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Tonight, as we learn that the leading advocate for the survival of the U.S. middle class is being turned into a political football by the White House and she's now being thrown onto that deeply captured playing field which we occasionally reference as the U.S. Senate, the NY Times' Bob Herbert tells us of our economic "Recovery's Long Odds" and "...the structural changes in the economy that have bestowed fabulous wealth on a tiny sliver at the top, while undermining the living standards of the middle class and [that are] absolutely crushing the poor."

(BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: Today's press is rife with speculation as to whether or not the White House will "temporarily" appoint Elizabeth Warren to the CFPB, or seek confirmation of her formal appointment to the post via the Senate. Articles and blog posts indicating either/both outcome(s) are simultanesouly running in the MSM and blogosphere, as I write this.)

A Recovery's Long Odds
NY Times Op-Ed
September 14, 2010

...Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a viable strategy for reversing this dreadful state of affairs. (There is no evidence the G.O.P. even wants to.)

(Diarist's note: the operative word in Herbert's first sentence is: "viable.")

Robert Reich, in his new book, "Aftershock," gives us one of the clearest explanations to date of what has happened -- how the United States went from what he calls "the Great Prosperity" of 1947 to 1975 to the Great Recession that has hobbled the U.S. economy and darkened the future of younger Americans.

He gives the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve credit for moving quickly in terms of fiscal and monetary policies to prevent the economic crash of 2008 from driving the U.S. into a second great depression. "But," he writes, "we did not learn the larger lesson of the 1930s: that when the distribution of income gets too far out of whack, the economy needs to be reorganized so the broad middle class has enough buying power to rejuvenate the economy over the longer term."

The middle class is finally on its knees. Jobs are scarce and good jobs even scarcer. Government and corporate policies have been whacking working Americans every which way for the past three or four decades. While globalization and technological wizardry were wreaking employment havoc, the movers and shakers in government and in the board rooms of the great corporations were embracing privatization and deregulation with the fervor of fanatics. The safety net was shredded, unions were brutally attacked and demonized, employment training and jobs programs were eliminated, higher education costs skyrocketed, and the nation's infrastructure, a key to long-term industrial and economic health, deteriorated...

Timothy Noah is in the middle of a nothing-less-than-brilliant, 10-part, two-week series over at Slate, entitled: "The United States of Inequality." (I'm sure I'll be referencing Noah's seminal work in future posts for years to come.) The sixth chapter of his series, posted late Sunday, is: "The United States of Inequality: The Great Divergence and the Death of Organized Labor."

In his Sunday chapter summary, Noah tells us...

The United States of Inequality
The Great Divergence: The Great Divergence and the Death of Organized Labor

By Timothy Noah
Posted Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010, at 9:56 PM ET

...Taft-Hartley slowed and then halted labor's growth and then, over many decades, enabled management to roll back its previous gains. Big manufacturing's desire to do so grew more urgent in the 1970s as inflation spun out of control, productivity fell, and the steel and auto industries faced stiffer competition from abroad. Even before Ronald Reagan's election, Levin and Temin write, the Senate signaled the federal government was rapidly losing interest in enforcing Truman's 1945 pact (diarist's note: see Noah's discussion of Truman's "Treaty of Detroit") when it killed off, by filibuster, a pro-labor reform bill aimed at easing union organizing in the South.

President Reagan's 1981 decision to break the air-traffic controllers' union and to slash top income-tax rates killed off Truman's 1945 pact entirely. Although Reagan was a onetime union president, he showed little concern when the 1982 recession rapidly eliminated so many Rust Belt manufacturing jobs that the proportion of private-sector workers who belonged to unions dropped to 16 percent in 1985, down from 23 percent as recently as 1979. Reagan's hostility to unions was further reflected in his choice of Donald Dotson to chair the National Labor Relations Board. Dotson had previously worked as a management-side labor adversary for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, and (presumably with both lips and heart) believed collective bargaining led to "the destruction of individual freedom." Under Reagan's two terms, the federal minimum wage, which previously had been adjusted upward every year or two, would remain stuck at $3.35 an hour for close to a full decade. Similarly, President George W. Bush, another two-term Republican, later let the minimum wage remain at $5.15 (to which it had risen during the presidencies of his father and Bill Clinton) for two months shy of 10 years, by which time its buying power had reached a 51-year low...

Noah's over-arching theme of income inequality is what he references in his opening chapter, as...

...a topic of huge importance to American society and therefore a subject of large and growing interest to a host of economists, political scientists, and other wonky types. Except for a few Libertarian outliers (whose views we'll examine later), these experts agree that the country's growing income inequality is deeply worrying...

Here's a link to Noah's Visual Guide to Inequality. It's a must-read/must-view, IMHO.

And, getting back to Herbert's column, today, this is where he's taking us, too, while concurrently parsing Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Herbert observes:  "'s painfully obvious that the economy has failed working Americans."

(Again, I strongly encourage the readers of this diary to reference the first and most recent [sixth] chapters of Noah's work, linked above. His assessments of our country's inequality problems, and the solutions to them, are both spot-on and compelling, to say the least.)

Herbert points out Reich's citation of analysts' tracking of the "...increasing share of national income that has gone to the top 1 percent of earners since the 1970s, when their share was 8 percent to 9 percent. In the 1980s, it rose to 10 percent to 14 percent. In the late-'90s, it was 15 percent to 19 percent. In 2005, it passed 21 percent. By 2007, the last year for which complete data are available, the richest 1 percent were taking more than 23 percent of all income."

And, we're reminded, yet again, that the richest 1/10th of 1 percent of our society--just 13,000 households--accounted for more than 11 percent of total income in 2007. As Herbert notes: a male worker's median wage in 2007 was actually less, when adjusted for inflation, than that of a male worker 30 years ago! Put even more simply, "A typical son, in other words, is earning less than his dad did at the same age."

Next-to-last, I find my posting of this diary to be quite incomplete (and/or "dishonest due to omission") without making note of these two events (repeating one of which I mentioned in the opening paragraph) that have come to light inside the Beltway over the past few hours, namely:

--the potential feeding to the proverbial wolves of Elizabeth Warren's nomination as Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Chair;

--and the increasing cacaphony of the Blue Dogs, and even some moderate Democrats, bending to corporate fundraising pressures this election cycle, to assuage the status quo by extending Bush's tax cuts to the wealthy, despite all of the--for lack of better words--pandering and bullshit to the contrary that we read coming from D.C., as well.

Because even the President knows that, at the end of the day (at least as it's being dictated by the centrist-right zeitgeist of Capitol Hill), it's the Senate that maintains final say over these matters.

And, as Matt Taibbi told us in that memorable commentary from the August 6th edition of Rolling Stone, Wall Street's Big Win...

What happened next was a prime example of the basic con of congressional politics. Throughout the debate over finance reform, Democrats had sold the public on the idea that it was the Republicans who were killing progressive initiatives. In reality, Republican and Democratic leaders were working together with industry insiders and deep-pocketed lobbyists to prevent rogue members like Merkley and Levin from effecting real change. In public, the parties stage a show of bitter bipartisan stalemate. But when the cameras are off, they fuck like crazed weasels in heat.

Finally, in addition to Noah's great series, currently on Slate (to which I provide links, above), I'm told you may wish to checkout a regular Thursday evening event (at 9PM EST), right here in this community, concerning our country's growing class disparities: Our Wedge Issue: Income Inequality Kos. Kossack Azazello has been politely urging me to drop by, and I think it's time I did just that.

Hopefully, sometime before November 2nd, the leaders of our Party on Capitol Hill will start giving this issue more than just lip service, as well.

Originally posted to on Mon Sep 13, 2010 at 11:42 PM PDT.

Also republished by Income Inequality Kos.

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