Is It Bad Enough Yet? Yes, It Is

“Is It Bad Enough Yet?” That’s a wonderful title for an article by Mark Bittman about where we are today:

The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse….

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent…

Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse….

When underpaid workers begin their strikes by saying “I can’t breathe,” or by holding their hands over their heads and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they’re recognizing that their struggle is the same as that of African-Americans demanding dignity, respect and indeed safety on their own streets….

Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office. Even if Bernie Sanders were to become president, the need for pressure would continue.

“True citizenship,” says [Saru Jayaraman of U.C. Berkeley]— echoing Jefferson — “is people continually protesting.” Precisely.

So warmest congratulations to the fast food workers and Walmart employees demanding a living wage and to the thousands who have marched or stood silently in protest because black lives matter. It’s all connected.

And enough is enough. That’s what Senator Elizabeth Warren said this week. Listen to her talk about Citigroup’s stranglehold on the Federal government and why we need to break up the biggest banks. It’s only 10 minutes and it’s worth watching and sharing.

We can’t directly vote against Walmart or Citigroup, but we can boycott them. Don’t shop at Walmart until they institute a living wage and don’t use a Citigroup credit card or checking account until they’re small enough to fail, because, yes, it is bad enough. 

Selected Reading On The Mess We’re In

Historian Sean Wilentz makes a forceful argument in favor of Obama invoking the 14th Amendment to protect the world’s economy:

… the president would have done his constitutional duty, saved the country and undoubtedly earned the gratitude of a relieved people. Then the people would find the opportunity to punish those who vandalized the Constitution and brought the country to the brink of ruin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/opinion/obamas-options.html?pagewanted=2&hp

The New York Times editorial board is justifiably outraged that many people living in Republican-run states will still lack health insurance next year — they’ll earn too little to be covered by the Affordable Care Act and too much to be covered by Medicaid:

Their plight is a result of the Supreme Court’s decision last year that struck down the reform law’s mandatory expansion of Medicaid and made expansion optional. Every state in the Deep South except Arkansas has rejected expansion, as have Republican-led states elsewhere, [although] there is no provision in the ACA to provide health insurance subsidies for anyone below the poverty line … those people are supposed to be covered by Medicaid… Eight million Americans who are impoverished and uninsured will be ineligible for help of either kind.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/04/opinion/a-population-betrayed.html?ref=opinion

Of course, Congress could easily fix this problem, but that would require You Know Who to cooperate.

At Jacobin, Shawn Gude writes about the fundamental tension between capitalism and democracy, in the context of living-wage legislation in the District of Columbia:

The controversy throws into sharp relief one of our era’s great unspoken truths: Capitalist democracy, if not an oxymoron, is less a placid pairing than an acrimonious amalgamation. The marriage that Francis Fukuyama famously pronounced eternal is in fact a union of opposites. Inherent to capitalism is inequality, fundamental to democracy is equality. Class stratification, the lifeblood of capitalism, leaves democracy comatose. The economic “base,” to put it in classical Marxian terms, actively undermines the purported values of the political superstructure.

http://jacobinmag.com/2013/08/capitalism-vs-democracy/

And finally, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that we can undo the decisions that got us into this mess:

We have become the advanced country with the highest level of inequality, with the greatest divide between the rich and the poor… The central message of my book, The Price of Inequality, is that all of us, rich and poor, are footing the bill for this yawning gap. And that this inequality is not inevitable. It is not … like the weather, something that just happens to us. It is not the result of the laws of nature or the laws of economics. Rather, it is something that we create, by our policies, by what we do.  

We created this inequality—chose it, really—with laws that weakened unions, that eroded our minimum wage to the lowest level, in real terms, since the 1950s, with laws that allowed CEO’s to take a bigger slice of the corporate pie, bankruptcy laws that put Wall Street’s toxic innovations ahead of workers. We made it nearly impossible for student debt to be forgiven. We underinvested in education. We taxed gamblers in the stock market at lower rates than workers, and encouraged investment overseas rather than at home.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/joe-stiglitz-people-who-break-rules-have-raked-huge-profits-and-wealth-and-its-sickening-our

Meanwhile, the Swiss are voting on whether to guarantee everybody a minimum monthly income of $2500 francs ($2800 dollars). They’re also voting on a proposal to limit executive pay to no more than 12 times what the company’s lowest-paid workers earn. Who knew that the businesslike, orderly Swiss were a bunch of commies? Or maybe they’re just fed up with rising inequality, even in Switzerland.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/04/us-swiss-pay-idUSBRE9930O620131004