Wednesday, September 05, 2007

August 28-31, 2007

August 30, 2007
Attack of the Wallmart-istas?

Maybe I stayed in the news business for too long after my radiation badge turned red. Maybe I'm suffering from Post-traumatic, Restless News Syndrome, or something. But I have this notion stuck in my head lately. It's kind of like when I get an annoying tune stuck in my head, this notion pops up and up again, especially after I read the news.

Okay so, at the risk of exposing myself as the nut I have always secretly suspected I would someday be proven to be, here it is – my notion:

How long before before they get it? It can't be far off. So when will day arrive when America's once vibrant and hyper-patriotic working class wakes up and realizes they're at the receiving end of one of the greatest screwings in human history? And then, rather than reaching for their car keys to rush off to their second low-paying job of the day, they reach instead for one of their many guns.”

A number of things got me thinking about that. Like this story which ran earlier this week:

US Most Armed Country With 90 Guns Per 100 People

Reuters--Tuesday 28 August 2007: The United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world, a report released on Tuesday said. U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world's 875 million known firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies. About 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States, it said. "There is roughly one firearm for every seven people worldwide. Without the United States, though, this drops to about one firearm per 10 people," it said.

Yikes. Al-Qaeda, eat your heart out. Americans have more firepower than you do. Which begs the question: when should the US movers and shakers stop worrying about al-Qaeda and start worring about al-Smith? When will all those WallMart shoppers morph into a mob of angry, well-armed Wallmartatistas?

Or is that just crazy – and me too for even considering such a thing happening in America? Maybe I am just crazy, or at least heading to Crazyland. But before you pass that judgement on me, let's run through a few of the news threads that led me down this dark and troubling path.

Item 1:
A Sobering Census Report: Americans' Meager Income Gains

The New York Times--29 August 2007: The economic party is winding down and most working Americans never even got near the punch bowl. The Census Bureau reported yesterday that median household income rose 0.7 percent last year ... (Yet) the median household income last year was still about $1,000 less than in 2000, before the onset of the last recession...And what is perhaps most disturbing is that it appears this is as good as it's going to get. (Full)

Item 2:
Wealth gap widens
Chasm between wealthiest households and everyone else has grown more than 50% since the early 1960s. 29 2006: Over the past 40 years, those at the top of the money food chain have seen their wealth grow at a rate far outpacing everyone else, according to a new analysis released by the Economic Policy Institute...In the early 1960s, the top 1 percent of households in terms of net worth held 125 times the median wealth in the United States. Today, that gap has grown to 190 times.The top 20 percent of wealth-holding households, meanwhile, held 15 times the overall median wealth in the early 1960s. By 2004, that gap had grown to 23 times. "In 21st century America, wealth begets wealth, and those without wealth find it farther out of reach," the report's authors write.

Item 3:
The U.S. today - an oligarchy with inequality growing worse
The top 10% of income earners in the United States now owns 70% of the wealth, and the wealthiest 1% owns more than the bottom 95%, according to the Federal Reserve. In 2005, the top 300,000 Americans enjoyed about the same share of the nation's income — 21.8% — as the bottom 150 million...New York is an especially bleak case study. The top fifth of earners in Manhattan now makes 52 times what the lowest fifth makes — $365,826 annually compared with $7,047 — roughly comparable to income disparity in Namibia.Meanwhile, the ratio of average CEO to worker pay in the U.S. shot up from 301-to-1 to 431-to-1 in 2004. The average CEO now earns substantially more in one day than the average worker earns all year. Adding insult to injury, taxpayers actually give tax breaks to corporations for those salaries, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. (Full)

Personally, I have nothing against the rich, per se. I just have this nagging belief that money in a financial system is like blood in a body. The stuff has to be fairly evenly distributed throughout the body otherwise bad things start to happen. Let the concentration get too far out of hand and the body convulses. After that all kinds of bad things can happen unless the stuff is redistributed more evenly.

One has to wonder whether the new super-rich understand that. I believe they do. Here's at least some evidence that they are getting worried the body is about to convulse.

Item 4:
Most Expensive Gated Communities 2005
NEW YORK -Exclusive gated communities that shield mansions with walls, hedges and uniformed security guards may seem like a modern phenomenon. But the notion of rich people living in protected areas is not a recent idea. "It was the line between civilization and chaos, between order and disorder," says Evan McKenzie, associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government...Today, the wealthy and well-known are still drawn to private, protected neighborhoods, and are willing to pay millions of dollars--plus expensive association fees--to live in them. "The affluent always start their shopping in gated communities," says John McMonigle, a broker for Coldwell Banker International Previews in Newport Beach, Calif. "Security is more and more of a concern, especially for people moving from L.A. to Orange County. They almost always insist on gated communities. I don't think they realize what a safe little bubble it is." (Full)

Item 5:
Fortress America
: Gated Communities in the United States
Brookings Institution: Americans are electing to live behind walls with active security mechanisms to prevent intrusion into their private domains. Americans of all classes are forting up, attempting to secure the value of their houses, reduce or escape from the impact of crime, and find neighbors who share their sense of the good life. The new fortress developments are predominantly suburban, with a growing number of urban inner-city counterparts. They are, however, more than walled-off areas and refuges from urban violence and a rapidly changing society....We estimate that more than 3 million American households have already sought out this new refuge from the problems of urbanization. (Full)

So, the rich do seem to understand that at some point in process of serf-afying the American working class, that some of those newly minted serfs are likely to get a tad cranky about their diminished circumstances.

"But, the saddest part of moving to a (gated) neighborhood segregated by wealth is that your children won't have the sense of security you enjoyed growing up in a less affluent community. They won't be required to interact with young and old, rich and poor, with town drunks and with little old ladies in tennis shoes. So, they'll never feel comfortable with those who are different." (Bill Wineke Wisconsin State Journal)

Which brings me back to that first story.. the one about how many guns are out there. Who do you figure holds most of those privately owned firearms? I'd wager that 99.9% of them are owned by working stiffs. Ironic, isn't it? For decades conservative politicians have stroked working class voters into a trance with Second Amendment chants. After all, they insinuated, when the commies came, who will fight them off? Well all those patriotic, semi-automatic toting Joe and Jane Sixpacks out there, of course.

I wonder if those right wingers might be having second thoughts about that strategy? After all, millions of those now-well armed Joe and Jane Sixpack are suddenly struggling with entirely non-commie-generated problems.

Millions face foreclosure.

Forty seven million can't afford health insurance.

Tens of millions have maxxed out their credit cards and are finding it hard to even make their minimum monthly payments.

Credit-Card Defaults Rise
Wall Street Journal -- August 29, 2007: With more Americans filing for bankruptcy... credit card defaults are on the rise... According to Moody's Invester Services, credit card compaines wrote off 4.58% of payments between January and may 2007, up nearly 30% from the same period in 2006."

Each day more and more formerly comfortable working families come to realize that their kids, stuck in substandard schools and faced with diminishing career choices, are not likely to get the same fair shot at the American dream they had – if only briefly.

They are also figuring out that the infrastructure in their cities and highways is crumbling and not likely to get fixed any time soon. Why? Because the rich demanded and got tax cuts so enormous that there's no money to spend on America's infrastructure.

They are also just starting to understand that's the real reason our passenger air service has become something akin to flying Greyhound Buses – only worse -- is because America's movers and shakers have shunned commercial air for the comfort of private jets – the aeronautical equivalent of gated communities.

Working stiffs, the ones that abandoned Democrats and have voted Republican ever since Ronald Reagan blew his “Morning in America” bullshit up their asses, are slowly figuring out that they've had – big time.

Finally, whatya think is going to happen when all those hyper-patriotic, hyper-religious, hyper-armed working folk figure out that America's corporate super-rich share none of their values. Not one. They don't even see themselves as Americans any more, but as corporate citizens of the world.

Maintaining America's infrastructure – the very backbone upon which most of the super-rich built their fortunes – is someone else's responsibility. Don't tax the rich to fix all those roads and bridges upon which they continue to ship their goods and commerce. If you do tax them for it, they threaten, they'll relocate their corporate headquarters to some other tax-friendlier country.

It hasn't happened yet -- my dard vision. Maybe it never will happen. Maybe they'll figure out how to keep fooling workers into accepting and expecting less while working harder and harder. After all, "worker productivity" has become the holy grail of success. Companies are no longer judged by good citizenship qualities but by how much product they can squeeze out workers at the lowest cost. Pensions, health insurance, protecting the environment... such factors are no longer considered good corporate policy, but rather drags on productivity. So, they had to go.

I don't know, maybe I worry too much. Maybe I'm just getting old and undergoing the inevitable process that makes old farts bitch and complain about everything and anything. I admit that I do, from time to time, pine away for the America of my youth. At time between the end of World War II and the pre-Reagan era when a man like my father, who never finished high school because of the depression, was able to start his own business, work hard and attain a solid upper middle class lifestyle. He was not the exception back then, but the rule.

It was time when that carrot at the end of the stick -- the American dream -- was actually attainable by almost anyone willing to work hard. The carrot is still being hung out there, but the stick is now so long fewer and fewer can ever hope to attain the prize. Which is why fewer and fewer even bother trying.

Last month WallMart announced lower earnings expectations going forward. The company's chief financial officer noted the reason being that, “Clearly our customers are running out of money before the end of each month.”

Well, yeah. Duh.

And the US stock market convulses daily now. Some days it struggles off the floor, gives everyone a big thumbs up, only find itself face down on the floor in convulsions the next day. It's all about that blood supply being horded by that 1%.

Meanwhile in Europe savvy traders are betting on trouble.. big trouble.

Mystery trader bets market will crash by a third
16 Aug 2007--An anonymous investor has placed a bet on an index of Europe's top 50 stocks falling by a third by the end of September, as world equity markets plunged for a third day and volatility hit a three-year high. (Full)

But the super-rich, sheltered behind walls and zipping above it all in Gulfstream jets see, hear and feel little of this. They are the 1% who have it all – literally. And they really don't give a fig what's going on in your lives, so don't bother whining to them about it. They've learned something the super-privileged have known down through the ages -- it's good to be the king.

In the short term those walls and gates may keep the riffraff at a distance. But I doubt they'll do much good when those millions of WallMarters grab the guns they bought dirt-cheap at WallMart and turn into angry Walmartatistas.

The history of western civilization is chuck full of instances when just that happened. Whether it happens here depends on whether someone figures out how to more evenly redistribute the economic blood supply -- and does so before blood is spilled.

See also
The War on Working Americans

August 27,2007

Slip Sliding Away?

Let's suppose – just for the hell of it – that, even as the feds closed in on them, that John Gotti and Al Capone held news conferences and announced they were stepping down?

“After sit-downs with my family and the Family, I have decided to step down. It has been an honor to head dis wonderful organization. But all the heat currently directed towards me – none of which is true, by the way --- has become a distraction from the wonderful work of dis organization -- the uplifting the lives of Italian-Americans working men and women in our communities. Thank you, and God bless dis wonderful country.”

Would that have been it for Capone and Gotti? Would the feds have sighed in resignation, folded the investigations and moved on, allowing those two lying, murdering and thieving sociopaths just move on down the road of life?

No way. They pursued them until they nailed them.

Where am I going with this? I don't think I need to draw you a picture.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned, an official said on Monday, ending a controversial tenure as chief law enforcement officer that blemished the administration of President George W. Bush. The 51-year-old Bush loyalist was at the center of a political firestorm over the sacking of federal prosecutors last year, which critics in Congress complained were politically motivated.

Administration supporters – the dead enders of American politics – will complain that my mobster analogy is a typical liberal over-the-top attack on this administration.


Were GOP dead-enders paying attention to the testimony of Assistant US Attorney, James Comey, when he described Gonzales' late-night “visit” to the hospital bed of then Attorney General Aschroft? All that was missing from that scene was the severed head of a favorite race horse.

What did Capone and Gotti do when they wanted information from captured members of a rival gang? They grabbed them off the street without so much as a howdy-do, spirited them off to a secret location and “roughed them up.” No right to remain silent, no right to attorney, no right to habeas corpus. Alberto Gonzales, as President Bush's consigliari, approved just that kind of extra-legal, thuggish behavior.

What would Capone and Gotti do to members of their gang they suspected were not loyal enough? They'd get rid of them and replace them with goons who did what they were told.

What did Capone and Gotti do when members of the community refused their offers of "protection?" They'd scare them with tales of what "could happen" if they refused. If that didn't work there would be fires, broken windows, broken bones, even a few bodies, to “convince” the unconvinced they might just need the Family's protection after all.

What would Capone and Gotti do whenever fat city contracts were up for grabs? They'd make damn sure those contracts went to friends, family and Family members – who would then loot the taxpayer funded projects blind, with impunity.

What would Capone and Gotti do if called to testify before a crime commission? They'd dissemble and their memories would fail them. If that didn't work, they'd just lie under oath.

Over the last three weeks two capos of the Bush/Cheney gang have “stepped down., Karl (Sonny) Rove and now Alberto Gonzales. Both men were the focus of congressional investigations at the time. High crimes and misdemeanors were alleged. Evidence was being withheld, hidden, and when that failed, destroyed.

So now what? Do we let member sof the Bush/Cheney mob slip off, one at time, like thieves in the night, to live on as if they'd served their country with honor? Is that the precedent that will ultimately define the Bush administration? That you can hold high office, commit crimes and, as long as you get out Dodge before the cops get around to indicting your ass, you're home free?

Is that what America's democracy finally devolved to -- North America's premier banana republic?

That will precisely be the case, unless congress and the Dept. of Justice vow they will not stop investigating the alleged crimes of this administration – not now and not even after they leave office -- until those alleged crimes are either definitively and believably, proved or definitiely and believable disproved.

(Memo to Nancy Pelosi: that means putting impeachment back on the god-damn table !)