Saturday, March 6, 2010

Imagine A Country: Previous Chapter, Same Story

Imagine A Country
Z Magazine,
November 1992

Imagine a country where one out of four children is born into poverty while the top 1 percent of families have a net worth greater than that of the bottom 90 percent - the top one half of the 1 percent hold over one-fourth of the nation's total private wealth.

Imagine a country where budget deficits go hand in hand with greed surpluses - where the poor and middle class are told to tighten their belts to pay off the debts, high salaries and tax breaks of the rich - it's not Mexico.

Imagine a country whose economy, says a leading business magazine, grew enough from 1977 to 1989 to have lifted everybody's real income by 10 percent if the gains had been distributed evenly - instead, the top 1 percent of families - about 1 million in 1989 - saw their average incomes soar by 80 percent, while the living standards of most of their country's people stagnated or fell - the top 4 percent of wage earners are paid as much as the lower 51 percent.

Imagine a country where the average chief executive officer (CEO) of a large corporation earned as much as 42 factory workers in 1980, 93 factory workers in 1988 and 104 factory workers in 1991 - it's not Japan - there, CEOs earn about as much as 18 factory workers - from 1980 to 1991, CEO compensation leaped 138 percent, after inflation - CEO greed raised enough of an outcry to cause an apparent 1991 cut of 7 percent in average salary and bonuses to $1.1 million - but when less visible long term compensation such as stock options are counted, the average CEO's total pay jumped by 26 percent to $2.5 million (nearly 5 times the Japanese average), not counting the tax-deductible perks unavailable to workers.

Imagine a country where average workers' wages have crashed 19 percent, after inflation, since 1973 - in 1973, before two-income families were the majority, median household income was $30,944 - in 1991, adjusting for inflation, it was $30,126 - most children can't expect to equal their parents' living standards - many can expect less.

Imagine a country where, according to a leading news magazine, unemployment stands at 7.6 percent... but more people are experiencing distress - a comprehensive tally would include workers who are employed well below their skill level, those who cannot find more than a part-time job, people earning poverty-level wages, workers who have been jobless for more than four weeks at a time and all those who have grown discouraged and quit looking - last year those distressed workers totaled 36 million, or 40 percent of the labor force - the much touted job gains of 1980s were, for the most part, low-wage positions earning $250 a week or less - more than 25 percent of the work force now toils in this class of job, up from less than 19 percent in 1979 - laid-off workers who return to the market often must take huge pay cuts - it's not Britain.

Imagine a country were people are working more for less - according to a leading business journal, the average work year for all people holding jobs is 1,890 hours (1,938 for manufacturing), the second highest among industrial nations and 15 percent higher than it was in the 1950s - the average worker has less than 11 paid vacation days (most European countries provide 4 to 6 weeks) - the average worker has no right to leave, paid or unpaid, in the case of the illness, birth or adoption of a child - less than 16 percent of workers are unionized.

Imagine a country where, as the rich got richer, they got even stingier - in the 1980s, for all wage groups who itemized deductions on their tax returns, the average charitable contributions increased by over 9 percent; average contributions by those with pretax incomes above $1 million decreased by nearly 39 percent -- in 1968, the country had a progressive tax with a bottom tax rate of 14 percent and a top rate of 75 percent - in 1992, it has three rates: 15, 28 and 31 - whether you are middle class or a billionaire, you pay almost the same rate - and then the rich get more of it back in the form of tax-free interest on the national debt - debt incurred, in part, to pay for the tax breaks of the rich - the richest 1 percent will owe $43 billion less in federal taxes in 1993 than they would have paying at the 1977 rates -- how much is $43 billion? - more than the total budgets for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), Food Stamps and Head Start plus most of the budget for employment and jobs training - the way the budget cutters throw women and children overboard, you'd think they were sinking the boat - in fact, AFDC accounted for less than 1 percent of federal outlays in 1991 and 2 percent of spending by states.

Imagine a country with the world's richest economy that has more children die before their first birthday than 23 other nations - the people of 14 countries have longer life expectancies - it is one of only two industrialized countries without national health insurance - studies estimating the number of hungry people in the country range from a low of 20.4 million to a high of 42.8 million - a three-year study in a major city showed that the number of emergency room visits by underweight children increased by 30 percent after the coldest months of the year when poor parents face the cruel dilemma of "heat or eat."

Imagine a country which is first in military spending among 19 industrialized countries, but last in spending on housing, social security and welfare.

Imagine a country where one out of every seven people are poor - many of them work - between 1979 and 1990 the proportion of full-time, year-round workers paid low wages (below $12,195 in 1990) increased by half, to nearly one in every five full-time workers overall, one out of four women workers, one out of four Black workers, and one out of three Hispanic workers - three of every four low-wage workers were high school graduates - among young full-time workers (18-24), the percent earning low wages jumped from 23 percent in 1979 to over 43 percent in 1990 - among young women workers, the figure was nearly one in two workers -- people are encouraged to see unemployment and poverty as personal failures though jobs are so scare that when one company announced 100 jobs at its new television assembly plant some 20,000 people responded - the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage, now $4.25 an hour, is 23 percent below its average value during the 1970s - federal funding of employment and training programs has been cut by more than half since 1981, after adjusting for inflation.

Imagine a country where corrupt banks are bailed out while farmers and unemployed homeowners are foreclosed - home ownership is increasingly out of reach for all but the richest - mortgages are tax-deductible, not rent - in fiscal year 1990, direct spending on federal low income housing assistance programs totaled $18.3 billion - more than four times as much was spent through the tax code in the form of homeowner deductions amounting to some $78.4 billion - in 1991, about 81 percent of the $37 billion in tax benefits from deductible mortgage interest went to the top 20 percent of households with incomes above $50,000.

Imagine a country where corporations are rewarded with government subsidies to move abroad to "free trade zones" where they are free to pay workers much less and repress them much more - where they are free of taxes and environmental regulation - one ad financed by the country's agency for international development shows a Salvadoran woman in front of a sewing machine - it tells corporations, "You can hire her for 33 cents an hour."

Imagine a country where nearly two out of three women with children under six work outside the home, but there is no national day care (in 1960, 20 percent of women with children under six were in the labor force) - most working mothers work full time - women earn 74 cents for every dollar men earn; 66 cents if part-time work is included - women don't pay three-fourths what men pay for their college degrees or three-fourths as much to feed their children -- sixty-two countries have more women legislators - in the early 1970s, 99 percent of corporate senior management was male - now, 97 percent of senior management is male - and, in the words of a leading business magazine, "at the same level of management, the typical woman's pay is lower than her male colleague's even when she has the exact same qualifications, works just as many years, relocates just as often, provides the main financial support for her family, takes no time off for personal reasons, and wins the same number of promotions to comparable jobs."

Imagine a country which leads the world in rape and where violence against women is so epidemic it is their number one health risk - much of the violence, from beatings to murder, is so-called "domestic violence," a term as inadequate as the response - the country has no equal rights amendment - it's not Saudi Arabia.

Imagine a country where descendants of its first inhabitants live on reservations strip-mined of resources and opportunity - their life expectancy averages in the 40s not the 70s - infant mortality is seven times higher than the national average and a higher proportion of people live in poverty than any other ethnic group.

Imagine a country where Indian names are used as labels for sports teams, cars and beer - where a popular children's toy catalogue advertises cowboy and Indian gear with lines like "it's heap big fun to wear this Indian Brave costume" and "hunt for game and defend your homestead with these Wild West toy firearms" - where 500 years of plunder and lies are masked in expressions like "Indian giver" - where the military still dubs enemy territory, "Indian country."

Imagine a country where one out of two black children are poor - black infant mortality is twice that of whites - black life expectancy is five years less - blacks are turned down for mortgages at twice the rate of whites with similar incomes - blacks are rejected more often than whites when they apply for benefits under social security disability programs - black unemployment is three times that of whites - one out of two black young adults are unemployed - the proportion of black males ages 25-34 who were either unemployed or earned below the poverty threshold rose from 36.5 percent in 1979 to 45.3 percent in 1989.

Imagine a country that subsidized decades of segregated suburbanization for whites while the inner cities left to blacks became outsider cities, with underclass housing, underclass schools, underclass street repair, underclass trash removal, underclass job opportunities - "separate and unequal" is present, not past.

Imagine a country that imprisons more black men than any other - one out of four black men between 20 and 29 are either in jail, on probation or on parole - how many of them are there because of trumped up charges by racist cops whose mission apparently is not to stop crime but make sure every young black man, guilty or innocent, has a record? - a recent newspaper article is titled, "GUILTY... of being black: black men say success doesn't save them from being suspected, harassed and detained" - a bank CEO says he has had trouble cashing checks and hesitates to shop in neighboring suburbs where suspicious shopkeepers don't know him - a prominent law professor says he has "encounters with police almost annually, and they never cease to amaze me - they frequently happen when I am out of uniform, that is, not wearing my suit and tie - they are as innocuous as being pulled over because my car looks suspicious, or being stopped and frisked because I fit the description of someone who is wanted by police" - a professional basketball player was forced to the pavement by police with drawn guns who mistook him for a bank robber; never mind that he didn't fit the description - in another state, a university recently helped a local police dragnet by providing a list of all black male students - it's not South Africa.

Imagine a country where public school budgets are determined largely by private property taxes - in one large state spending per pupil ranges from $3,190 in the poorest schools to $11,801 in the richest - in the rich schools, kids take well-stocked libraries and computers for granted - in the poor schools they are rationing textbooks and toilet paper - the rich schools look like country clubs, with manicured sports fields, swimming pools and tennis courts - the poor schools look like jails, with concrete, metal detectors and grated windows.

Imagine a country where corporations serve students fast food in their school lunchrooms and fast news laced with advertising in their classrooms - the country ranks 18th in school-age population per teacher.

Imagine a country which has the world's leading homicide rate and you can buy a gun in many states more easily than you can register to vote - one out of two homes have guns - more teenage boys die from gunshots than from all natural causes combined - homicide is the second-largest killer of young people ages 15 to 24, after accidents; AIDS is third.

Imagine a country where children are taught violence through entertainment - where television is becoming increasingly violent and the most violent programs on television are children's cartoons - toy commercials and music videos ranked fourth and fifth - numerous private and government studies have shown that television violence leads to more aggressive behavior by those who watch and contributes to crime and violence in society - many urban parents keep children indoors as much as possible to protect them, indoors where they watch the violence that passes for children's programs on TV - it's not Nazi Germany.

Imagine a country where the new Supreme Court motto for those on death row is "better 10 guilty prisoners are executed quickly than 1 innocent prisoner goes free".

Imagine a country that puts a far higher portion of its people behind bars than any other - it's not China -- the prison population has more than doubled since 1980, a time of heavy cutbacks in education, job programs, housing and wages - half the prisoners are drug offenders, many of them small-time dealers trying to feed their own habits - they can't check in to the clinics treating the elite - they can't exchange the $25,000 or $30,000 it costs the state to keep them in prison for a high school or college degree - their neighborhoods don't get to use it for economic revitalization.

Imagine a country where first-time cocaine dealers can get mandatory-minimum sentences of life without parole - with jails overflowing, officials sometimes let violent criminals out to make room for nonviolent prisoners with mandatory minimums - it's not Turkey -- the same country is number 4 in alcohol consumption and number 11 in drunk-driving fatalities per capita - and it is the number 1 exporter of weapons and addictive, cancer-causing tobacco.

Imagine a country that has only 5 percent of the world's population, but uses 25 percent of the world's oil resources - only 3 percent of the public's trips is made by public transportation - it has no national conservation policy - it is the number 1 contributor to global warming - it has felled more trees since 1978 than any other country - it's not Brazil.

Imagine a country spending almost $300 billion a year on the military even though the enemy long used to justify it no longer exists - it has no national plan for military-civilian conversion though its people need jobs and homes, its schools are in crisis and its public works infrastructure is crumbling.

Imagine a country whose congressional representatives earn more at $125,000 than 95 percent of their constituents (senators make $135,000) - among their many perks and benefits is free health care -- the country is 51 percent female and 49 percent male - it is 75 percent non-Hispanic white, 12 percent Black, 9 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian and Pacific Islander (the fastest growing group), and 1 percent Indian, Eskimo or Aleut (more if Hispanic Indians are included) - in the nation's 102nd Congress, women hold 2 seats in the 100-member Senate and 6 percent in the House - Asian and Pacific Islanders have two seats in the Senate and 1 percent in the House - there is one Indian member of Congress.

Imagine a country where people stand tall on the backs of others, and encourage those they are standing on to look down in anger, not up - the anger is directed into punishing those even worse off - taking food from the mouths of poor babies, not higher taxes from the bulging wallets of the rich.

Imagine a country where at the national convention renominating the President for reelection a White House communications directory-turned TV-commentator-turned presidential candidate declares that another party's candidates "would impose... abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units... it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation we still call God's country... there is a religious war going on in this country, it is a cultural war" - delegates wave signs saying "Gay Rights Never" - the 1990s version of segregation forever - the speaker's concluding words turn to recent rioting in a major city - he says, "I met the troopers of the 18th Cavalry, who had come to save the city...and as those boys took back the streets of [that city], block by block, my friends, we must take back our cities and take back our culture and take back our country" - it's not Iran.

Imagine a country where the President's sons repeatedly cash in on their family value at taxpayer expense - they've enriched themselves and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in banking scandals, Medicare fraud and assorted overt and covert scandals.

Imagine a country where numerous officials from the last Administration were convicted of crimes and misdemeanors including a national security advisor, assistant secretary of state and CIA officers - the secretary of defense and two high level CIA officials are still under indictment - then the President and Vice President were never held accountable and the Congress let expire the independent counsel legislation which make such prosecutions possible - it's not Greece.

Imagine a country where the President's press secretary told reporters after a 1984 debate with his then-vice presidential opponent: "you can say anything you want in a debate, and 80 million people hear it - if reporters then document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, so what? - maybe 200 people read it, or 2,000 or 20,000".

Imagine a country where only half the eligible voters cast ballots in the 1988 presidential election - sound familiar? - it's the United States. -- [based on Z Magazine, November 1992]

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