I'm back from a mostly-restful vacation. Many thanks to R. Neal for covering last week, including his excellent exclusive interview with former N.C. Sen. John Edwards about fighting poverty in America.
To amplify the point, I ran across another good piece waiting in my inbox from Texas columnist Molly Ivins: "The Politics of Greed." If you missed it, check it out -- here are some highlights:
Anyone who doesn't think this is a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer needs to check the numbers-this is Bush country, where a rising tide lifts all yachts. [...]
-- One in four U.S. jobs pays less than a poverty-level income.
-- Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has risen steadily. Now, 13 percent-37 million Americans-are officially poor.
-- Bush's tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those making $1 million are saved $42,700.
-- In 2002, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, compared those who point out such statistics as the one above to Adolph Hitler (surely he meant Stalin?).
-- Bush has diverted $750 million to 'healthy marriages' by shifting funds from social services, mostly childcare.
-- Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50 percent.
A series of related stats-starting with the news that two out of three new jobs are in the suburbs-shows how the poor are further disadvantaged in the job hunt by lack of public or private transportation.
Meanwhile, for those who have been following the collapse of the pension system, please note a series in The Wall Street Journal by Ellen Schultz taking a hard look at executive pension obligations:
-- 'Benefits for executives now account for a significant share of pension obligations in the United States, an average of 8 percent (of large companies). Sometimes a company's obligation for a single executive's pension approaches $100 million.'
-- 'These liabilities are largely hidden, because corporations don't distinguish them from overall pension obligations in their federal financial findings.'
-- 'As a result, the savings that companies make by curtailing pensions of regular retirees-which have totaled billions of dollars in recent years-can mask a rising cost of benefits for executives.'
-- 'Executive pensions, even when they won't be paid until years from now, drag down the earnings today. And they do so in a way that's disproportionate to their size, because they aren't funded with dedicated assets.'
As another Texas populist, Jim Hightower (who has a completely refurbished website) is fond of saying: "It's a class war, and we didn't start it." Molly drives the point home in her last paragraph:
It is so discouraging to watch this country become less and less fair-"justice for all" seems like an embarrassingly archaic tag. Republicans have rigged the "lottery of life" in this country in ways we don't even know about yet. The new bankruptcy law is unfair, and the new college loan rules are worse. The system has been stacked so that large corporations have an inside track over small businesses in getting government contracts. We won't see the full consequences of this mean and careless legislation for years, but it starting to affect us already.
Hurricane Katrina was just the exclamation point.