Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wake Up, America...

Chris Hayes of The Nation has written an interesting article titled “Why Washington Doesn’t Care About Jobs.” [Here]  Hayes points out that during the past election campaign, the GOP and Boehner talked about jobs, jobs, jobs, but once elected, they quickly turned their focus on deficit reduction.  In fact, when John Boehner was confronted with the fact that cutting $60 billion from the budget would eliminate thousands of jobs, he uttered the incredible “so be it” and, after a brief fuss, the press let him get away with it.
Hayes points to this “disconnect” as he calls it, between the huge national unemployment crisis and its “blithe dismissal” by the folks in the D.C. beltway.  He offers two explanations.  The first one is that part of the economy has returned to a kind of “normalcy,” the part that is lucky to have a college degree.  The unemployment rate among that group is 4.2%, while the other part is mired in unemployment of upwards of 9%.  
The other remarkable figure that Hayes gives us is the unemployment rate of the D.C Metro area, which is a low 5.7.  This happens to be the lowest rate of any metropolitan area in the entire country.  As Hayes writes: [Here]
“... DC is booming. You can see it in the restaurants opening all over North West, the high prices that condos fetch in the real estate market and the general placid sense of bourgeois comfort that suffuses the affluent upper- and upper-middle-class pockets of the region.”
He points to the disturbing fact that we have often written about, viz. the increasing distance between the increasing wealth of the top 10% of Americans and the economic struggles of the rest of the population.  Hayes calls this two Americas which have moved farther and farther apart since the onset of the Recession. Unfortunately, the D.C. policy makers are living in an area of affluence and, as Hayes amusingly put it, where new sushi restaurants are opening all the time.   He drew another anology: [Here]
Think of it this way: two office buildings are operating side by side in Chicago’s Loop in the middle of a brutally cold January day, when the heat in both buildings gives out.  The manager of one building has an on-site office, so he finds himself plunged into cold; the other building is managed remotely, from a warm office whose heat is functioning.  If you had to bet, you’d guess that the manager experiencing the cold himself would have a bit more urgency in restoring the heat.  The same holds for the economy. The people running the country are not viscerally experiencing the depredations of this ghastly economic winter, and they lack what might be called the “fierce urgency of now” in getting the heat turned back on.
Hayes adds that we tend to listen to the voices at the top, which increases the social and economic distance between classes.  He quotes Plutarch who warned that “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”     
Hayes has pointed to some interesting truths.  There is danger in a punditry that is removed from the reality of a vanishing middle America.  Recently, the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote a piece in which he described his horrendous experience with Citibank when he and his wife refinanced their home mortgage, an experience which he called “a reign of horror.”   They were charged extra fees, bank officers disappeared, laptops disappeared, his bank accounts were frozen, legal documents were written with wrong names, and so on.  
Millbank finally straightened it all out, but he is savvy and, in his own way, influential.  His column was refreshing and powerful because it described his own distressing experience.  Suddenly, in the midst of the beltway’s Washington Post we could read a personal account of what too many Americans have faced in Small City America.
It’s a shame that it took such a distressing personal experience for this piece to be written.  We need a ton more just like the ones that NYTimes’s Bob Herbert writes every week.  David Dayen, writing in posted a blog praising Millbank and titled the piece, “A Liberal is a Villager Who’s Been Screwed By a Mortgage Servicer.” 
All folks are welcome in our liberal club, but a special section is reserved for victims of banks and real estate agents...

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