Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Tale Of Two Americas

As the year begins to wind down, and "Best of" and retrospective lists keep popping up - like Time's 'Person of the Year' - there are times we find it hard to get into the holiday spirit.

Sure - the weather outside HAS been frightful, for most of the United States, especially in the DC area the last few days. But it's the tales like that of Dasani, the "Invisible Child" at the focus of a story in the New York Times on Monday, that remind us that - much like England in Charles Dickens' time - America is now a nation in the midst of both the best of times and the worst of times.

In fact, that idea of two Americas is one writer and producer David Simon - creator of the highly successful HBO show 'The Wire' - recently found himself decrying at a conference in Sydney, Australia. Sadly, Simon's perspective on the failures of modern American "capitalism" too accurately reflects a land that someone like Tiny Tim might have been familiar with.

For those living in that America suffering the worst of times, things aren't getting better very fast. While workers who are getting paid "minimum wage" protest for wage amounts they can actually live on, corporate executives and some politicians - who are all wealthier than ever - decry the protestors as troublemakers, and rail against the idea of a living wage as a job killer.

That recent studies show extended unemployment benefits and increased minimum wage levels won't actually destroy jobs, and would in fact help the economy has little to no bearing on the way the party of the rich - the Republican Party - sees the American version of Tiny Tim, little Dasani and her family.

As Paul Krugman pointed out Monday, the Republican answer to the problem of the poor is simple: scream things at the poor like 'Get a job!" Actually helping to create an economy where there are enough jobs that pay living wages for all who want them? Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul believe creating that kind of economy is someone else's job.

In fact, Republican politicians like Sen. Rand Paul are pushing for those going through the worst of times, to get even less than they already do. Sadly, the extremist Republicans aren't the only Scrooges in DC this year.

As Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly noted on Monday, this year's budget sacrifice by Democrats appears to be the extension of Federal unemployment benefits - meaning that those Americans who've already been struggling to hang on at the bottom edge of the economy might now be cut off, right as the holidays end.

In an America where the stock market is at some of its highest levels ever, where the 400 richest Americans have a higher standard of living than anyone else on the planet, those same 400 richest people are still richer than the bottom 50 percent of Americans combined.

If there is one reason for hope this next year, it is that it is an election year, and - as Greg Sargent noted yesterday, in the 2014 elections, the Dickensian economy so many Americans are living through now may matter more than any other factor in those elections.

If we had any recommendations for the Scrooges in modern America today, we'd suggest they skip ahead in their own storyline to the Ghost of Christmas Future, and learn their lessons now, and not in November of 2014.