Tuesday, March 21, 2006

FDR and Oprah fight the man.

After years of working at book stores I've always been a little annoyed by Oprah sending her viewers in like lemmings to buy those books with her "Oprah" stickers on them, which they would never in a million years actually read on their own. But then I thought, I guess it's OK because at least they're reading something.

As much as I've been tortured by being forced to watch her by my girl friend, I must say she did a really great service yesterday in showing the ugly underbelly of our supposedly booming economy. She really went to town to expose the travesty of our society's toleration of the true depths of poverty that exist here in the richest country in the world.

We shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking, though, that Oprah alone can spur people into doing something about poverty when they're inundated daily with a steady diet of economic happy speak from the media. Even a usually trustworthy show like WHYY's Radio Times had some scheister on as a guest from Moody's economy.com to discuss the booming economy.

According to Mark Zandi, the economy is bursting at the seams with high paying jobs. I really wish he could have told that to the guy Oprah interviewed who has to sell his blood twice a week to buy enough gas to take his daughter to school every day. It's funny that during the whole hour he didn't get around to mentioning the 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. And, that 37 million number, by the way, (also the total population of Canada), is from the official poverty line calculation, which is itself outdated and flawed.

He didn't get around to talking about the people living in the streets and in their cars, many of whom are actually working, and the millions of others just barely getting by. You know, the people who go to work everyday and are only able to pay their rent with very little left over for anything else. There was a study done a while back that showed that there were only four counties where "someone working full-time and earning federal minimum wage (could) afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment in the entire U.S. [AP]

If you lose your job, due to outsourcing or the place you work just goes out of business (which has happened to me twice) Mr. Zandi says, 'don't worry, be happy.' If you don't want to work at Wendy's or Wal-Mart, rocket scientists are in demand in this new economy. The job market is just lousy with all kinds of high paying jobs out there, from software engineering to legal services. There's one little problem with that happy scenario, though, which is; for those who don't have these types of professional skills, school --- or "retraining," the great answer to all problems from these hack economists --- is not an option. If you're making sixteen or seventeen thousand dollars a year, there's no way you're going to be able to afford to go back to school. And the federal government is busy cutting financial aid to students, so forget about that.

How do the working poor or the 37 million who have reached the point of no return get back into this great economy, anyway? I'm just wondering, Mr. Zandi. How about the 49 million who don't have health insurance? He says, oh yes, we've got problems with our health care system, but we wouldn't want to do anything crazy like switching to universal health care, because you know about all those problems other countries have with it.

They do? Ask any Canadian, any Brit, any German, or any Frenchman whether they have problems with their health care system or if they would ever allow their government to force them to shop around for it. Half of all bankruptcies in the U.S. are caused by people becoming sick and losing their health insurance because they can't work anymore. Then they lose their house and everything they own to pay for their medical care. Wasn't there a time not too long ago when a sick person was a "patient" and not a "customer?" When you're sick, you don't have time to shop around and clip coupons to save money.

The great "consensus" of mainstream economists is the same old argument that says, anything the government can do, the private sector can do better. It's as old as the hills but FDR had an answer for it:

"Government's can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warn-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."

That's the problem we've got today, the same economic despotism that FDR thought he had banished with the New Deal: big business, big money, running the government into the ground to prevent it from protecting the people from the greed of the moneyed interests. You don't build skyscrapers by not exploiting the weak. These snake-oil salesmen masquerading as "economists," these shills for the money changing houses, who talk up the economy to keep their commissions sky high, are given free rein on on TV and radio to promote their dogma of indifference. They are bloodsucking parsites that need to be stamped out.

Anybody who would dare to say that the government should rein in these robber barons and redistribute some of their ill gotten gains would be burned at the stake as a heretic. The prevailing wisdom is best summed up by John Snow, the great pubah of the money temple, who said just the other day that CEOs who make over 300% more than the average worker is a good thing, that this raising tide is lifting all boats (I think he really meant his new yacht). The fact that real wages have been stagnate for the past five years only means you need to go out and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get one of those great new high paying jobs in the food services industry.

For all the nonsense coming form the media on the great employment numbers etc., the fact is, people are worried. The price of everything is going up and their paychecks aren't getting any bigger. What most people not living in an ivory tower know is that they're working longer hours for less pay. You work and you work and you get bubkus.

FDR said, "Liberty requires opportunity to make a living --- a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for." Right now, all we're living for is to pay the rent and maybe have a little left over for a six pack of Soma to dull our senses, while W. keep telling everybody to fear "fear" itself.

What this country is desperately in need of is another New Deal. What Roosevelt said in Philadelphia on June 27, 1936, might as well have been about what's going on today:

"For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor --- other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer followed the pursuit of happiness."

We need this man!


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