Graphing an American story: the Bill Moyers website shows a graph derived from Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson and their excellent book “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–and Turned its Back on the Middle Class.” The book itself is worth a read, while the graph, electronically upgraded so when you move your mouse pointer over different features of the graph (like the downward arrows at along the top), pop-ups appear and give some of the historical context to explain how income was dramatically elevated for the top 1% while that for the bottom 90% changed very little. The graph uses the dollar value in 2008 to illustrate gains for the top 1 percent, while the bottom 90% have been flat-lined for 38 years. The period covered is from 1970 to 2008, so it included the decline and fall of The New Deal and the rise and dominance of the neoliberal financial agenda. During that period of flat-lining for everyone else, the top 1% of wage earners started in 1970 at more than $ 318,000 and by 2008 they tipped the scales at more than $905,000. The graph covers the presidencies of Nixon all the way through to GW Bush; a few of the facts along the way included Reagan’s firing of PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization), which began the steep downward decline in union representation in the United States work force and the introduction of supply-side economics, the idea that lowering taxes actually increases Federal Revenue: the execution of this concept pushed the Reagan budgets into deep debt. Before Reagan, America was the biggest creditor nation in the world and after Reagan, we were the biggest debtor country on the planet. If a graph about income distribution can make you angry this one should do the trick. We now have a culture where the neoliberals consider most Americans to be a bunch of losers, with a small number of winners based strictly on income; since the most recent recession/depression, we have done nothing to change this hostile dynamic, and, as we all know, this trend continues unabated and will not change until we change it. By change, I don’t mean just recovering what we lost during the current recession/depression, but making gains in such a way that everyone in our culture can be treated as a stakeholder, living a life with the expectations of someone who is living in a wealthy country that cares for its citizens, not the soundbite, throw-away culture that we have created by chasing the illusory objective of winning the lottery. This graph does not illustrate the creation of new wealth–that is not what happened–the differences between the 1% and the 90% were created by the transfer of wealth from the middle and lower classes to the wealthy. It does not reflect creativity, but exploitation and it cannot continue. Our current version of casino capitalism has failed to create a just and decent society and, if anything, the Tea Party members are merely the most recent victims, even though they are too obliging for comfort. We need to demand changes in the way we grow, educate and care within our society. We need a new revolt!
Michael Klare on America as the new Third World petro-state. If you still have energy left after reading about our wage history from the 1970s on, then you won’t want to miss Michael Klare’s article in Tomdispatch which appeared today. Klare discusses how Big Oil has exhausted its search for oil reserves in Third World countries and is increasingly focused on North America as the new epicenter of oil and gas exploration. But to be successful in this new enterprise the major oil companies will have to roll back years of regulatory restrictions that have prevented oil and gas drilling because of environmental concerns. Of course the environmental concerns were precipitated by disastrous oil spills that did extensive environmental damage, like that in Santa Barbara in 1969, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Using their influential weight in the art of political persuasion, Big Oil is intent on unraveling these restrictions as they lay an aggressive strategy to establish North America as another Third World energy source. One component to their motivation for refocusing on North America is the increasing resistance that Third World countries have against giving Big Oil a blank check for extracting their oil while trampling on the environment. Oddly enough this resistance to unfettered access to Third World oil has been created by more democratic or socialist governments who either nationalize their oil reserves or demand a far larger share of the oil wealth extracted from their oil fields. Thus, in North America, we can expect a far more intensive push from the oil companies in the coming months and the high cost of gasoline will keep pressure on any U.S. President to continue giving out leases for oil exploration even on our most environmentally sensitive regions that have heretofore been off limits. As Klare puts it, “in the process, as has so often been the case with Third World petro-states, the rights and wellbeing of local citizens will be trampled underfoot.” Will we allow oil companies to run roughshod over our national parks and other Federal lands that have long been considered off limits to these interests? Are we willing to reverse the long-standing taboos against oil exploration in sensitive regions in order to serve the interests of economic arguments and our failure to engage in a more robust development of alternative energy sources?
None of us expect that North America will become another Nigeria, which has been described by NY Times writer Adam Nossiter as (quoting from Klare’s article) “the Niger Delta, where the [petroleum] wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.” But do we carry with us today, the same capacity for public outrage that we demonstrated over the Exxon Valdez oil spill (where today you can put a shovel into the nearby shoreline and see oil oozing around the shovel mark)? And will it make any difference who is elected President and who controls Congress in this coming debate? The oil companies see our internal weakness in the form of a bad economy and deep concerns about our economic future and they see the opportunity to strike while the iron is hot, while we are disarmed and confused. Oil exploration will be pushed as a source of new jobs and the model of North Dakota, with the lowest unemployment in the country as a result of their oil reserves, will make it difficult for any politician to resist, especially if the environmental lobby remains on life support. It seems that in the present climate, Big Oil may have the upper hand. Congress has already banned the EPA from regulating the controversial method of hydro-fracking in which huge quantities of water and toxic chemicals are forced under pressure to release oil and gas and the growth of this technique is unparalleled as a potentially dangerous source of contamination to our water supply. We cannot allow energy companies to make decisions about threats to our health and safety and yet this is precisely what Big Oil is pushing to achieve in this coming election. If the oil industry gets their way, then as Micheal Klare would say, stay tuned for the Third Worldification of the North American continent. To win this war we will first have to mobilize and declare one of our own.
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