Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Real Life in the U.S.A.: One Big Tea Party

Let's talk about numbers:

Rank of the United States among nations of the world: No. 6 in "innovation-based competetiveness," but 40th in rate of change in the last ten years.  Eleventh among industrialized nations in high school graduation rate.  Sixteenth in college completion rate.  Twenty-second in broadband internet access.  Twenty-fourth in life expectancy at birth.  Twenty-seventh in college degrees in science or engineering.  Forty-eighth in quality of K-12 science and math educational achievement.

More numbers:

One of every 34 Americans who earned wages in 2008 earned NOTHING in 2009.

In that same period, 74 Americans earned more than $50 million; their total income increased from $91 million in 2008 to $519 million in 2009.  These 74 Americans earned $10 million a week; their total earnings alone equaled the total earnings of the lowest-paid 19 million Americans -- one in eight of us.

At least 22 million healthy, employable Americans are without work.  Unemployment benefits for more than half of them have run out.  Republicans refused to allow a vote on extending their benefits before the congressional recess.

Write these numbers down.  Take them into the voting booth with you next Tuesday.

Now consider some real people.

B., the son of a disabled worker without a job, worked two jobs and took out loans to get his college degree.  He graduated cum laude in 2009 with two majors.  He has been unable to get a job in either of his major fields.  He's selling paint.  His student loan promissory notes have been "turned over" twice and are now in the hands of one of the leading contributors to the economic meltdown of 2008-2009.  Each time he's late with a payment he's socked with a17% late fee.

J. who made a decent living for 30 years operating a little motel on the waterfront in a resort area sold out to a big-time developer.  He received $40,000 cash and three units in the new high rise the developer was putting up on his valuable oceanfront property.  He moved into one and took out mortgages on the other two, which he intended to sell to help meet his obligations as sole support of a widowed daughter and two toddler grandchildren.  The units didn't sell.  He's been foreclosed.  He's penniless and so are the daughter and grandkids.

M. quit the corporate rat race five years ago to start his own small business.  There was no credit available for his venture; he raised capital by mortgaging his home and borrowing his 401(k).  Working night and day, seven days a week, he and his wife gradually built the business.  He had 27 employees and a good lifestyle when the Bush bust hit.  He has lost his business and his home; his 27 employees are long gone.  He and his wife and stepchild were healthy when business was good and he had health insurance for himself and his workers.  After the crash his wife required surgery and costly aftercare; his stepson was hit by a drunk driver with good lawyers, who are successfully warding off a trial in his lawsuit to recover medical expenses and lost time from work. 

These are real people.  I know them personally.  They are good people.

Better people than, say, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, or any other multi-millionaire genius on Wall Street, or the fool CEO of BP who was given a golden parachute after his monumental display of incompetence during the Great Oil Spill.

American exceptionalism.  Ain't it wonderful?

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