blatantly hire illegal aliens in order to hold down wages, then move those same jobs out of the country to take benefit of even lower wages and to avoid those pesky environmental laws. Reaping record profits while working folks paychecks continue to shrink. Yeah, might as well try to stave off homelessness and take the extra hours!
Coming soon... THE BEST POLITICIANS MONEY CAN BUY and THAT GIANT SUCKING SOUND!
Now cooking at THE CHURCH POTLUCK: MEATLOAF (Heavenly Midwestern Comfort Food)
I was born in 1964 so that puts me on the very cusp of baby boomer and x-gen, placing me in a unique spot to observe this crash of ideas.
America is losing the focus of what the country is made of...people. We can not keep discarding humanity for materal goods. If the wealthy/powerful keep discarding humans like paper cups they will have to eventually chop their own wood and cary their own water.
I hope the consumer will tone spending down this holiday with 30,000 GM workers awaiting the gauntlet. It is a sign of the times, we need to unite in our goals as a people and show the big boys who really carries the load around here. Remember Exxon does not pay one penny in taxes, everyone who uses their product does a few pennys at a time, and pennys add up fast.
I have observed in my lifetime there is only one race of colored people, GREEN the rest of us are simply not green.
MM - I love Bobby Bare. But I am always amazed that people take this song seriously, I always thought it was tongue and cheek. I am glad to find I am not the only one!
I think we all need to rent NETWORK, and and take up the montra "We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore!
The Washington monument is 555 feet tall. Say it signifies the 2003 average compensation for CEOs in the Fortune 500. The average worker salary would be only 16 inches tall, representing a ratio of 419 to one. In 1965, the worker's monument was 13 feet six inches tall, representing a ratio of 41 to 1.
GWB, my 13 yr old son and I were discussing this issue the other day and HE mentioned Network too. It amazed me that, at his age, he grasped the concepts of the movie and applied them to today's society. I didn't even know that he had watched this movie.
Our HOPE is with our YOUTH!
tshsmom - I hope so, because our generation has dropped the ball horribly.
I thought that it was a pretty good way to get one's head around the figures (as most people can imagine the size difference etc..)
The figure was from 'Economic Apartheid in America' by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman on CommonDreams.org