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Americans on the Brink April 12, 2010

Posted by Kate Ryan in Bank Bail-Out, Democrats, Economy, National Politics, popular culture, Republicans, Tea Party, Tea Party Activism.
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Yesterday was a typical secular Sunday in my household.   An early riser by nature, I drove off at 8 am to get doughnuts and a paper, and was comfortably ensconced in my recliner in time to watch the Sunday news shows.  During the roundtable feature on “Meet the Press”, host David Gregory was asking the panelists to comment on the retirement of Justice Stevens and any potential Obama nominee to the high court.  Conservative columnist David Brooks supported the idea that the President should choose someone outside the judiciary this time.  Brooks placed it in the context of the current political climate:

“Listen, there’s a social context here.  We have become a divided society based on college education and non-college education.  People without high school–without college degrees, much lower incomes, much higher divorce rates, much less social trust.  They take a look at people running Washington and running corporations, and they say, ‘Those people don’t get me.’ And that’s behind a lot of the anger we see in the country.  And every single issue reflects that in some way. ”

Brooks’ comment got me thinking about the anger in America these days and, I have to say, I disagree with his reasoning.  Americans are not angry because the people in charge don’t “get” them.   They are angry because they are afraid.  They see that country is changing culturally, racially, and economically – perhaps not to their perceived advantage – and this scares the hell out of them.  They feel powerless in the face of this change and are lashing out at anyone and everyone that they feel are responsible.   Unfortunately, they are lashing out at the wrong people entirely.

For the working and middle classes in America, the last 30 years has been a steady and planned destruction.  Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s first tax cuts in 1981, through the paroxysms of globalization and free trade, to the near-collapse of the American economy at the hands of Wall Street bankers, average Americans are losing ground.  If you are lucky enough to have a full-time job, wages and salaries have been stagnant or decreasing.  The cost of living is getting ever higher.  Family lives are suffering because we have to work more and longer hours just to make ends meet.  Teen pregnancy, drug use, and crime are rising because too many parents can’t be home to supervise their children.   Household debt is crushing, health insurance or medical costs are crushing, our pensions are gone in favor of 401Ks that have been decimated by the economic meltdown….the list goes on. 

In the mean time, we have bloated our military budget beyond all reasonableness and have pursued two expensive and largely unnecessary wars – a third if you consider the next to useless “war on drugs”.  We have looted our treasury to enrich political contributors and lobbyists with taxpayer money.  We have ignored the health and well-being of our fellow citizens by gutting every paltry social safety net that we ever provided. We have allowed our roads, bridges, railways, and air-traffic control system to disintegrate in favor of shoveling over 90% of the country’s wealth to the richest 1% of its citizens.

Most of the above can be laid squarely at the feet of Republicans and Conservatives.  Tax cuts for the wealthy, union-busting, incentives to off-shore jobs, deregulation of banks and Wall Street, pursuit of “law and order”, pre-emptive war, destruction of private pensions, ballooning budget deficits…all what the Conservatives want for us.  Now they sit in Congress, gleefully blocking anything that would make things better for the average American out there, and the American people are finally angry.

BUT NOT AT THEM.

To me, that is mind-boggling.   I look at the faces in the crowds at Tea Party protests and see a lot of people who look like my parents, my brothers, my friends and neighbors.  Just regular old working-class shmoes that have the simple desire to see their children do better than they did.   They are motivated by a strong desire to just go back to the time when a guy could graduate from high school, get a manufacturing job that paid well enough so that the wife could stay home and raise the kids, maybe take a vacation every summer, and the kids could go to college – graduate without being a bazillion dollars in debt –  and get an even better life.   

What the Tea Party activists need to realize is that this particular vision of America is gone forever.  What they need to realize is that by embracing change, they will be able to shape change, and that will guarantee the better future we are looking for.  What they also need to realize is that voting for people and parties that are working against their interests will never get them there.

In the 1995 film, “The Usual Suspects”, Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”.  The greatest trick the Republicans ever pulled was convincing ordinary Americans that they were just like them.

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Some Random Thoughts….. March 16, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Bank Bail-Out, Buffalo, Constitution, Crime and Punishment, Politics, popular culture.
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calvin-hobbesI haven’t posted in a while – my computer crashed on Thursday night.  I have to pay the Best Buy Geeks 70 bucks to look it over and tell me if it can be saved.  We didn’t get it all unhooked until Saturday morning, but I was too busy to take it in Saturday.  Then, the family “high holy days” party (St. Patrick’s Day) was Saturday night.  Had a great time, but spent all day yesterday nursing a Harp, Irish Mist, and Bushmill’s hangover (my mother is ROLLING over in her grave knowing I drank the “Protestant whiskey!).  John and I did manage to drag our sorry asses over to Best Buy yesterday at 10:30 am, but they didn’t open till 11.  Arrrggghhhh!  When did stores not open till 11 on Sunday?  Is that something new? 

Anyway, Barnes and Noble was open, so I bought a new book, “The Invention of Air – A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America“, by Stephen Johnson.   I’m 40 pages in – so far it’s pretty good.  I’m going back to Best Buy later this afternoon to see about my computer.   Actually, Best Buy would have sent the Geek Squad to my house, but that would have cost an additional 50 bucks – I’m WAY to cheap to pay that.

Speaking of being way too cheap – why do bathing suits cost $100?  I was looking at catalogs last week for a new swim suit, but there’s NOTHING under $70 or so; many are far more.  Does that make any sense?  I bet men’s bathing suits are cheaper –  just like men’s business suits, alterations on men’s clothes (usually FREE), men’s dry cleaning, even men’s haircuts!

Last week was a wild one.  I TiVo’d the Daily Show all week and watched John Stewart take on CNBC and Jim Cramer.  I have to say, I always liked Cramer, and I think he had HUGE stones to go on the show and face Stewart.  Sometimes I don’t like when Stewart starts flexing his populist muscles.  I really liked “Crossfire” on CNN and Stewart is largely responsible for it being gone.  Don’t cave in, Jim Cramer!

I spent a good part of last week wondering –  how many more innocent people have to be killed before this country addresses sensible gun control?  Even the NRA has to agree that having access to automatic weapons and unlimited amounts of ammunition is a recipe for disaster.  I actually support the individual right to bear arms – that’s what I think the 2nd Amendment is all about – but I do think that there can be limits without infringing on a constitutional right.  After all, we put limits on people’s rights to drive a car, to ingest substances, to libel someone.  We certainly should be able to limit how many and what types of guns people own.

Over the weekend the Buffalo-area man who beheaded his wife pleaded “not guilty”.  Right – like that scimitar just jumped off the wall and accidentally cut off her head. 

Also, in Buffalo today, a married couple walking along the railroad tracks was hit by a train and killed.  The local newscaster told us this morning that an autopsy was being performed and would be complete tomorrow.  An autopsy?  THEY WERE HIT BY A TRAIN!  What  more do you need to know?

Everyone is going crazy over AIG paying out these bonuses to its executives with TARP funds.  I love their AIG’s explanation – if they don’t pay the bonuses, they won’t be able to retain their best workers.  What?  If you paid a guy that you plucked from the local Jiffy-Lube he could probably do a better job – and would do it for far less salary and no bonus.  The other reason they gave was that these bonuses were contractually obligated.  How come the auto workers and teachers and health care workers have had to reopen and renegotiate their contracts but it is somehow anathema to ask that Wall Street reopen theirs?  What’s even worse is that they used our money to pay off European banks!

Finally, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and there is new trouble in Northern Ireland.  A splinter group of the IRA shot and killed two police officers last week, spurring serious questions about the fragile peace.   The Irish peace agreement was signed in 1999 and was supposed to work toward reunification with the Republic.  In 10 years, no progress has been made on this front and it seems like some groups are getting restless.