Are we now a Banana Republic?


    crossposted from Daily Kos

    Nicholas Kristof argues that at least economically, we are now Our Banana Republic:

    The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976.

      Our economic inequity is greater than that of places like Nicaragua and Venezuela . . .

    Or consider this:  

    C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.

    Mr. Kristof is late to the issue of the increasing disparity between CEOs and average workers.  Jim Webb made it a major issue of his 2006 senatorial campaign.

    Economically we might be worse that most banana republics –  many have universal health care.

    Kristof writes about the economics.  The real issue is are we approaching a Banana Republic politically?

    Consider that in Banana Republics the wealthy pull the strings.  They may control or cooperate with a military that willingly overthrows any elected government that represents a threat to corporate or plutocratic interests.  

    There the overthrow is by application of force.

    And here?  Is it too much of a stretch to say that by controlling the judicial system and effectively buying elections – not just nationally, as in the House of Representatives, but in state legislatures and governors’ mansions, many of which also turned red on Tuesday – our corporate and plutocratic interests are operating with little difference in effect from how they have operated to our South in this hemisphere, and in more than a few other nations around the world?

    Let’s return to Kristof:  

    The richest 0.1 percent of taxpayers would get a tax cut of $61,000 from President Obama. They would get $370,000 from Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. And that provides only a modest economic stimulus, because the rich are less likely to spend their tax savings.

    At a time of 9.6 percent unemployment, wouldn’t it make more sense to finance a jobs program? For example, the money could be used to avoid laying off teachers and undermining American schools.

    Or if you don’t lay us off, you just slash our salaries –  mine is down more than 10K this year, and I am not alone.  But at least I have a job, right?  With up to 38 kids in a classroom –  one high school over I know a social studies teacher who averages 40.

    Or how about infrastructure?  We have Republican governors and governor elects who want to cancel what efforts we have been making for high-speed rail in Ohio and Wisconsin, and a badly needed additional rail tunnel under the Hudson.  Apparently the only interest Republican governors have in infrastructure is how they can sell it, as did Indiana Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Mitch Daniels with the Indiana Toll Road.

    So we face a choice. Is our economic priority the jobless, or is it zillionaires?

       We got an answer this election –  the zillionaires spent enough money to convince too many either unemployed or fearing unemployment to entrust the reins of governments – state as well as the House – to the same people who drove our economy into a ditch.  Meanwhile our current unemployment compensation scheme may well expire before the New Year if Republicans stall an extension in the lame duck session.  

    Besides, who cares about the unemployed, right?  Better to spend hundreds of millions in nasty campaign ads rather than hire people with the trillion and a half of cash reserves on which American businesses are sitting – to ensure control of the House so that they can kill any further regulation that might prevent further increases in the economic inequity and instability to which too many Americans have now become subjected.

    Kristof opines

    Economic polarization also shatters our sense of national union and common purpose, fostering political polarization as well.

      Except he is too late on this –  we have not had a real sense of national purpose for quite some time.  Perhaps we came close, for many, with a sense of hope in 2008.  But that quickly disappeared.  Instead our media – itself under corporate domination – obsessed with Orly Taitz and other “birthers” until they discovered the Tea Party groups and by their coverage of that without (a) finding the time to discover the corporate funding and manipulation behind much of the “movement” and (b) ever explaining clearly to the American people how much the current administration accomplished or how much real pain and disaster it averted.

    How can we have a national sense of purpose when our primary avenues by which we could communicate a common purpose are devoted to focusing on what divides us, with people who have been wrong time after time on issue after issue being given megaphones to opine yet again, when the voices on the talk show represent a narrow slice of the nation:  white, upper class, wealthy, conservatives dominate, and women, people of color, representatives of those whose work actually sustains our economy are not allowed to use the megaphone of the media to communicate to many people at once.

    I remember Howard Dean telling Chris Matthews that one of his goals was to try to overturn the overconcentration of media in too few hands.  I have to wonder if that played any part in how the media treated him thereafter?

    Kristof concludes his piece with these two sentences:  

    So in this postelection landscape, let’s not aggravate income gaps that already would make a Latin American caudillo proud. To me, we’ve reached a banana republic point where our inequality has become both economically unhealthy and morally repugnant.

    Our inequality has never ceased being morally repugnant.  It is nice that Kristof travels to Africa and Asia and writes about it.  Perhaps he should travel to Appalachia, to Native reservations in the Upper Midwest.  Perhaps he can revisit how this nation was capable of being shocked half a century ago by watching Harvest of Shame, and then perhaps realize our food production is not that much better:  who the hell does he think processes our meat in packing plants and slaughter houses across the country?  Poor people, often of color, far too often undocumented which makes them even more vulnerable to exploitation.

    What does it say when people are so desperate for jobs and fearful for their economic future that they acquiesce in the destruction of the ancient mountains that represent their heritage and their culture?

    Economic inequality is only one of the characteristics of a Banana Republic.  We have always had economic inequality.  There have been other periods of extravagance, such as the Gilded Age.  

    What we are seeing accompanying our ever-deepening economic inequality is and ever-increasing imbalance in our political processes, where the voices of those without are ever more excluded, where the institutions that used to speak for them – unions – and which prepared them to better participate – public schools – are in a perilous state, perhaps even a critical one.

    I most often write about schools.  I have often mentioned that I think we need a radical rethinking of the purpose of our schools, because the way they are structured and what we are doing with them is undermining our democracy and ultimately will also undermine our economy, not as the “reformers” would have you believe, but because we will be training drones, not educating creative thinkers who can add to our society and our economy.

    Increasingly I think we cannot do what we need to do in schools without rethinking our economy, without also rethinking our political system.

    I worry how little time may be left before the damage is permanent.

    Already we have private security forces here –  it is not just Blackwater, we have had armed private security organizations and gated communities and the other signs of what so often bothers us in many third world nations, including Banana Republics.

    We have privatized prisons, and the operators of those prisons push legislation that will feed more prisoners to their prisons and thereby more funds to their pockets.

    The measure of a person – and of a society – surely cannot be exclusively or primarily economic.  It sure as hell should not be by how much we consume (and waste, since what we throw away counts as part of our GDP and our levels of consumption).  There are moral elements as well.

    My wife told me about the remarks Tom Perriello made when he acknowledged the loss of his Congressional seat.  

    “The wisest man that I know, my father, when I got into politics made me promise one thing – that I would always remember that Judgment Day is more important than Election Day and that’s it’s more important to do what’s right than what’s easy,” Perriello said. “And that’s what I’ve strived to do.”

    When Leaves on the Current told me that I immediately thought of what in the Orthodox Church is the Gospel on the Sunday of the Last Judgment.

    Allow me to quote from Matthew, Chapter 25, RSV, starting with verse  31:

    When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

    Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

    and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.

    Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

           for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

    I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

    Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?

    And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?

    And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’

    And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’

    Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

    for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

           I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

    Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’

           Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’

           And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    Somehow acquiescing in the ever deepening economic inequity is only a sign of how morally decayed this society has become.  Absent rectifying the also increasing political imbalance that place too much power in the hands of those who already have, the situation will not improve.

    We may not be a Banana Republic.  Perhaps not yet.

    I fear we might be becoming something far worse, because Banana Republics do not have a military with forces in almost two hundred other nations.

    Banana Republics do not regular manipulate the elections and when they can the economies of multiple nations around the world.

    Banana Republics do not bomb or invade or perhaps blockade other nations with impunity.

    They lack the power.  They do not have the technology, the weaponry, the military infrastructure.

    We do.

    Which makes what we are becoming something far worse than a Banana Republic.

    Is my rhetoric too extreme?  

    I write about what we are becoming, not what we are, at least, not yet.

    But like the polar ice caps in danger of disappearing for a millenium, the risk to our democratic republic is real and accelerating.

    I am glad Kristof has written what we read in his column today.

    It is a start.

    It is far from sufficient.

    It is late.

    I hope it is not too late.

    It is now midnight.

    I can now post this diary.

    So I will.

    Then you can fire away, or as Rachel says, talk me down.

    Good luck.


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