[Promoted by Meteor Blades]
I find it almost amusing, the restrained yet increasingly celebratory nature of the news -- media and blog -- that "the bottom is being reached" and that the economy is slowly "on the mend." I find it amusing because it seems that, despite America hovering at the edge of the Second Great Depression (or being deep within it; economists and pundits continue to argue about this point), America and Americans are still judging whether all is right in our version of Denmark primarily by the trappings of those who Have. Whether the Haves can again put their spare change in stocks and make a profit. Whether they can buy a new house. Whether new houses are being built for them. Whether nearly a quarter million people can invest in a car loan of around $10,000-$15,000 (on average, if not a cash transaction) for the promise of a $3,500-$4,500 "clunker" trade-in to buy a brand new car.
It is only "almost" amusing because I was taught to measure whether things were right in the world not by the behavior and lifestyle choices of those who Have, but instead by the quality of life being experienced by the vast majority of Americans, those who Don't Have, even when they do an honest day's work for a living.
Right now, those who Don't Have -- protected in the aggregate by the local and state governments (who are responsible for most of the safety nets however pitiful that exist to keep them just on the edge of the abyss instead of over it) -- are in serious fucking trouble.
That's not amusing, at all.
Today, there were not one, but two recommended diaries here at DailyKOS about the South: one calling for an end of indiscriminate South bashing, the other reveling in it. Of course, neither of those discussed what to me was the most telling news about the South, today:
The largest county in Alabama's economy is today furloughing 2/3 of its entire civil service work force because it is dead busted broke.
Yes, there is plenty of blame, and blaming, to go around. And the New York Times is more than happy to let us know that - citing the problems with a tax that was declared illegal yet represented 25% of Jefferson County's general fund (i.e. the backbone of its budget) and corruption/malfeasance on a public works project as major factors. But all of that completely misses the boat when it comes to talking about those who Don't Have in Jefferson County.
Last week, the director of the Jefferson County public nursing home was told that the county could no longer afford to bury indigent patients.
Across town at the juvenile detention center, the man in charge was trying to figure out how to feed the 28 children in his custody when the entire cafeteria staff is let go. The tax collector warned local school districts to expect a six-month delay to get their share of property taxes. In family court, administrators plan to delay child support, custody and child abuse cases, leaving some children in the hands of the state indefinitely.
But hey....The economy is shrinking by only 1% a year instead of 6.4. The Dow is back over 9,000. Case-Shiller (home prices index) is going down only 17.1% instead of 18.1 year to year. AND the 4-week moving average for new unemployment claims plummeted (from a truly frightening 567,000 people per week down to a far more reassuring number of just 559,000.
By God...the stimulus is working -- at least for now!
Well, Hallelujah Day. Sing Hallelujah. Or, if you are not the religious type, just sing instead the glib ditty used by the New York Times, In with Recession, Out with Depression".
(If for no other reason than to keep one's mind off the fact that Wall Street, having fleeced the public fisc for a nearly trillion dollars is still handing out million-dollar bonuses to its employees for having utterly FAILED the American economy and the American people, all while insisting that industry and business refusing to lend to or hire normal people -- the Don't Haves -- is still necessary to Save America.)
Of course, knowing us liberals no doubt the response to the Jefferson County situation is likely dismissal as an anomaly, or, more likely, celebration of the whirlwind repeated by "stupid" Southerners enslaved by Republican politics. Who If Only they voted like we do things would be alright.
But those arguments themselves are stupid. Because they miss the point it's not about how politicians vote, it's about how we let them vote.
One only need look at the great Blue State of California to know that.
Since California is on the financial verge of finally falling into the sea.
I could write a lot about the state and state budget, but others have done so better. So I won't try. However, few have written about the impact that the state's near-bankruptcy is having on the Don’t Haves. This is troubling, since as we all know (or should know) all politics is local. Even or perhaps most importantly economic politics. Despite those who insist that America's economy is improving just because, Thank the Lord, all the "leading indicators" are on the rise, so Help is on the Way and folks just need to be patient. The same song sung by the Trickle Downers, just coming as much from the Left this time, I guess since we have a Miracle President in office. All of them singing this song knowing full well that for the foreseeable future, any recovery is just another "jobless recovery" aka another fundamental shift in the ownership of wealth and capital in this country, from those whose work still produces wealth for others despite their continuing descent into penury to those who can afford to celebrate "leading indicators" like the stock market because it means another profitable return on their investments, i.e. on money they don't actualy NEED. (Whether stocks or a vacation home or gold bars, it's still an investment if you don't need the money those represent to keep your lights on and food in your belly, you know.)
But back to California, the soon-to-be bankrupt Blue State.
In my little deep Hood, East Palo Alto, California, we are going to lose the equivalent of 25% of our city budget ($4 out of $16 million) this year just to keep the Golden State afloat. (Not by choice, since Lord knows we have our own problems like deteriorating streets, a failed local school system, 10% of our single family homes lost to foreclosure, another 20% at risk of foreclosure and 50% of the remainder under water, including my own home). The so-called budget miracle comes only at the cost of decimating counties and cities.
If you are a Californian you can check how deep a hit your own city is going to take using the chart, above. But be forewarned - it ain't pretty. If you closely check out who the State stole from to save its own budget, you'll see that it is the poorer cities (in terms of average income from residents) with the greatest unmet local needs (largely trying to be solved through redevelopment) that are paying disproportionately to keep California afloat a tiny bit longer. As for my little city? Well, between this State financial boondoggle and the ongoing virulent, greedy and predatory tactics of our city's largest landlord against not just tenants, but the City itself despite its herculean efforts to preserve itself as the last place the Don't Haves can live on the mid-Peninsula can actually live and thrive (all while claiming to the state, as it drains our coffers through constant lawsuits that its properties should be taken from our legal sphere of influence because we "can't provide necessary services"), we've got a good chance of municipal bankruptcy.
Even with the robber-baron Miracle on Capitol Mall, California (which jeopardizes the credit and bond rating of every city in the state whose redevelopment agency was pilfered) still had to stop to providing subsidized medical insurance to almost 1,000,000 children in working class families; gutting the state college system -- the primary higher education vehicle available to middle income and working class kids here (those campuses other than Berkeley, UCLA and Davis, anyhow, which are for the educational elite); hand out worthless IOUs to both contractor and taxpayer alike and close down the courts once a month just to make ends meet.
Yes, I know all about the 2/3 majority rule and Proposition 13. But I also know plenty of Democrats in Sacramento and statewide who have not drawn the necessary line in the sand over either - just continued to bleat about those mean old Republicans while taking cover, i.e. by not telling the truth that a hell of a lot of Haves got to have because of taxation policies which favored them, such that now there is nothing left for those who Don't Have. Which is, of course, most of California's population just like it is most of Alabama's.
We won't even mention Detroit, and definitely not Michigan as whole. Others are far more eloquent than me in describing that state's current condition.
What inspired my first diary in a long time today was the first stanza from the poem which inspired its title:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats (1919)
To me, the line that resonates the most for me right now is the last one. IMO, it expresses succinctly the reality of the complete disconnect that those on the Right and the Left who tell the Don't Haves to "Remain Calm! All Is Well!!" have from tens of millions of Americans who have been visited by a financial bloodbath - with no end in sight.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
Knowing that I am posting this on a left-wing blog, I can almost predict how many will focus on the easy political analogy of Yeats' words (i.e. the Democrats are right but weak from lack of conviction, the Republicans are evil but unified in their determination to succeed politically). It's a fair reading, I guess. But to me it is not the most important one, if (as I hope) folks reading this diary truly care something not just about the Haves (which, let's be blunt, all surveys done here have shown are the majority of DailyKOS readers and left-wing bloggers generally) but also the Don't Haves. When placed back in the center of analysis, it is easy to see that in Yeats' viewpoint -- at the end of World War I, to be sure, but history has a bad habit of repeating itself where politics are concerned -- it is not just the ascention and dominance of a "left" wing or "right" ring politically that is the problem. It's America itself that is at risk because of the failings of both, when it comes to sacrificing the center. With the result is that the "everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned." And "mere anarchy is loosed on the world."
Don't believe me? Do us all a favor then: put down the mouse, get off the Internet and spend some quality time with those who Don't Have and Haven't Had for as long as they can remember. Ask them what they feel about America and their chances in it. Whether they any longer care about America's rules of the game, or "right from wrong", or bootstraps. Ask them if they are still prepared to sacrifice a lifetime of labor for the mere promise that someday they might be able to have an apartment of their own? (Many don't even fantasize about being able to pay ALL their bills on time, anymore...)
And definitely be sure to ask them how they feel about the Masters of the Universe, aka the investors and the economists and the traders and the wheelers and dealers on Wall Street.
Spend some time doing this, and you'll come to a better understanding of the utter hopelessness and utter pragmatism that led to the popular urban phrase "Get Rich, or Die Trying." Not to mention the continuing increase in lottery revenues.
Since it seems that this is all America has given a damn about for the past 30 years: those that Have. They have become the weathervane of everything. Whether the economy is good or bad. Whether we're in recession or depression. And whether things are improving, or getting worse. This singular focus on this group occurs both on the right, where it is obvious self-interest, and on the left, where our pundits and economists continue to pretend that "leading indicators" are some sort of objective measure about the true health of the American economy (i.e. how the majority of Americans, those who Don't Have - but not for lack of trying - are doing day by day) when all they measure is how much money is moving through the economy, even if only 10 people are spending it. And they continue to pretend that a "leading indicator" is some guarantee about the conditions that follow it, when in fact it's at best a tea leaf to be read.
Leading indicators certainly should be no real cause for determing whether there really is cause for celebration about our country's economic condition, when those that follow them can't even (or won't even) tie them to the present condition of the average Joe Blow in the street.
The average American.
From where I sit, even as we celebrate "Recession, not Depression" the "ceremony of innocence", i.e. American dream (The dream that hard work and honesty in America would guarantee at least something above peonage and debt/wage slavery for most) is dying, for most Americans. Slowly, yet I fear permanently. No matter how much money folks like me, or folks like most of those who are denizens of political blogs, might happen to make in the stock market or elsewhere in the so-called recovering economy (as long as we still have a job, anyway.)
Who will stand up for the Don't Haves and, in their name, stand up for what used to be the best of our country, refuse to focus only on the superficial rewards reserved for the Haves be the belwether for whether America is on the mend, and demand that the Have Nots -- the lower and middle classes whose labor is truly responsible for America's wealth -- It certainly won't be our politicians -- they've proven that, from our beloved President on down.
Will it be us? And, if so, when?
Deepak Chopra wrote a few years ago that:
When the center doesn't hold, it's not just the fault of extremists and reactionaries, though. In the same poem Yeats wrote that "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." America's best are its centrists, progressives, and liberals. They have been responsible for countering reactionary tendencies and standing for the common man and woman. Now the average citizen is standing idly by as if passivity is a viable option. Power doesn't work that way. A hollow center is as dangerous for us as for the Iraqis. Without a center, they won't survive. Without a center, we will survive, but the future could bring about an America few of us will recognize.
It does America no good if all there are only a few Haves. Compared to the teeming masses of Don't Haves. With nobody else - i.e. the working and middle class -- in between. Economically and, thus, politically, it is to our nation's peril that there is no center in America, anymore -- politically or economically.
Unless of course you are one of those that truly believe that "leading indicators" are more relevant than the continued rise in joblessness and hunger and homelessless -- tent cities (including in such urban jungles as the town formerly known as Providence, Rhode Island) -- all across the country when it comes to assessing whether America's economy is "on the mend.
If you are, I truly feel sorry for you. And urge you to actually get out more and spend some time with some Don't Haves, which are not the invisible minority you want to pretend they are but instead are tens of millions -- soon to be hundreds of millions if something revolutionary doesn't happen soon in terms of our political and economic strategies.
Go spend time with them. They used to be our country's Center.
And, no matter what the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg and all those other economists aka theorists aka investors aka Haves tell you, they -- our country's Center -- are not holding, and thus neither are you. Despite the increase in your stock portfolios.