Mar 31, 2015

March 30, 2015: When Will the Greed End?, Telling and Troubling Statistics, A Place Called “Hooverville”


It has been nearly half a decade now since the “Lion of the Senate” fell silent.  Ted Kennedy, tribune of the people, could be relied upon to take the senate floor and thunder at the forces of avarice and gluttony.  Confronted with economic injustice he would bellow “When will the greed end”?  The answer, of course, is that it never ends; but it is the purpose of government–this government-- to reign in on it.(1)

To put things into perspective, Bill Moyers recently posted on his website “Moyers and Company” an essay written by Paul Buchheit  in November, 2014 entitled “Infuriating Facts About Our Disappearing Middle Class Wealth” revealing a number to telling and troubling statistics.

According to data from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, for instance:“Each Year Since the Recession, America’s Richest 1 percent Have Made More Than the Cost of All US Social Programs”.  The lowest estimate of the amount the top 1 percent raked in (2.3 trillion annually) “is more than the budget for Social Security (860 Billion), Medicare (524 Billion), Medicaid (304 Billion), and the entire Safety Net (286 Billion) for SNAP, WIC, [Women, Infants and Children], Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Housing”.  In fact the top 1% are raking in, at the lowest estimate 115% of the entire social services budget, and that’s the best face one can put on it.  At 5.7 Trillion Dollars annually, (the highest estimate by the study) the richest 1percent take home over two and a half times as much (285%).

Moreover, according to the article, almost none of this wealth led to technological innovations or jobs.  “Over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market and real estate. Business startup costs made up less than 1 percent of the investments of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. They come from the middle class.” (2)

“On the corporate side,” the report continues, “ stock buybacks are employed to enrich executives rather than to invest in new technologies. In 1981, major corporations were spending less than 3 percent of their combined net income on buybacks, but in recent years they’ve been spending up to 95 percent of their profits on buybacks and dividends.” (2)

In addition, as has been widely reported elsewhere, in the United States 47 wealthy individuals own more than 50% of the country’s population or about 60 million households with median wealth below “about $53,000.”

It is no wonder that the middle class now controls less wealth than at any time since the 1920's and is rapidly losing political power as the moneyed interests  take over the electoral process in the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision. It is increasingly possible for the ruling elite to force through widely unpopular initiatives because they can rely on vast sources of campaign financing as the ‘money’ buys the elections.  With reckless impunity the ruling elite, insulated from public fury by fat campaign chests and gerrymandered districts, are daily busy turning the screws; assaults on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Safety Net, or pushing through trade agreements that promise yet another savaging of the middle and lower classes. Increasingly nothing stands between the trough and the swine.
 
As wealth gets concentrated into fewer and fewer hands; as this wealth is increasingly used to feed only itself, the question remains where will it end?  The answer to this question is that we know where it will end, we have been there before.  It’s a place called “Hooverville”.
 _______________

1. James Madison arguing for the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in Federalist No 10 said that one of the benefits of creating a large federation is that the country is less likely to be dominated by one economic interest, or a small group of economic interests.  He also argued elsewhere in the Federalist Papers that the single most important reason to adopt the constitution is to regulate commerce.

2. http://billmoyers.com/2014/11/04/infuriating-facts-disappearing-middle-class-wealth/


Mar 29, 2015

March 29, 2015: Minimum Wage; Maximum Myth, Dog-Eared Objections, Into the Abyss


About every decade or so, after the minimum wage has lost about 30% of its purchasing power, the Democratic Party proposes to raise the minimum wage in an effort to shore up what is left of the tattered ‘safety net’. Every time the Democrats propose an adjustment, the political wrong drags out its hoary, shopworn, arguments in favor of doing nothing; or, as in the case of a Jeb Bush argue that the minimum wage should be done away with altogether, with workers relying instead upon the tender mercies of their capitalist benefactors.

First, they contend that the minimum wage benefits mostly teenage workers or workers who are not really in the workplace and who can afford to work for less. In fact, according to the United States Department of Labor, "88 percent of those who would benefit from a minimum wage increase are age 20 or older, and 55 percent are women" (1)

Secondly, opponents of the minimum wage can reliably be expected to trot out the old bromide that establishing a ‘false floor’ on the cost of labor costs the economy jobs. It follows, according to these lights, that increasing the minimum wage will cost millions of jobs, the kind of jobs most desperately needed by the lower classes. In fact, "a review of 64 studies of minimum wage increases found no effect on employment." Additionally, according to the Department of Labor,

"more than 600 economists, seven of the Nobel Prize winners in economics, have signed onto a letter in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016." (1)

Thirdly, opponents contend, the federal requirement puts an undue hardship on small businesses and they cannot afford to pay additional wages. Accordingly, it is widely predicted every time an increase is proposed that main street will shed a fraction of its workforce if the Liberals have their way. The facts are otherwise. According to the Department of Labor "A June 2014 survey found that more than 3 out of 5 small business owners support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. Small business owners believe that a higher minimum wage would benefit business in important ways: 58% say raising the minimum wage would increase consumer purchasing power. 56% say raising the minimum wage would help the economy. In addition, 53% agree that with a higher minimum wage, businesses would benefit from lower employee turnover, increased productivity and customer satisfaction." (1)

Fourth, the argument is presented that increasing the tipped wage for restaurant workers would be detrimental to the industry. This argument has historically been persuasive as when Herman Cain, former Republican candidate for President, headed the lobbying effort the last time the Federal Government raised the minimum wage. Cain signed off on a compromise getting his industry to support an increase in exchange for an understanding that Congress would not impose such an increase on his industry. As a result, the non-tip federal minimum wage lingers at a meager 2.13 an hour, a standard set in 1991 which demonstrates the historically low standard set for the industry.

It transpires, however, that this objection to raising the standard is likewise bogus. The Department of Labor informs us that, in California for instance,"employers are required to pay servers the full minimum wage of $9 per hour - before tips. Even with a recent increase in the minimum wage, the National Restaurant Association projects California restaurant sales will outpace the U.S. average in 2014." (1) : and, when San Francisco required employers to pay its workers 10.74 per hour--"before tips"–the industry has reported subsequent job growth. (1)

Sixth, opponents contend that minimum wage earners are typically part-time employees. Wrong again, about 53 percent of minimum wage earners are full time workers.

Seventh, raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy. In fact the minimum wage has been raised 22 times since it was established in the 1930's and real GDP has increased.

These are a few of the old, tired, dog-eared objections trotted out every time the nation puts the minimum wage on the ‘front burner’. None of these arguments hold water but the idiot-wrong can be relied upon to dig them up and drag them out for public consideration nonetheless.

Of late other objections have emerged, belittling the effort by Congress to enact a remedy. One encounters, for instance, the objection that only 3.6 million workers are eligible, so raising the benchmark wouldn’t have much impact and is, therefore, a waste to time–time better spent by this Rescumlican congress repealing ObamaCare for the umpteenth time; or energy better spent shredding the social safety net.

The Scums have a point here, not because the workers in this country have become so affluent as to marginalize the impact and importance of the measure; not because we have witnessed a wholesale movement in the labor force from lower to middle class. Indeed it is quite the contrary poverty is on the increase. The fact that so few, relatively, fall within the margins covered by minimum wage protection is a product of several factors

First, there are whole industries and millions of workers in this country who have never been protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the law which established the minimum wage. Farm workers, for instance were never covered, and restaurant workers were placed in a sub-wage category as noted above.

Secondly, there has been a trend in this country over the last decades to move millions of workers off the payroll altogether under the so-called 1099 heading. This is a provision in the labor and tax code allowing a company to hire an ‘independent contractor’ wherein the worker/employee works for a wage, usually above the minimum wage, but the employer withholds no local, state, or federal taxes, no social security or medicare withholdings, and no worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance. The "contractor" may indeed work for no other employer, I have seen this situation, and may indeed work 40 hours a week year round. Getting $9.00 an hour instead of $7.00, his employer simply pockets the difference between what he is paying and what he would or should be paying if he had made the contributions. Note here that only a fraction the "savings" in the "cost of labor" previously paid is returned to the worker. This practice is becoming ubiquitous and there are times when working under such an arrangement, as when a property management company ‘out sources’ its entire maintenance operation to so-called "1099 contractors" where work is on a bidding basis, the race to the bottom becomes complete: the "contractor" facing severe competition must pay his own transportation, supply his own tools and equipment, pay his own taxes etc., and often when the checks come in and the man-hours are tabulated the job is done for Less than the minimum wage.

Every day, it seems, we see another turn of the screw. As Congress dawdles and delays, the middle classes are slowly sinking into the abyss while the poor are becoming increasingly desperate. Not only must the minimum wage be raised, but the categories of workers must be expanded to include all those industries not covered. In addition, we must work to eliminate the ubiquitous use, if not outright abuse, of the 1099 provisions in the tax code. Raising and expanding the minimum wage would have the salutary effect of not only stimulating a sluggish economy, lifting the economic prospects of the least among us, but also raise the benchmark for other low-wage jobs, a much needed ripple-effect.

____________

(1). http://www.dol.gov/minwage/mythbuster.htm
 

Mar 26, 2015

March 25, 2015: Send In the Clowns, Smells Like Joe McCarthy, Animated Ignorance.


"Don't you love farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you'd want what I want, sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns, send in the clowns
Don't bother, they're here."
                                 ----Judy Collins "Send In The Clowns" (1)


Query: What looks like Joe McCarthy, talks like Joe McCarthy, acts like Joe McCarthy and smells like Joe McCarthy? Answer: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

One of the most strident "Birthers" and a Tea-Bagging darling Cruz has, in his short tenure in the Senate managed to outrage not only his natural political opponents, but many of the old-line conservatives within his own party. Author last year of the "partial shut-down" of the Federal Government, a stunt which cost the taxpayer of this country 24 billion dollars, Cruz has proven himself a take-no-prisoners advocate of the hard-wrong ideology. He stands as a sublime example of animated ignorance, malignancy on steroids.

He has been a strident opponent of everything our president stands for, obstructing presidential nominations, undermining treaty negotiations, even joining the "Birthers" in questioning Obama’s country of birth and therefore his citizenship. The delicious irony is, of course, that Cruz himself, like Marco Rubio is foreign born. In this case he was born in Canada. Son of an American citizen he, nevertheless, was not born in this country leading some within his own Tea-bagger movement to question whether he is qualified to become President of the United States.

Cruz, seeking to export the madness that is right-wing Texas politics, chose a carefully orchestrated presentation before a ‘captive’ audience at the citadel of American political reaction, Jerry Farwell’s "Liberty" University. Before a packed house, attendance by the student body required in lieu of fine, Cruz belched forth a full-throated cry to ‘repeal every word of ObamaCare’ as well as institute a litany of reactionary measures including the ‘abolition of the IRS’, a national sales tax, cuts in the social safety net.

One must be careful to heed the wisdom and the advice from one who has been jettisoned by the country of his birth and cast, like so much flotsam upon the ocean currents to wash up upon our shores. Native Americans will warn you that it is, perhaps, not wise to take them in. The ranting of Cruz’s father, Rafael Sr. have become viral on the internet of late giving the country not only a glimpse of the environment in which the Senator was raised, but a clear indication of perhaps why our good neighbor to the north sent them packing. One must approach Cruz with gloves on for the judgement of a displaced national is always suspect be it Ayn Rand, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, or Gertrude Stein. Being cast adrift warps one’s judgement and creates a tendency to latch upon whatever foothold one can in you ‘new world’. Cruz, like Arnold Swartznegger, found his new justification in the Republican party; embracing the ideology of the emerging Neo-Conservative movement. It can be a potent combination, an emigre from a neighboring country embracing a pseudo-working class conservative movement....

Cruz, however, is going to have to overcome the early impression he has made on the body politic as being abrasive, and divisive, as well as a cartoon character and a clown. At this point in time it is difficult to say if he will prevail, either by winning the party’s nomination outright or by pulling the rest of the pack to the hard-wrong; or whether he will be seen as a two-dimensional clown and laughed off the national stage. Time will tell.

Meanwhile the horn has sounded and the cast of characters hoping to carry the Rescumlican banner into the next election will soon be getting on the campaign bus. Not since the drunken band of merry men last boarded the bus in Scottville (2) to begin their annual ‘world tour’ have we been promised so many clowns performing together. Get on the bus, next stop: Ludington.

"But where are the clowns
send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here."
____________

(1) http://www.metrolyrics.com/send-in-the-clowns-lyrics-judy-collins.html

(2) I’m here referring to the ‘Scottville Clown Band", a legendary group of inebriated men who march down main streets playing their instruments while dressed in drag. Several of my great uncles were founding members.

Mar 24, 2015

March 24, 2015: Pursuing the Idiot Wrong, Siren Song of Greed, Yearning for "Neverland"


One cannot entirely account for the decline of the American Middle Class by simply pointing to the mendacity of the likes of Governor’s Walker of Wisconsin and Snyder of Michigan, as egregious as they are. Both have now transformed their respective states into ‘right-to-work-for-less" or, more appropriately, "right-to-starve" states; but, in fact, the hollowing out of the industrial economy in the Midwest has been going on for over three decades now. Pursuing the "Idiot Wrong"s policies of cutting taxes on the wealthy, deregulation and ‘free-market’ mythology has led to a rapid disinvestment in infrastructure, the exportation of millions of jobs and trillions of dollars, and the impoverishment not only of the public domain but, as the previous post indicates, the country as well. Robert Reich, in a Facebook post earlier this month delineated the broad outlines:

"Forty years ago, the richest 1 percent of Americans took home 10 percent of national income, and helped finance the U.S. government mainly through their tax payments. From World War II until 1981, the top marginal income tax rate never fell below 70 percent. Today, wealthy Americans are taking home almost twice the share of national income they did then (almost 20 percent), but they’re paying a top tax rate that’s close to half what it was then. And they’re financing the government mainly by lending it money. While most of our national debt is owed to foreigners, over 40 percent is owed to other Americans, mostly the very wealthy.

This switch by the super rich – from paying high taxes to lending the government money – means that the rest of us are paying wealthy Americans large amounts of interest every year through our own tax payments. It’s an upward redistribution that’s hidden and never talked about, but marks one of the biggest changes over the last four decades in how the U.S. government is financed." (1)

Former Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri made this point while running for President in 1988. One of the reasons why the wealthy class in this country have supported massive deficits and burgeoning debt is that not only are these deficits and this debt the direct result of the massive tax breaks given to them by Reagan and the Republicans but because the investor class holds the debt and is paid interest on it, money is thereby transferred from the lower classes (who pay a greater proportion of their disposable income) to the coffers of the top 10% and especially the top 5% and 1%.; accentuating the dynamic that the higher up the economic ladder the greater the concentrations leading to the conclusions outlined here by the professor.

Again, none of this is new. The works, in the late ‘80's of Kevin Phillips as well as the shrewd and prescient observations by the Congressman passed an early verdict on the failure of Reaganomics, but such warnings have gone unheeded by the Generation of Swine and the leaders they elected leading, as predicted, to the hollowing out of America to the point where we have lost our pre-eminent position in the world.

Because Michigan was so dependent on its automobile industry, it was an economic adage in my youth that when the country caught an economic cold, Michigan came down with pneumonia. We can take a lesson from what has happened to Michigan and the other industrial states. We have experience of what the benefits and, increasingly, the liabilities are when one’s local economy is so dependent on national prosperity. Increasingly, what Michigan, Wisconsin and the other so-called "Rust-Belt" states are to the nation, the United States is quickly becoming, in this global economy, to the world. With the permanent shift from investments in infrastructure, labor and production, education and social services to banking and finance; and with the resulting exportation of high paying union jobs we have been left with nothing to sell but our markets, which is to say we have nothing left to sell but our money. Once the world’s greatest industrial monolith, its banker, the largest creditor nation, we are now the world’s pauper, the largest debtor nation in the world. This is not because of social spending or government deficits. It is because, heeding the siren song of greed, we have steadfastly refused to tax and then invest in ourselves; borrowing instead and investing in everyone else. This is what happens when you follow an economist named Laffer and a politician fresh off the set of "Death Valley Days".

While the good professor says nothing new here, it bears repeating and repeating. Trickle down has never worked, is not now working, and will never work. To think otherwise is delusional; it is a yearning for "Neverland". What happens to Michigan happens to America; what happens to me, happens to you too.




(1) Robert Reich, Facebook posting March 5, 2015

Mar 23, 2015

March 23, 2015: Malignancy of Swine, Turning of the Screws, Marrow of the Republic


The malignancy that is the modern conservative movement has been growing and mestasticizing for over 30 years now. The country, once strong and prosperous, has become weak, fragile and, increasingly poor. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in my beloved state of Michigan.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. In an essay published yesterday on mlive, a Michigan website hosting all the state’s major newspapers, Demas graphically illustrates the state of malignancy.



"If you're not basking in the warm glow of Michigan's economic

"Comeback", you’re not alone", she writes.

"The median income in Michigan has shrunk by a startling $13,278 this century, according to data newly released from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2000, the median income was $61,551, but that tumbled to $48,273 by 2013.

That's a staggering drop". Indeed it is.

"There are certainly some visible signs of an improving economy here.", she adds, "Unemployment is down from 10.7 percent in January 2011 to 6.6 percent in January 2015 (although it remains well above the national rate of 5.7 percent)." And, according to the Tax Foundation, Michigan is the 13th best business climate among the states in their collective ‘race-to-the-bottom’ to see who can best shine the shoes of their corporate paymasters. But, she rightly concludes, when median income takes such a big hit and thousands of families fall from the middle class, it takes awhile for people to feel an economic recovery."

Michigan, alas, is not alone for "All 50 states have seen their middle class ranks shrink, Pew reports". "The percentage of middle-class households dropped in Wisconsin by 5.7 points, in Indiana by 4.4 points and in Ohio by 5.2 points." None, however "saw such a dramatic drop in median income as Michigan did, however".

The trend is, indeed a national trend, with states that are doing relatively well like North Dakota where unemployment has been the lowest still reporting a 5.1% decline–higher than Michigan’s–in median household income.

" The number of people calling themselves "middle class"(nationally) has dropped significantly. A January 2014 Pew Research study found 44 percent identify as middle class, compared to 53 percent in 2008, at the start of the recession." (1)

America is beginning to perceive in measurable terms what has been the economic reality for some time now. We were informed about this, over a quarter of a century ago, with Kevin Phillips’ work "The Politics of Rich and Poor" in which the fallacies of Reaganomics were laid bare, but the country, governed by swine, paid no heed.

This is beginning to change, as the polling by Pew, here reportedly demonstrates. What this translates into politically is another matter; for we have learned from the fascist experiments in Europe that not all middle class political revolts are liberal or, for that matter, democratic. And, nowhere has this been better illustrated than electing and then re-electing a hedge-fund vulture capitalist governor. Snyder rewarded the ‘populist’ revolt by waging war on organized labor and the workingman, raising taxes on the middle class, and cutting taxes on his rich friends. None of this is new but with each ‘turn of the screws’ the middle class shrinks just a little bit more.

The cancer has spread from the delusions of a Russian emigre, and the scribbling of truculent economist to the stink-tanks funded by the billionaires across the airwaves of their paid minions into the halls of every corridor of power. The cancer that is the modern conservative movement is now spreading through the body politic into the very marrow of the republic itself. This is the legacy of the "Generation of Swine".
______________
(1) http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/01/rick_snyder_state_of_state_2.html

March 22, 2015: Malice Toward All, Lurking Malignancy, Nixon at Large


In the presidential campaign of 1960, John Kennedy stood before an audience at a campaign rally and said, "I want you to understand the immense burden I carry in this campaign. I am the last man standing between Richard Nixon and the White House".  The audience roared in laughter and appreciation; Kennedy was not being facetious.

Kennedy knew his Nixon. When the subject of Nixon came up at the White House a few years later Kennedy, in a parody of Lincoln, quipped "With malice for all; with charity toward none". Jack had no illusions about ‘Tricky Dick’ and what lay behind the stratagems of the emerging Republican coalition. America was well aware of the witch hunts, the blacklisting, the financial (checkers and Hughes Loan) scandals and Nixon’s reputation as an ‘attack-dog’ and could, therefore, revel in the humor. Little did it appreciate the gravity of the malignancy lurking just below the surface. As a result, when the Republicans returned to power in 1968, riding the crest of the ‘white backlash’ of 1966 and pursuing a clearly delineated ‘southern strategy’, the President standing before them presenting himself as the "New Nixon" was indeed no Dwight David Eisenhower nor, it transpired, his Vice President. This Nixon represented a new strain of Republicanism, a potent and toxic mix of Southern racism and Ayn Rand inspired Goldwater conservatism posturing as a populist and popular front in the form of a not-so-"silent majority".

After Watergate the ‘movement’ underwent further metamorphosis, tracking further and further wrong, down the dark rat-holes of ‘states-rights’, libertarianism and cultural xenophobia finally mestasticizing into a full-blown cancer that threatens not only the legacy of the New Deal but, perhaps, the nation-state itself. We have seen calls to repeal the 14th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution providing for, among other things, "equal protection of the law" and direct election of United States Senators (1). Today we have open talk of secession, stratagems of nullification not seen since the Civil War. And we are now witnessing, since the Scum have taken control of the House and now the Congress, the passage of the so-called "Ryan Budget" named after the fiscal guru of the Idiot wrong congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. In it the Scums lay out their ‘Plan’ to address the nation’s ‘financial crises’ and balance the budget in 10 years. They propose to accomplish this by cutting deeply into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, reduce spending on enforcement of environmental laws, roll back on banking reforms, cut student loans and grants, food stamps, ad nausem. Their friends in the financial community will see huge tax cuts and the military-security complex will get an immediate bonus of 40 Billion dollars. It’s the usual Rescumlican knee-jerk palliative; cut taxes, savage the safety net, squeeze the middle class, funnel the money upwards to the ‘truly deserving’.

The Rescumlicans now run this country the way a slum lord runs an apartment building. All the money goes to the "investor" class leaving the residents (from whom the money comes) increasing living in rat-infested squalor. And so, in this last recovery, the top 1% have taken 95% of the newly created wealth and the top 10% have taken 110% and they are still clamoring for more. Malice for all and charity toward none". The "Generation of Swine", Richard Nixon at large.

----------------------

(1) Previously senators were elected by their respective state legislatures, usually the state senate. So, for example, Abraham Lincoln would poll more votes than his opponent Steven Douglas in the Illinois senate race in 1858, but not be sent to Washington to sit in the Senate. 
 

Mar 20, 2015

March 20, 2015: Old Man’s Lament, So Much Older Then, I Cannot Write Act III


"My faith was so much stronger then
I believed in fellow men
I was so much older then
When I was young
When I was young”

                  ----- The Animals “When I Was Young” (1)

It is, perhaps, the lament of every generation that life has reached it’s zenith, perhaps civilization its apex, when ‘I was young’.  Age, it seems, not only brings a catalogue of ailments and declining abilities but an increasing sensation that the polished brass of youth has grown rather tarnished and tawdry. Life begins to ape one’s aching body and society, in short order, follows the trajectory of body and soul. In any case, it appears to be a near universal human experience that life was better all those years ago.  I was so much older then, when I was young.

2014 marked a century since the outbreak of the “Great War” when Europe became a killing field and the United States emerged as a world power.  It also marked the end of the “American” century as, it was announced last December, China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy.  The United States, the “Arsenal of Democracy”, which had held the pre-eminent position as the world’s largest economy since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, has now relinquished its place as the world’s greatest economic engine, with political and military power soon to follow.

This, too, is the legacy of the “Generation of Swine” who have managed in a span of 30 years to squander the national trust..  We have witnessed the wholesale gutting of the industrial base, the disinvestment in our workforce, our schools, our infrastructure, ourselves.  We have engaged in a ‘every-man-for-himself’ race to the bottom.  We no longer believe in government because we no longer believe in our fellow men.  No longer do we heed Jeremy Bentham’s dictum of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ but charity, as well as public policy, are increasingly defined as, my wife would say, to “me, my four and no more”.

Life has become base, crude, uncivilized and tawdry. Rap music and ‘pants to the ground’.  Television after you subtract out the 4 channels broadcasting, at any given time, ‘the world’s greatest pillow’, the religious howlers, and the conspiracy channels one is left holding an empty bag.  The “History” and “Discovery” channels, which formerly broadcast content that at least had the pretense of scholarship are now nothing more than programs about witches, goblins, haunted houses, and conspiracy theories. There is the standard daytime fare: Jerry Springer and his imitators in which the lower intestines of American culture are daily flushed into the living rooms of the nation, if not the world.  Then there is the news.  Where once stood Murrow, Cronkite, Blair, Rather, Severied,  Huntley and Brinkley, and a host of professional reporters we are now presented with the likes of O’Reilly, Beck, and a whole network of babbling buffoons.  Jane Curtin, reprising her role on “Weekend Update” for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was moved to quip “40 years ago I was the only dumb blonde on television delivering fake news...now we have a whole network”, referring, of course, to the debasement of the industry by the likes of Rupert Murdock.  And let’s not even talk about radio where hate speech is the order of the day, where either one is inundated with diatribes belittling the poor, minorities, women and those who struggle under ‘the new world order’, or with infantile paranoid conspiracy theories spun by the likes of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones where we are led to dance on ramparts.  Once we could take matters in hand, as we did at the Pettis Bridge in Selma and march for freedom, today we huddle fearing anyone and everyone.  Increasingly my country feels like my aging body, where once we marched in confidence, today we recoil and huddle in pain and fear waiting for the next blow from the hopelessly juvenile, cretinous, knuckle-dragging Tea-baggers,as they do the bidding of their corporate masters.  We were so much older then, when we were young.

“I have left Act I, for involution
And Act II. There, mired in complexity
I cannot write Act III.”

----Senator Eugene McCarthy “Lament for an Aging Politician” (2)
_______

1. http://www.metrolyrics.com/when-i-was-young-lyrics-the-animals.html
2. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Eugene_McCarthy