Tuesday, November 09, 2010

OUR U.S.A.-- A GIGANTIC BANANA REPUBLIC

THE AMERICAN BANANA REPUBLIC—BIG TIME—AS SHOWN BY RECENT ELECTIONS THERE


Mom sent me this story from last week’s NEW YORK TIMES. (The TIMES was not honest enough nor open enough to. publish it before the election—I guess.)
The main focus of this piece by Nicholas D. Kristof is that the USA—with the top 1% to 10% of the population owning most all of the political and economic might in the land—has been obviously a problem of self-image for America in the world since the Ronald Reagan administration.
I started to travel in the 1980s and the main theme of this article was self-evident to me by 1984.—KAS

Our Banana Republic
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: November 6, 2010
In my reporting, I regularly travel to banana republics notorious for their inequality. In some of these plutocracies, the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie.

But guess what? You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe such rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home — and in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, it may get worse.
The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.
C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.
That’s the backdrop for one of the first big postelection fights in Washington — how far to extend the Bush tax cuts to the most affluent 2 percent of Americans. Both parties agree on extending tax cuts on the first $250,000 of incomes, even for billionaires. Republicans would also cut taxes above that.
The richest 0.1 percent of taxpayers would get a tax cut of $61,000 from President Obama. They would get $370,000 from Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. And that provides only a modest economic stimulus, because the rich are less likely to spend their tax savings.
At a time of 9.6 percent unemployment, wouldn’t it make more sense to finance a jobs program? For example, the money could be used to avoid laying off teachers and undermining American schools.
Likewise, an obvious priority in the worst economic downturn in 70 years should be to extend unemployment insurance benefits, some of which will be curtailed soon unless Congress renews them. Or there’s the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps train and support workers who have lost their jobs because of foreign trade. It will no longer apply to service workers after Jan. 1, unless Congress intervenes.
So we face a choice. Is our economic priority the jobless, or is it zillionaires?
And if Republicans are worried about long-term budget deficits, a reasonable concern, why are they insistent on two steps that nonpartisan economists say would worsen the deficits by more than $800 billion over a decade — cutting taxes for the most opulent, and repealing health care reform? What other programs would they cut to make up the lost $800 billion in revenue?
In weighing these issues, let’s remember that backdrop of America’s rising inequality.
In the past, many of us acquiesced in discomfiting levels of inequality because we perceived a tradeoff between equity and economic growth. But there’s evidence that the levels of inequality we’ve now reached may actually suppress growth. A drop of inequality lubricates economic growth, but too much may gum it up.
Robert H. Frank of Cornell University, Adam Seth Levine of Vanderbilt University, and Oege Dijk of the European University Institute recently wrote a fascinating paper suggesting that inequality leads to more financial distress. They looked at census data for the 50 states and the 100 most populous counties in America, and found that places where inequality increased the most also endured the greatest surges in bankruptcies.
Here’s their explanation: When inequality rises, the richest rake in their winnings and buy even bigger mansions and fancier cars. Those a notch below then try to catch up, and end up depleting their savings or taking on more debt, making a financial crisis more likely.
Another consequence the scholars found: Rising inequality also led to more divorces, presumably a byproduct of the strains of financial distress. Maybe I’m overly sentimental or romantic, but that pierces me. It’s a reminder that inequality isn’t just an economic issue but also a question of human dignity and happiness.
Mounting evidence suggests that losing a job or a home can rock our identity and savage our self-esteem. Forced moves wrench families from their schools and support networks.
In short, inequality leaves people on the lower rungs feeling like hamsters on a wheel spinning ever faster, without hope or escape.
Economic polarization also shatters our sense of national union and common purpose, fostering political polarization as well.
So in this postelection landscape, let’s not aggravate income gaps that already would make a Latin American caudillo proud. To me, we’ve reached a banana republic point where our inequality has become both economically unhealthy and morally repugnant.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

Kevin,

The role of secret corporate money in last week’s election is undeniable.

In 58 of the 74 election contests where power changed hands, winning candidates rode a wave of cash from shadowy front groups, giant corporations and the super rich.

Never again should secret money be allowed to sway our elections. Tell your senators to pass the DISCLOSE Act (S. 3628) during the lame duck session.

The DISCLOSE Act will require that the identities of those who fund election-season political ads be disclosed to the public – regardless of whether that funding comes from corporations, unions or wealthy individuals. If they're trying to influence your vote, then you should at least know who they are.

The good news is we’ve recently witnessed an unprecedented number of new activists joining our campaign for transparent elections.

The bad news is that the major corporations and their astroturf front groups are mobilizing to kill the bill.

Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce want to use secret money to buy as many seats in Congress as they can. If they have their way, 2010 will be only the beginning. We know they are already making plans for the 2012 presidential race.

Don’t let it happen. Urge your senators to pass the DISCLOSE Act today!

Go to: http://www.citizen.org/disclose-act-action

Thanks for all you do,

Rick Claypool and Yetunde Abass
Public Citizen's Online Action Team

11:32 AM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

Dear Kevin,
How do you know the food you feed your family is safe? Because the government is supposed to make sure that it is. And they do this by using independent science to evaluate food safety. So what happens when government scientists and food inspectors aren't able to do their jobs? When their work is under pressure from corporate interests? Unfortunately, it can be deadly. Unsafe food can lead to illness and death and disproportionately harms the most vulnerable members of our communities. UCS recently released a survey of scientists at the Food and Drug administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that revealed a food safety system where special interests all too often inhibit the ability of government scientists and inspectors to protect the food supply. And sadly, our food isn't the only thing at stake. Political and corporate interference in government science threatens our health, safety, and environment. This month, check out what UCS is doing to stop it. —Karla

http://www.ucsusa.org/

11:37 AM  

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