Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Vanishing American Middle Class

Whither Middle-Class America?

Age of Vision—the Early Years
America was founded by great critics, not cynics, visionaries, and rebels who saw the injustice that existed for all classes—taxation without representation. They also wanted equality—now labeled socialism by right-wing radicals. Abraham Lincoln abhorred slavery and inspired millions of well-intentioned, hard-working Americans who didn’t just wave the American flag to display superficial patriotism. Thanks to them, our country basically transformed from an agrarian to an industrial giant, with gratitude to remarkable financiers, industrialists, and philanthropists such as the Carnegies, the Fords, the Mellons, the J. P. Morgans , the Rockefellers, the Stanfords, and the Vanderbilts. The first half of the 20th century was essentially shaped by these leaders; we won two World Wars; survived the stock-market crash; and overcame the Great Depression. Hard-working middle class helped boost the standard of living of Americans seven-fold in the 20th century.

Age of Innocence and Rebellion—the 50s to the 70s
The 50s and 70s were the decades of tremendous growth, despite the Cold War threat; an expanding Interstate highway system, built to defend against the Russians, but resulted in a remarkable and unforeseen economic growth; and an explosion of the suburbia, driven by hard-working middle class, proud of a war we had just won. Everyday America worked together as one nation and became the beacon of the world. The world just followed our idealism, leadership, and successes. We reached our peak with man landing on the moon in 1969.

Following that, somehow we got arrogant and complacent, and lost our way. We had elected a crooked President, who resigned to avoid impeachment, followed by a no-op president. Having learned invaluable lessons from the energy crisis of the early 1970s, Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House. His successor Ronald Reagan, a Republican, more of a senior entertainer and story teller than a President, and one of the most overrated Presidents, systematically removed every single one of them! The problem with many Americans is that they neither read history nor learn from it. Reagan left the Governorship of California in 1968, leaving behind the biggest budget deficit and tax increase in the state’s history. For an encore, he left the biggest deficit as a President. This is the man who fought Big Government, disbanded, inter alia, the Civil Aeronautics Board, but transferred everyone one of its employees to other departments (DoT, FAA, NTSB) of the Federal government! The middle class was screwed again, in the name of reducing bureaucracy.

Age of Greed, Arrogance, and Declining Ethics —the 80s to date
As the Governor of California in the late 70s through early 80s, Jerry Brown, Jr., who drove an old Plymouth and never moved to the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento, set up the Office of Appropriate Technology during his administration to look into alternate energy sources, cleaner air, water, and the environment. Guess what? He was succeeded by a Governor—George Deukmejian—a Republican at that, who disbanded the OAT, while the media had already labeled Jerry ‘Moonbeam’ Brown as a left-leaning Liberal.

Then came the savings and loan mess—driven by crooked and greedy looters and know-all, unchecked, deregulated, rich do-gooders under the guise of leaders. Guess who bailed them out? The Federal Government from taxpayers’ money, aka, the middle class. Once again “trickle down” economics left the nation feeling sour and helpless. This was just the beginning of greed, and we thought it reached its peak during the Dot-Com and the bust that followed it, which took a toll on the middle class—again. Wealth was being accumulated by few at the top. But wait! Here comes the sub-prime mortgage mess—now to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. This is tricky lenders convincing innocent middle class that owning a home is an American birth right and extending them loans they couldn’t afford! In the meantime, Wall Street started screwing Main Street, while highly paid MBAs made off with millions of dollars in signing bonuses, salaries, yearly bonuses many times their salaries, golden parachutes, and enviable exit packages.

Our lawmakers wouldn’t initially pass a $700 billion rescue package to bail out these crooks, saying it was too expensive, but later signed a $840 billion package after many Pork Barrel projects were added! Guess who got screwed again? The poor middle class, citizens just like you and I, who have gradually become poorer over the last three decades. Once again the nation’s wealth got distributed upward to the rich few who were “defending” the American concept. Amidst all this, very few noticed that the Federal Government gave $25 billion in loans from the middle class to the clueless, asleep-at-the wheel Big Three…er, Big 2½, in Detroit because the European and the Japanese car manufacturers are eating their breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now, GM wants to buy Chrysler and, together, they will be laying off thousands of blue- and white-collar workers. Two losers don’t a winner make!

So, where did the concept of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” go?

The elected leader of a nation leads by example. Nixon being a crook led the S&L executives to say, “Look, if our President can lie, why can’t we?” George W. Bush’s legacy is incessant lying, misrepresentation and careless leadership. Surrounded by a bunch of unethical staff members, he has led a reign of fear vis-à-vis Hitler who led a reign of terror, leading Wall Street to imitate him. Long time ago, I bought a book—actually a booklet—titled Thus Spake, Nixon that contained exactly 18 pages—all blank! (Instead of throwing it away years ago, I wish I had saved it; it would be a collector’s item now.) Dubya inherited the biggest surplus in the history of America and is leaving behind the biggest deficit, a poorer nation with little world respect! Somehow we have now lost our ways again because the driving force of our nation, the middle class, has been disarmed and dismantled. I can now see a George W. Bush Library being built in Crawford, Texas. It’ll be an outhouse!


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