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is because increasingly Americans are slipping down the economic scale, headed in that direction.

There were several segments on Morning Joe that addressed this - remarks by Mike Barnicle, the segment with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley.

As Smiley put it, "the former middle class who are now the new educated poor."  

Yesterday I went to a book event at the AFL-CIO headquarters here in DC.  The author was Hedrick Smith, who was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and who approached his latest book, the just-released Who Stole the American Dream?, as a reporter.

Joe Scarborough pointed out that, not including his show this morning, a study released yesterday said that 0.2% of the stories on the current campaign dealt in any way with the poor.

I have just begun the Smith book.  He has pulled together a lot of important material, and had the assistance of the likes of people at the AFL-CIO and Larry Mishel and those at the Economic Policy Institute.

I am going to ask you to continue below the fold where I will share a bit from the beginning of the book and from my notes from yesterday's author sesssion.

I opened the book to read the quotation at the beginning, and became tempted to immediately change my sig to those words, which I offer here:

We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.
The man who offered those words later became a Supreme Court Justice, but offered them when he was an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.  His name was Louis Brandeis.

To a degree Smith is accepting framing made familiar by John Edwards when he offers

Over the past three decades, we have become Two Americas.
Smith writes pointedly
Today, the gravest challenge and the most corrosive fault line in our society is the gross inequality of income and wealth in America.
 If you do not fully grasp how severe this is becoming, consider this:  
Wealth has flowed so massively to the top that during the nation's growth spurt from 2000 to 2007, America's super-rich, te top 1 percent (3 million people), reaped two-thirds of the nation's entire economic gains.  The other 99 percent were left with only one-third of the gains to divide among 310 million people.  In 2010, the first full year of the economic recovery, the top 1 percent captured 93 percent of the nation's gains.

And then there is this, which perhaps you have encountered before:  

...according to the Census Bureau, the pay of a typical male worker was lower in 2010 than in 1978, adjusted for inflation.  Three decades of getting nowhere or slipping backwards.
In his remarks yesterday, Smith noted that in the early 80s, when Reagan came into office, homeowner owned about 70% of the value of their homes.  By the beginning of 2009, before the total collapse of the housing market, that had dropped to 40% as people had been forced to use the equity in their homes in order to sustain the standard of living.

That's if you had equity in your home, since after all, there are now more than 20 million mortgages under water in the US.

Hedrick Smith offers key data points -   the infamous 1971 Powell Memorandum and the adoption of the 401K in  1978 are two key ones.

Consider a few notes I will paste in without editing from my notes from yesterday:  

He is now getting to 1971 Powell Memorandum

Smith notes that most of the regulation about which Powell complained were enacted in Presidency of Richard Nixon

Business Roundtable formed 3 months after the Powell Memorandum
NFIB grows from 3K to 600K  - similar growth in other business organizations

50,000 working for trade associaions
9000 corporate lobbyists  

1978 is watershed -  

401K went thru as a favor to Barber Conable on behalf of Kodak, etc.  

Why is dream stolen

First thing that happens is the power shift  

He is so upset that people in media treat business and labor as if equal

Business outspends labor 65-1  in lobbying

16-1 in political spending

Smith also offered an addendum to the famous maxim of Lord Acton that Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.  It was coined by legendary organizer Ernie Cortes, and reads like this:

Powerlessness also corrupts.

The poor not only lack financial resources, they lack access to power. One reason for the attacks on ACORN was a deliberate attempt to destroy one of the few mechanisms that gave the poor access to the levers of power by working collectively.  Similarly, there have been severe restrictions placed upon the services that can be offered by Legal Services, as the legal system, in civil law as well as criminal law, gets further tilted in favor of those already wealthy or powerful.

There is the famous statement from Nazi Germany by Pastor Martin Niemoller, of which there are many versions, the one best known in the United States reading as follows:  

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

There are few organizations that have the power to speak for ordinary folks.   Labor unions, whose power has been severely diminished over the past few decades, remain in the cross-hairs.

Even with the recent increase, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation, meaning the working poor fall ever further behind.

The loss of defined benefit pensions increasingly puts our older citizens at risk of slipping into poverty.

Our standards for teaching history - if we teach it - excludes the history of the powerless, including omitting labor history, but also all except some whitewashed history of minorities.  People do not learn that August 28 1963 was official a March for Jobs and Freedom, and that Helen Keller was a Socialist.  

The narratives that frame our discussions of policy seem to be shaped by the institutions formed after the Powell Memorandum, by the thrust of that document and what has flowed from that.  

Some try to undermine expansion of medical coverage that does not even include all Americans by pitting one group of Americans against another rather than a narrative that enables us to see we are all in this together.

Smith notes that it does not have to be like this.  Germany has managed to maintain a manufacturing capacity while we have been losing ours, they maintain a trade surplus while we have a trade deficit, and they do not have the kinds of poverty or of loss of middle class status that is now so endemic in America.  Oh, and they have universal health care.

It is insufficient to win elections as Democrats merely because we can get more money from Wall Street than did the Republicans, as happened in 2008.  That makes the incoming administration too beholden to Wall Street interests.  It may be in part why we did not get cramdowns on mortgages, why the bailed out financial institutions continued to pay bonuses rather than alleviate suffering and freeing up credit, why those whose actions were not only immoral but also illegal have suffered no criminal penalties and few if any financial penalties, while millions upon millions of Americans have suffered, have seen the loss of the American Dream.

That one party can nominate for President a man who has benefited from the tilted system should be an abomination.  Merely because one comes from wealth is far from a disqualifier:  both Roosevelts and Kennedy came from family wealth, and the likes of Lyndon Johnson had seen "severe" increases in the financial well-being experienced in adulthood compared to his younger years.  But all of these, and even conservatives like Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, understood something about the nature of the implication of our social contract.  It is why we struggled to expand that social contract to be more inclusive -  by race, by gender, by religion, even by age when the voting age was lowered to 18.  

Now we see those willing to abandon that approach, and thereby to abandon many people.

If you do not care what happens to the poor, then you will have no right to complain when you find yourself slipping ever closer to their economic despair.

We often complain that if only the poor would vote, we could have a strong Democratic majority and be able to accomplish progressive goals.  But why should the poor bother when neither party addresses their needs, when so often they are not considered, not even mentioned?

Who lobbies for the poor in Washington, in the 50 state capitals?

There can be no real social justice without economic justice, and there will be neither if we exclude the poor when we consider how to make policy.

Just a few thoughts on a Friday morning.

Do with them what you will.

Originally posted to teacherken on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (32+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:17:47 AM PDT

  •  All too true, Ken (6+ / 0-)

    Rebuilding the middle class is the great missing issue in this election and in our politics more generally.  Lips get flapped in that direction occasionally, but any agenda to rebuild the middle class will have to address reversing the galloping increases in income inequality this nation has seen over the last 3 decades.  Economic growth has to be reoriented so that those at the bottom and in the middle get the lion's share of the benefits, instead of those at the top taking all the gains.  

    Democrats in the current campaign have begun talking in these terms, but have provided no real agenda to achieve these goals.  The corrupting influence of money is the reason, as you point out.  The president has been almost as averse to proclaiming an agenda for his second term as Romney has for his first, aside from a few small-ball suggestions in Charlotte.  Democrats, and Americans, deserve more.

    For the love of money is the root of all evil; and while some have coveted after it, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)

    by Dallasdoc on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:24:40 AM PDT

    •  Without a middle class, (8+ / 0-)

      we are all poor and there is no where to aspire.  Early in 2009, I posed a question as to why no one was talking about the poor.  Ignoring the poor is ignoring the middle class.  What we are witnessing is a growing of the ranks of the poor people from those who were formerly middle class and an obscenely unequal distribution of wealth.  We are rapidly becoming close to a third world country.

      Income and wealth inequality is a national security issue much greater than terrorism.

      "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

      by gulfgal98 on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:43:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Why hasn't anybody asked Mitt Rmoney or Paul Ryan (0+ / 0-)

      Why they want to steal the American dream and show how they are following in the Powell footsteps.

      When I heard Smiths talk on NPR and wrote about it I expected several stories about it here at KOS and I am glad for this diary, thanks teacherken.

      I think all the Mitt mistakes are grabbing so much attention this is not getting the news I feel it should but I think Smith is on to something and he has done his homework.

      When the Repubs try to paint Obama as for redistrubtion I can see that their moneybags backers are all trying to redistribute even more to themselves even though they already have more enough to live on for centuries.

      I'm looking forward to more discussion on this book and it's truths showing the current Repub agenda is hidden behind lies to gain power! Power to give the richest more riches.

      Conservatives supported slavery, opposed women’s suffrage, supported Jim Crow, opposed the 40-hour work week, the abolishment of child labor, and supported McCarthyism. from 'It's The Conservatism, Stupid' by Paul Waldman July 12, 2006

      by arealniceguy on Wed Sep 19, 2012 at 11:42:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I see poverty up close (14+ / 0-)

    when i volunteer in free dental clinics, as I will be doing once again in Grundy Virginia the first weekend in October

    how easily even with medical insurance, given how poor much of it is, one can be forced into bankruptcy, where the laws have been tilted to favor the lenders in a fashion that is truly despicable

    I see people barely hanging on in retirement, even with Medicare unable to get good medical care because doctors will not treat them at the too low reimbursement rate

    I am fortunate.  I have enough from Social Security and a defined benefit pension that while I might have to downsize my lifestyle I am not at risk.  What of those with such defined benefits, whose 401Ks were wiped out?

    What about those living in areas abandoned by corporations, where there are few jobs, and those there are pay miserably?

    Why is our minimum wage so minimal, such that it is impossible to survive on a minimum wage job without benefits?

    Why are corporations like Walmart, insanely profitable, aloud to play games by hiring people for just under the number of hours where they have to pay benefits?

    Why are corporations allowed to force workers to labor for 60 hours rather than hiring an additional worker for every 2 or 3 current workers - and for that the answer is the overtime pay (if the job is not falsely defined as supervisory to avoid that) is less than assuming the responsibility for any benefits.

    If we do not see that we are all in this together, then we will not properly assess taxes to build the infrastructure and the public institutions necessary to sustain a civil society and a democratic government.  And we will all continue to suffer - in case you don't realize that you are already suffering.

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:31:39 AM PDT

    •  even those of us with what appears on paper (7+ / 0-)

      to be a comfortable income are in trouble.  For myself, while the income looks comfortable, I am having to help my grown children while trying to pay off burgeoning medical bills.

      For those of us who are retired, we are the new poor because we are still responsible for covering for our children and grandchildren because they cannot get financial traction while, at the same time, we find we are no longer able to borrow money and therefore have to constantly dip into our savings, as I am currently considering having to do yet again, with negative tax consequences.
      Mitt's tax proposals do nothing to help me.  

    •  I hope those who read this will support it (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FloridaSNMOM, BitterEnvy, BusyinCA

      by distributing it and by recommending it

      there are groups on the progressive side attempting to address issues such as these

      here I think of several where I know people very much involved

      New York Communities for Change
      Working Families Party

      the effort in Florida to get paid sick leave in Orange County

      just to name three

      Smith thinks we need mass movements -  I wonder how effective those still are, given the ability of the power structure to shut them down and the refusal of the media to give them attention - what if the media had fully covered the mass demonstrations against Iraq, might it have given some politicians the backbone to oppose Bush?

      I am open to suggestion to how we move forward

      I know only this - that we must address such issues or fail as a democracy and as a moral society

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:53:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I see poverty up close when I awake every morning (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, BitterEnvy

      I know people falling into poverty from the middle class is hard. Culture shock and all. So if you need survival advice...

      Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

      by Horace Boothroyd III on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:19:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not just poverty, but disdain for poor people (6+ / 0-)

      What grieves me as much as the growing poverty is the disdain and contempt for poor people. This disdain is expressed not just subtly, but openly, in casual conversation and in policy, by media and by politicians of the right and sometimes center and even the left. Closely allied with this is fear of the poor.

      Like you, Ken, I am privileged by my situation (tenured professor) and unlikely to face personal poverty. But our Friends Meeting does intake every night, all winter long, for the homeless shelter, and over the last four years I have come to know most of the local homeless folks by name, and to know many of their stories. And yet they are mentioned in the local papers only as a problem or a blight, and not mentioned at all by politicians.

      Even those with jobs and a roof over their heads face daily struggles. It's not just corporations who are trying to wring more out of what they see as a weakened labor force. The skilled and gentle nursing aides who care for my elderly parents are now forced by the so-called nonprofit retirement community to buy their own uniforms and to work longer hours or more nights and weekends on short notice. The cleaning staff at the university have to cover more buildings with fewer people, and the repair people are stretched so thin that even urgent repairs may take several days.

      Perhaps the most amazing and appalling part is that the greatest disdain often comes from those who are loudest in proclaiming ours a Christian nation. The four accounts of the life of Jesus are varied, but they all make compassion and care for the poor, the sick, the old, the hungry - "the least of these" - a central teaching. Indeed, the call to compassion seemed to intensify as his short life drew to a close. We must, indeed, love one another, and care for one another.

      •  Some people try to treat me as invisible, others (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken

        have pity. If I scrounge up money to treat myself to the Symphony, or other such, it can be awkward. People are now dressing down, makes it easier. Having a to do list that includes getting proper clothing to wear at a wake or funeral... I may show up in chinos and running shoes. If people whisper or gossip, THEY are in the wrong.

        My personal computer is limited, can't post without tagging on. Community computer better. Pardon tagging to comments, spelling, please.

        by CuriousBoston on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 10:14:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I was doing very well until I became disabled. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken

      Sold stock the company sold me at a discount. Entire IRA gone, before the medical rule was even thought of. Several moves. Dental insurance gone. Cobra cost knocked me for a loop. A high interest savings account with withdrawal notice of 90 days, gone, savings account, gone, most jewelry-gifts, gone. Some signed first editions, very valuable, gone.

      I'm still selling books.

      My understanding of red tape, my persistence, despite being ill, my being a white, ill looking female, helped a lot.

      Trying to teach a young worker that was clueless that it was not possible for me to prove I did no longer have an IRA was frustrating. It took a few minutes, a lot of patience, humiliation at having to be extra polite. i had to enter by the back door. There was a guard.

      I often spent waiting time helping those that were bewildered by the forms.

      My personal computer is limited, can't post without tagging on. Community computer better. Pardon tagging to comments, spelling, please.

      by CuriousBoston on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 10:08:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We have enough distractions that the poor (4+ / 0-)

    often do not even realize how poor they are. Meaning that the stratification of income has become so extreme that the distance between the rungs in the ladder are beyond our vision very often.

    How to fix that?

    I don't know, we're been dealing with the issue for awhile. I do know what helps though.

    A livable minimum wage
    Universal health coverage
    Moderate and sane criminal laws

    --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

    by idbecrazyif on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:40:22 AM PDT

  •  the irony is that Mitt claims his tax cuts are (4+ / 0-)

    for the middle class as it would do away with capital gains tax, inheritance tax and dividend taxes.  If we assume the old measure of the middle class to be those making $55K annually or more, let us be honest.  How many of these people will leave estates of $5M or more, given current inheritance exclusions?  Since most of them hold most their assets in their home equity and do not plan to sell their homes, how will they be affected by capital gains? For many of those who do sell, they are either evicted or the majority of the sale is going to pay off existing mortgages.
    For those with IRAs or 401Ks, why would dividend taxes matter since those who invested since 2008 currently have holding worth less than their principal investment?

    Since 2000, the average Joe's net worth has decrease from $75K to $55K while the 1% has increased from $9M to $16M.

    Now for the real depressing fact: even if I moved the middle class up to those making $100K-$200K, that group is in as much financial hot water as the rest of us.  They are just sinking slower.      

  •  Widespread and growing poverty in a country as (6+ / 0-)

    wealthy as ours is shameful. It says that we are greedy and selfish and acknowledge no responsibility for one another. It exposes the lie of the social contract. It shows our society for the shallow, unjust and self-absorbed shiny bauble that it is. Is it any wonder that people around the world object to having our values, or lack thereof, shoved down their throats? And yes, I know there are many places in the world where conditions make us look good by comparison - but when it comes to sheer selfishness, arrogance, shallowness and meanness, few others can compete.

    There are a couple of things that really stick in my craw about our party: the support for war and the MIC, and the abandonment of the poor except as talking points during campaign season. I so want to believe that we can do better.

    •  Well put. Very well put. (2+ / 0-)

      The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right  Pretty much sums it up for me.

      We need to keep reminding the up and coming generations that they are not alone in seeing injustice, they are not alone in reacting with revulsion to many things our recent government has done in our name, and most of all, that they are right to stand up and protest any injustice they suffer.

      And they need us elders to back them up when they do. Because they are absolutely right in their exercise of their First Amendment rights, as we were back in the day. And we need to help them, to help us all now.

      Recent events in Wisconsin should be more than enough for anyone to see that we are sliding down that slope to a totalitarian government when the Republicans are allowed to be in charge. It can not be allowed. It must be stopped. It must be exposed for all to see, even the politically uninvolved, that even they might see the light.

      We all need to protest when it becomes safer to remain silent, and we need to support the efforts of progressive Democrats, both local and nationally, that can further the cause of justice and freedom for all.

      I have been more optimistic about this recent batch of Democratic candidates than I have been since, ever.

      Let's take back the House, and gain seats in the Senate, and above all, let's re-elect the best President we've had since JFK, Barack Obama.

      Mitt's full of it / Ryan's lyin' -- "Your money and your life."

      by BusyinCA on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 10:26:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My partner has endured over 12 years without a (5+ / 0-)

    pay increase and two reductions in pay. He spends 24/7/365 assisting a developmentally disabled man. You know...the poor helping the poor.

    Hope has a hole in it when Republicans come, bringing shackles and sorrow; branding their greed on the backs of the poor. - Wendy Connors

    by Wendys Wink on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:01:57 AM PDT

  •  I keep waiting for President Obama to say (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, brae70, BitterEnvy

    something, but it is always, "The middle class..."

    Sigh.

    Hope has a hole in it when Republicans come, bringing shackles and sorrow; branding their greed on the backs of the poor. - Wendy Connors

    by Wendys Wink on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:03:14 AM PDT

  •  I won't even wax philosophically (5+ / 0-)

    Bottom line, when there are more poor than middle class or idle rich, then it doesn't take a genius or an economist or a philosopher to figure out that the poor will outnumber and takeover the others.

    Why the rich don't see it as a self preservation issue if nothing else, is beyond me.

    We view "The Handmaid's Tale" as cautionary. The GOP views it as an instruction book. @PortiaMcGonagal on Twitter

    by Vita Brevis on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:05:40 AM PDT

  •  Indeed. When people can't find an ORDERLY (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, BitterEnvy

    way to address their problems. they will find a DISORDERLY way to address their problems.

    "Now go out there and make me do it!" - Franklin Roosevelt

    by brae70 on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:10:55 AM PDT

  •  Some of the mistakes we make include: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FloridaSNMOM, BitterEnvy

    - Not demanding, in the streets, in the media, wherever, that the government work for us and not the rich and corporations.  We are ignored when we stay home and stay quiet.

    -thinking corporations and the rich have our best interests at heart and relying on them for employment. It buys into the right-wing meme of the rich being "job creators."

    - continuing to give our hard earned money to the filthy rich like the Walton family (Walmart) or the Romneys (Staples, etc).  We willingly contribute to the UPward redistribution of wealth to the rich.  

    The right has been successful in destroying solidarity among working people and the realization of our own power, to withhold our labor and our money.  The media has been complicit in pushing the demonization of the poor as 'lazy' or 'undeserving' and so people think it's their own fault and are embarrassed to call themselves poor.  

    We even see alleged Democrats like Rahm attempting to crush teachers' unions, and an astonishingly tepid level of national support from alleged liberals.  

    I've been trying to review the labor history that was barely touch on in my history books.  How did we win the 8 hour day, the minimum wage, the weekend off?  Solidarity for one: we identified with our fellow working people instead of being 'temporarily embarrassed' future millionaires as the saying goes.    

    Where are the tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) out in the streets protesting, surrounding our government buildings, demanding accountability? If people had problems with Occupy, then why not some other movement?    No one owns the copyright on protest.

    We can at least vote with our money and choose local business, independent businesses, coops, non-profits.

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