SCREWED - The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class
The American middle class is on its deathbed. Ordinary folks who put in a solid day’s work can no longer afford to buy a house, send their kids to college, or even get sick. If you are not a CEO, you are probably screwed.
Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class is an impassioned, enlightened look at American society, this time focusing on the shrinking middle class.
While the radical GOP extremists have been diverting the attention of America's middle class with demagogic, divisive emotional values issues, the Republican Party has been picking their pockets, reducing their opportunities, and dismantling their support systems. As the book illustrates, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting screwed.
The Government Investor Class Marriage
The United States is in trouble. We're in danger of becoming a fascist dictatorship where big government and big business combine to rule, and where the people are considered just a source of labor.
The marriage of government and the investor class has succeeded in exporting our jobs, importing illegal aliens to provide a pool of cheap labor, and thus driving down wages for all American workers and destroying the middle class.
Their foreign and military policies have led us into unnecessary wars of aggression to gain raw materials and enhance profits of the global robber barons. Their trade policies have resulted in capital flight, job loss, trade deficits, and the ownership of much of our infrastructure by foreign interests.
We've gotten into this fix because our presidents, of both parties, have been servants of the global investors, and because our representatives in Congress, again of both parties, have abdicated their Constitutional responsibilities and subjected themselves to an imperial presidency.
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*The Undeclared War Against the middle class
Thom Hartmann shows how the American middle class that was so carefully constructed by our country’s founding fathers has been systematically dismantled over the past quarter-century, and, under the guise of freeing the market, replaced by a system designed to line the pockets of the super-rich and corporations.
The book shows how the US middle class is shrinking, democracy is ebbing, and both are on life support and threatened with extinction by an omnipotent corporatocracy wanting to destroy the system of government on which the nation was founded.
Those in power today want to destroy what the Founding Fathers believed in, created, and handed down for all those who followed them to preserve. In its place, the current ruling class wants to replace that vision with an imperial presidency supported by a submissive Congress and compliant courts that’s no different than the repressive monarchy and aristocracy the American Revolution overthrew in the first place.
Our founding fathers worked hard to ensure that a small group of wealthy people would never dominate this country. They had had enough of aristocracy. They put government to work to ensure a thriving middle class.
So what happened? America has been corrupted by the notion that what serves the interests of business elites in corporate boardrooms benefit ordinary people as well. It never has, never will, and, despite the slick rhetoric, isn’t intended to. If it did, it would prevent the new US corporate aristocracy from getting richer and more powerful which it only can do at the expense of the public and especially the middle class it wants to destroy.
Over the last twenty-five years, we’ve witnessed an undeclared war against the middle class. Under the guise of freeing the market, the so-called conservatives waging this war have systematically dismantled the programs set up by both Republicans and Democrats to protect the middle class and have replaced them with policies that favor the only the privileged few.
In a past time many of us grew up in when working people earned a living wage, had good health insurance, defined-benefit pensions secure at retirement, were protected by unions and needed only one family wage-earner to get by on a single job.
Ruled by Corporate Fascism
The America of the past is now fast disappearing. Today giant corporations literally run everything. They control what we eat and drink, where we live, what we wear, how we get most of our essential services like health care, and the information fed us that influences how we think including our view of them, our government and the world. They even now own patents on our genetic code, the most basic elements of human life, and want to manipulate and control them like any other commodity to exploit for profit in their brave new world.
The corporate goliaths also decide who governs, for whose interest, and at whose expense. They control the political process from the White House to the Congress to who gets to sit on the nation’s courts. They thus have effective control over what laws are written and how they’re interpreted by friendly judges up to the High Court.
It’s called democracy but it’s one in name only serving the elite few. It’s a corruption of the letter and spirit of a true democracy that influences an unequal and unjust distribution of the nation’s resources to benefit an elite minority able to control the political process to their advantage.
It operates behind a facade of fairness while working to destroy the very things it claims to represent. It’s a system of government described by investigative journalist Greg Palast in his 2003 published book - The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Those who can pay can play, but those who can’t have no say or sway.
It amounts to a system under which the political game is rigged by the incestuous relationship between big business and the government it empowers to serve it. The only choice voters now have at the polls is what Ralph Nader calls the evil of two lessers (or) government for General Motors, by Dupont and for Exxon Mobil.
The corporate giants today are so huge that if the 50 largest ones were nations, they’d rank among the 100 largest sovereign states in the world. They take full advantage of their size and clout to thrown their weight around and get their way on most everything they want - again at the expense of the public interest.
The result of this concentrated corporate power and a government in league with it has taken its toll on the working public. Adjusted for inflation, workers today earn less than 30 years ago, the federal minimum wage at $5.15 an hour hasn’t been raised since 1997, and it’s now at its lowest point relative to average wages since 1949.
It also means those earning it fall well below the poverty line, and they still have to pay a growing portion of their health insurance cost if they have an employer giving them any at all.
I think many of us recognize that for all but the wealthiest, life in America is getting increasingly hard. Screwed explores why, showing how this is no accidental process.
Do people or profits come first in our society?
Are we a nation that is interested in advancing the public good and interest of the many? Or are we an oligarchy, in which the many must sacrifice their futures for the benefit of a privileged few?
Corporations got what they long coveted - the same constitutional rights as people, but because of their limited liability status, their shareholders were protected from the obligations of their debts, other obligations, and many of the responsibilities individuals legally have.
With this new status, corporations could now win many other favorable court decisions they weren’t entitled to before.
They also got much regulatory relief, favorable legislation, and all the while, were and are still protected by their limited liability status. More than any other High Court decision, this one gave corporations the ability to increase their power and grow to their present size and dominance.
Think of it. Corporations aren’t human, they can live forever, change their identity, reside in many places simultaneously in many countries, but can’t be imprisoned for wrongdoing and can change themselves into new persons at will for any reason. Under the Constitution, they have the same rights as people but not the responsibilities.
The result today is that corporations have the right to operate freely and virtually be able to do whatever they choose with impunity. Even when they’re caught breaking the law, most every time (with rare exceptions) their executives get off scot-free and the penalty assessed is a small fine that amounts to chump change.
War is big business and a permanent state of it is much bigger, which is why waging many of them is so appealing to those in power today. It’s also usually a winning political issue as wartime presidents are more likely to be reelected, and they also have more power than those serving in peacetime.
George Orwell knew that democracy was weakest in a state of war, and Hitler used that to his advantage to seize total power after scaring the German people with threats that didn’t exist to give him enough of it in the first place.
Hartmann sounds the alarm about the dangers of war and where it may lead the nation. It drove Nazi Germany to fascism and all the horrors from it. Today we’re at the same dangerous juncture with the nation at war, fascism rising, and doing it behind the facade of compassionate conservatism and an invented Islamo-fascist terrorist threat used to scare the public to go along with a rogue president’s long war without end to combat it.
Hartmann tells us we face a clear and present threat to our freedom today and it is up to us: We the People to sound the alarm (to combat it).
Most people would be amazed to learn the second largest army in Iraq comes from none of the other nations supplying forces. It’s the 100,000 private contractors the Bush administration hired at an enormous cost that’s far higher than what we pay those in the military. Why do it this way and spend more?
It’s another way to transfer billions of dollars from the people to big corporations to enrich them at our expense. Prisons are also being privatized and now are at a level of about 5% of their capacity in about 100 facilities in 27 states and growing.
But since private prisons are a business, there’s an incentive to fill beds and keep them filled with longer sentences while minimizing services to keep costs low. It makes harsh prison life far more grim for those interned.
Most insidious of all is the privatizing of elections. Hartmann calls this the ultimate crime. He cites that in 2004 more than 80% of the US vote was counted on electronic voting machines owned, programmed and operated by three large private corporations.
So instead of having paper ballots counted by hand by civil servants monitored by party faithful and independent observers, we now have a secretive process that’s unverifiable and all controlled by large companies with everything to gain if the candidates they support win.
It puts the ugly taint of fraud over the whole process and makes a sham out of the notion of free, fair and open elections. That’s impossible if they’re run by self-serving private corporations as they now are. Unless this practice is stopped, we’ve lost what Tom Paine said at the nation’s founding: The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery.
Besides being able to elect their own representatives, the electorate must also be well-informed. Hartmann quotes Thomas Jefferson who said Our liberty depends upon the freedom of the press (which starts with a literate citizenry, something we’re far short of today). The data on the ability of the public to read varies, but it shows a common pattern.
The US Department of Education reports about 20% of the public to be functionally illiterate which means they can’t read or write well enough to do such essential things as read a newspaper, understand written instructions, fill out a job application or do basic computational tasks, let alone be able to operate a computer.
Hartmann uses other data from the National Center of Education Statistics that breaks the literacy problem into different skill-level categories, but any way it’s looked at it shows a nation inadequately able to function the way citizens must be able to do in a modern society.
The quality of education today, particularly in urban schools, has deteriorated so much because of the rise in prominence of service-related industries, many of which require little formal education. There’s no incentive to correct the problem, and George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and stealth plan to privatize public education (along with everything else in the commons that never should be) will only make things worse.
The Bush agenda includes so-called school vouchers that mask an intent to end the separation of church and state by allowing vouchers to go mostly to schools where the central mission is (Christian) religious education or training.
The fraudulent rationale for doing it is the same one the cons always fall back on - that marketplace competition improves performance. It’s not so as in all other areas where private business replaced government-run programs the public ended up getting less and paying more for it. That’s how it is with education that’s not a commodity for sale and never should be put in the hands of for-profit companies that need to minimize costs to keep their bottom line high.
The same is true for health care that should be a basic right and not a privilege available only to those who can afford the cost. But that’s not how it is in the US. This is the only country among the 36 fully industrialized democracies in the world that treats health care as a marketplace commodity.
- USA Healthcare -
37th & 54th World Ranking
The result is that while the country spends far more on health care than any other one (about $2 trillion in 2005 or about one-sixth of the nation’s GDP) it delivers a quality of care mediocre enough for the World Health Organization (WTO) to rank us 37th in the world in overall health performance and 54th in the fairness of health care.
No one should be denied the right to good medical care, but today nearly 47 million people in the country have no health insurance and millions more are underinsured, thus denying them the essential care they deserve to have, especially when they need it most.
So today with more companies reducing the amount of health insurance coverage they provide employees combined with stagnant wages rising less than the rate of inflation, increasing numbers of people can’t afford to buy protection for the most important need they can’t afford to do without.
It’s created a state of social inequality seen in the Economic Policy Institute 2004 report on the State of Working America. It showed the top 1% controls more than one-third of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 80% has 16%. Even worse, the top 20% holds 84% of all wealth while the poorest 20% are in debt and owe more than they own. Just released Internal Revenue Service data shows the same imbalance.
The IRS reported the share of all income earned by the top 1% of taxpayers rose to 19% in 2004 from 16.8% in 2003 and just below the 20.8% high it hit in 2000 helped by capital gains from the stock market boom of the 1990s.
All this shows how unbalanced wealth and income distribution are under an economic model favoring the rich and leaving all others behind. To rectify this, the nation needs a new model that distributes the nation’s wealth more equitably and that begins with its tax code.
It also needs to provide health care for all its citizens which it already does for its senior ones - a single-payer system administered by the government and allowing people to choose their own providers.
But even seniors are in trouble today as the Bush administration wants to move retirees on Medicare into private for-profit plans and thus kill off a system that effectively serves the public. The private operators need to cut costs to grow their profits, but when they do it people most in need are hurt the most.
The Dying Middle Class
All this paints a scenario of a dying middle class heading for extinction. Good jobs are disappearing, wages are stagnant or falling making becoming middle class today, in Hartmann’s words like scaling a cliff.
Those who are middle class now are hanging on for dear life but losing their grip, and those aspiring to get there find it increasingly harder to do. It can’t be done on the minimum wage or even well above it in a job that pays at the Walmart level. And it surely can’t be done without the protection unions once could provide before the Reagan war on labor began reducing their power, or in a nation that once had a strong base of high-paying manufacturing and other jobs now being lost to cheap labor markets abroad.
The result in Hartmann’s words: America is regressing (and) Middle-class income has stopped growing. The problem isn’t the economy. It’s the unlevel playing field where union protection is weak, corporations are in control in league with government supporting their interests, and workplaces are run more like kingdoms with workers heading toward becoming serfs with no rights.
Hartmann says the cons are winning the battle to weaken democracy by screwing over the middle class, and he offers a prescription to fight back by reclaiming the government-run programs that created a strong middle class in the first place:
... let the public again have the right to own the military (without the high-priced private contractors), prisons, and the electoral system.
... keep private for-profit companies out of education and have government run it free without phony programs that don’t work like No Child Left Behind.
... demand a national single-payer health care system for everyone based on how Medicare is run.
... demand private companies keep their hand off Social Security and keep it as a government-run retirement program and safety net for the disabled.
... demand a progressive tax system reinstating a meaningful 35% rate on corporations and a 70% rate on the richest 5% of Americans.
Use the extra revenue received to repay the Social Security system and fund an economic investment program.
... demand a living wage and the right of labor to organize again unhindered by laws or business-friendly government policies restricting its ability to be treated fairly.
... demand a national energy program that puts people and the planet - not Big Oil - first.
If America rebuilds its middle class, democracy will follow. But if middle-America withers, democracy will as well. Hartmann sounds the alarm - We have been conned for long enough. It’s time to take back America.
Conclusion - The Road to Victory - We must get on it now.
Hartmann stresses the situation is dire and the need for change is urgent. He directs his message to everyone of all political party affiliations and says It’s time We the People took back control of our government. He offers his prescription on how to do it.
... Take back the Democratic party - the party is in crisis having bought on to the agenda of the far-right Republicans. Hartmann says the solution is for progressives to join together to take back the Democrat party just like the cons took control of the Republican party with the election of Ronald Reagan.
... A third party is not the answer because of our corrupted winner take all system under which whoever gets the most votes gets all of the pie. We’re structured this way because it’s written into our Constitution which was a huge mistake by the Founders. That’s not how it is in a system of proportional representation that most other democracies have under which a party getting 30% of the votes gets the same percentage of seats in the legislature.
... Republicans also need to re-capture their party from the cons who stole it from the moderates. Today the party is run by the Ayn Rand utopians, Pat Robertson fundamentalists, and the largest and dirtiest of America’s corporate elite. They rejected the values of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and exploited working people and looted the nation’s treasury for their own self-interest leaving it for those who follow them to clean up the mess it could take a whole generation to recover from or longer.
... Change happens, sometimes slowly, and people need to band together to work actively for it which means more than just showing up for a peace (or other kind of) rally.
... Other activist tools include the most fundamental one of all - communication. Hartmann explains without two simple forms of it, the American Revolution wouldn’t have been possible.
There were the two commonly used ones then - letters to editors of newspapers who published them and pamphlets like the kind Tom Paine wrote. Today the dominant media are corrupted by their corporate control that suppresses real information in favor of only what’s friendly to the state and the corporate giants. Fortunately though, alternatives exist and must be used effectively.
The internet may be the most important one as long as it remains free and open and not under the threat of corporate control which may happen if S. 2686/H.R.5252 known as the Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act passes that would along with other harmful provisions in it end so-called network neutrality meaning the internet freedom we now have.
This bill, if passed, will be a major victory for the cable and telecom giants transforming them into gatekeepers of internet content and allowing them to charge varying rates to customers based on whatever set of rules they decide to establish.
In a word, it will destroy the internet as it now is. As such, it’s crucial every effort be made to prevent this from happening.
... Don’t ignore the obvious influence we can have by communicating with our elected leaders. They pay attention, and it guides their policy-making.
... Joining a union or getting active in the union movement is crucially important to rebuilding the nation’s middle class. It’s essential unions be re-empowered through favorable legislation, and voters need to petition their legislators to work for this.
Today the enemy of all working people has overwhelming but not invulnerable might. Gandhi taught us that a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. And he inspired us saying first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. He did, and so can we.
Thom Hartmann would agree that We the People can indeed win if we do enough even though it’s never easy, and the cons will fight us every step of the way with every dirty trick they know. It’s up to us to fight the better fight because we can’t afford to lose. Take heart from Thomas Jefferson and what he once said: Every generation needs a new Revolution. Today he’d likely say we never needed one more than now.
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