Thank God there's at least one senator who is speaking sense:
The American people are hurting. As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, homes, life savings and their ability to get a higher education. Today, some 22 percent of our children live in poverty, and millions more have become dependent on food stamps for their food.And while the Great Wall Street Recession has devastated the middle class, the truth is that working families have been experiencing a decline for decades. During the Bush years alone, from 2000-2008, median family income dropped by nearly $2,200 and millions lost their health insurance. Today, because of stagnating wages and higher costs for basic necessities, the average two-wage-earner family has less disposable income than a one-wage-earner family did a generation ago. The average American today is underpaid, overworked and stressed out as to what the future will bring for his or her children. For many, the American dream has become a nightmare.
But, not everybody is hurting. While the middle class disappears and poverty increases the wealthiest people in our country are not only doing extremely well, they are using their wealth and political power to protect and expand their very privileged status at the expense of everyone else. This upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country.
The 400 richest families in America, who saw their wealth increase by some $400 billion during the Bush years, have now accumulated $1.27 trillion in wealth. Four hundred families! During the last fifteen years, while these enormously rich people became much richer their effective tax rates were slashed almost in half. While the highest-paid 400 Americans had an average income of $345 million in 2007, as a result of Bush tax policy they now pay an effective tax rate of 16.6 percent, the lowest on record.
Go read the entire article, it's well worth your time.
Oligarchy is really the only way to describe this. The Republican platform benefits such a small percentage of Americans. And that's the way they prefer it. Social programs are democratizing and give voice to the unwashed masses, which only get in the way of the elite. That's why there's been a systematic dismantling of social programs since Reagan.
Meanwhile, the Republicans keep just a high enough percentage of authoritarian-minded voting against their best interests by preying on their worst instincts--fear of the Other, where the other is alternatively people of color, women seeking reproductive rights, gays, undocumented workers, or any other variation on a theme. The oligarchy points to these fellow-victimized groups as the ones to blame for the poor condition of your life, rather than admit that it is their policies: free trade, union-busting, corporations off-shoring, and the dismantling of social safety nets that hurt you.
And they just flat out lie to you. Other countries manage to offer systems that enable there to be a thriving middle class, social programs like universal healthcare, paid college educations, public transit, child care, and job training. But you'll never hear the truth about how well these programs work, because that might clue in the masses at just how much is kept from us.
Even worse, alternatives to U.S.-style capitalism -- and its attendant inequality, poverty and instability -- are harder than ever to glimpse, as the sovereign debt crisis across the Atlantic distracts U.S media and politicians, once again, from the impressive achievements of European social democracies. That's a shame, because if we can't imagine a better world, our political and economic status quo appears inevitable and uncontestable, much to the benefit of those in power.
Thankfully, we have Thomas Geoghegan's new book Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life (The New Press, 2010) to remind us that things like tax cuts for the wealthy, a healthcare system controlled by corporations and privatized retirement schemes are not inevitable.
The book's central mission--to detail a more humane form of capitalism -- couldn't be more relevant to overworked Americans quietly thinking to themselves, there has to be a better way. Indeed, there is: Contrary to apocalyptic U.S. news articles, European-style social democracy is not about to go extinct. Dig a little deeper and you'll discover that Europe is not an undifferentiated mass of debt, socialist profligacy and unemployment.
The article goes on to specifically mention Germany's economy, which has a thriving industrial base and yet protects its labor force. And yes, they do pay higher taxes, but they get that money back in services that make their lives better.
Unfortunately, we have the right wing noise machine here that will prevent us from having an honest discussion about this. Because the oligarchy never wants anything that might challenge their power.