Wednesday, August 28, 2013

America At The Economic Crossroads: The Second Gilded Age Must End

By Manifesto Joe

In 2013, America stands at the economic crossroads more starkly than perhaps ever before. The federal budget deficit, though reduced, remains staggeringly high. Two-thirds of U.S. corporations pay no federal income tax, and they employ armies of lawyers and CPAs, plus own scores of lawmakers through campaign contributions, to make sure things stay that way. Their well-paid mouthpieces tell us things can't really be any other way, that we can't be competitive by going back to an arrangement in which corporations paid 39% of the IRS take (Barlett and Steele, citing IRS figures for 1959).

There is some truth in this, and we have seen enough outsourcing and offshoring to know it. Big corporations are now armed with technology and tactics that they didn't have in 1959, and no socialist alternatives to the capitalist system are regarded as viable. Karl Marx predicted that there would be attempts to "reform" capitalism, to ameliorate its more brutal side, but that those efforts would all fail as capitalism stubbornly returns to its more primitive form. A few countries like Sweden and Norway seem to have found a comfortable coexistence of capitalism and socialism, with the mix much more weighted toward the latter than we've generally seen elsewhere in the West. But, as the social safety net is whittled down not only here but in many other countries such as Spain and Greece, the chances of other places in the West reaching a Swedenlike arrangement any time soon are quite remote.

But I don't believe that, in the long run, our corporate masters are going to get their way. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. Ordinary people know, from New Deal-era programs such as Social Security and institutions such as labor unions, that there actually is another path.

The Gilded Age, Part Two has been pursued mostly unabated in the U.S. for about 35 years now, and the results should be shocking. In 1982, CEO pay was 42 times that of an average worker. By 2012, pay for the former had swelled to 354 times that of the average U.S. worker. There seems to be no end to the number of apologists for this sort of obscenity, and many people have been cowed into silence as their faces are ground more savagely by the priesthood of "free markets."

Here's a link from the AFL-CIO with more details about this very organized thievery.

But there's nothing like discomfort to wake up the millions. That was what did it in the 1930s, after the first Gilded Age was at long last over. When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose. It took a painfully long time back then, but it finally happened. And it will happen again. It's been said that history doesn't really repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. Our corporate masters won't be able to hustle working people with "free" verse for very much longer.

At this point, people aren't uncomfortable enough. We will see that, though, and it won't be that much longer. Real disaster was averted during the meltdown that accompanied The Great Recession, and the means for the bailouts is less likely to be there next time. And there will be a next time, because clearly the high-class hustlers have learned absolutely nothing from the past five years, except perhaps that they very often end up back on top.

People in this country, and in others, saw collectively for decades that things can be different. And I don't think this is at all optimism, because what I see ahead is a lifetime of horror and struggle. Our corporate masters are discovering that they can perform many functions without employing flesh-and-blood humans to do them. But flesh and blood has to eat, has to have potable water, and will demand medical care when sick. During much of the 20th century, people in relatively affluent societies got used to taking such things almost for granted. They can't anymore -- the "social safety net" has too many gaps, and more are being torn on purpose.

We're headed for a time in which Social Security, Medicare and labor unions will be nostalgic folklore. There will be decades of illegal campfires, fights in which the faceless masses suffer horrendous losses, and coastal cities going underwater.

I'd like to see what comes out of all this in, perhaps, a century. But I'm glad that I'm 57 and that my wife and I stayed intentionally childless. I wouldn't want to see what the next two or three generations of Americans will go through. I wouldn't want to be 27 now, and certainly not 17.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Obama at 52: A Checkup

By Manifesto Joe

Granted, he's been a disappointment, but not a totally unexpected one. I confess to having voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary, for one big reason.

Politics isn't a sport for amateurs. I tend to oppose term limits because D.C. is a league that's strictly for professionals. Going into that primary, Hillary had 15 years of Beltway experience, and certainly knew what to expect from Republican rivals. Obama had been there a little over three years, and while it appears that he's a nice fellow, in politics that may be a weakness. For four and a half years, Republicans have hit him with everything including the kitchen sink, and his posture seems to be just starting to harden. I figured Hillary would have given no quarter from Day One.

So, Obama's lack of Beltway experience was as evident as I feared it would be. It's taken him until the first year of his second term to understand what political hardball is.

He's 52 tomorrow, and now that I'm 57, I look back on that as a watershed year. I'd been a fitness stickler for over 25 years until that year. I pulled a muscle and was sidelined. I realized that I'd reached upper middle age, and that it wasn't going to get any better.

Analogously, I saw multiple layoffs that year where I worked, and realized that my time would come someday. Fortunately, it took about four more years for them to get around to me. Then I went through the tortures of dealing with the cheap, greedy thieves at the Texas Workforce Commission, for six months and a week. They still owe me money that I'll never get.

But, to end the digression, at 52 I could suddenly see the end of a lot of things.

Obama turns 52 tomorrow, and he's a "lame duck." He's still struggling to make "Obamacare," his signature program, a reality against stubborn opposition. He's had to face one of the unpleasant realities of wielding power: You're responsible for the lives of a lot of people, and that can mean making choices you'd rather not make, like between privacy and safety, between social justice and responsible budgeting. He's alienated much of the left (or what's left of it) by choosing to continue domestic spying and compromising on Social Security cuts. And his deal-cutting hasn't endeared him to the right, which has reviled and vilified him from Day One.

52 is a time of life for soul-searching, and I suspect that Barack Obama will be no exception. It's time to think about legacy, about what you want to be remembered for. Obama has been reasonably pragmatic (though a bit too nice) in positioning himself as a centrist, but does he really want to be remembered as the president who approved of spying and secrecy, and who let the right needlessly gut Social Security and Medicare?

It's time for introspection. Obama must realize that alienating his base of support won't improve his standing in the history books, nor will it give him the Congress he wants in 2014. I hope he can make the right choices.

And which ones are those? To be honest, since I have no Beltway experience, I can offer no answers. Obama is there, in the thick of it. I hope he's grown into the job enough to make the best decisions.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.