The top ten list you shouldn’t be reading


A new year’s list of travesties:

  1. It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour of every day, 300 children die from malnutrition.
  2. One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night while the top 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers made a combined $13.2 billion in a single year.
  3. Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  4. 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less, while the global video game market is nearly $50 billion.Continue Reading..

The most important person in the world


You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Do some people matter more than others? In a tabloid culture, an inordinate premium is placed on anyone rich or popular, the antics of celebrities and millionaires receiving more attention than the mortal struggles of women and children.

In the U.S., the gap between fame and obscurity, wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness manifests itself most starkly in centers of influence like Washington, Los Angeles and New York.

America is based on the noble idea of equality, but principle and practice are two very different things and some people are more equal than others, with disproportionate privileges and prestige. This holds true across the planet.

Counterintuitively, the most important people in the world are those who have the least, those who are the most oppressed, those who are victims of the worst violence.

We are only as strong and powerful and important as the weakest link in the human chain. When a little girl is gang-raped, when a child wastes away from preventable hunger, when a man is silenced for his beliefs, when a woman dies needlessly in childbirth, when a little boy lives in agony from a preventable disease, we are all weakened, our worth diminished.

When the resources of the rich and famous are put to use to help those in need, it is because the highest moral calling is to give to others, to extend a hand to those who need one.

If character is built on compassion and generosity of spirit, the most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.

With all the namedropping and idol-worshiping served to us by the media, with the dazzling displays of money and fame and power, let’s never forget who matters most in this world: it is the person to whom we give something of ourselves — and from whom we derive our moral power.

The Age of Denial


America is in an Age of Denial, a time in which intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women.

It is an age where wealth disparities are at record levels, where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success, where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer.

It is a time when a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood, when a sports game arouses more passion and emotion than a million babies dying.

This denialism afflicts the entire nation, not one party, not one particular group, not one ideology.

Many liberals stand by while a Democratic administration affirms and cements the worst excesses and overreaches of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, authorizing extra-judicial killings, indefinite detention and rendition, among other egregious practices. They stand by as a catastrophic oil spill is purposely scrubbed from public awareness because it has an adverse effect on Democratic electoral prospects. They stand by as the lies and deceptions that led America into Iraq are forgiven and forgotten and the Republican architects and purveyors of those lies are lauded by Democratic leaders. They stand by as obscenely rich bankers are bailed out at the expense of struggling taxpayers.

Conservatives stand by as their leaders callously exploit fear and xenophobia. They stand by – or worse, participate – as rightwing blatherers spew an endless stream of hateful invective across the airwaves. They yearn for war, war and more war against an ill-defined enemy. They traffic in jingoistic soundbites and call it patriotism and stand in defense of a Constitution they haven’t bothered to read. And perhaps more destructively than anything else they say, do or deny, they willfully toy with our future by pretending that the wholesale ravaging of the environment has absolutely no effect.

On the last point, David Roberts of Grist provides insight:

However muted denialism may have gotten in the late 2000s, it has come roaring back … Climate denialism is part of something much broader and scarier on the right. The core idea is most clearly expressed by Rush Limbaugh:

We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. … The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions.

The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that’s not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality — a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards — designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That’s why conservatives catch hell when they’re skeptical of climate skepticism. They’re messing with tribal cohesion and morale.

It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything!

Roberts captures the frightening implications of denialism, a breakdown of trust in our basic institutions, an ideological war against facts and science, a kaleidoscopic skewing of national priorities. This is America in the Age of Denial.

What’s most troubling is that when you confront a denier, they’ll deny that they’re in denial.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert writes about the denial of our economic reality:

The movers and shakers of our society seem similarly oblivious to the terrible destruction wrought by the economic storm that has roared through America. They’ve heard some thunder, perhaps, and seen some lightning, and maybe felt a bit of the wind. But there is nothing that society’s leaders are doing — no sense of urgency in their policies or attitudes — that suggests they understand the extent of the economic devastation that has come crashing down like a plague on the poor and much of the middle class.

The American economy is on its knees and the suffering has reached historic levels. Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty last year, which is more than 14 percent of the population. That is an increase of 4 million over the previous year, the highest percentage in 15 years, and the highest number in more than a half-century of record-keeping. Millions more are teetering on the edge, poised to fall into poverty.

More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor. More than 15 million children are poor.

The movers and shakers, including most of the mainstream media, have paid precious little attention to this wide-scale economic disaster.

UPDATE II: The spiking of the Deepwater Horizon spill — the ultimate example of today’s denialism — comes full circle with this jaw-dropping story:

While BP plans to permanently abandon its stricken well in the Gulf of Mexico, with little but a plug left at the top, it may yet make use of the reservoir of oil and gas that the well tapped into.

Experts say that there are no technical or commercial reasons why BP — or another company if BP is wary of the political or public-relations repercussions — could not eventually produce oil from the formation, which BP once estimated contained about 50 million barrels of oil. The well spewed only about one-tenth of that amount, according to government estimates.

“The bottom line here is that this reservoir still remains a target for further production,” said Tadeusz W. Patzek, chairman of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas.

Dr. Patzek said he thought the formation might contain even more recoverable oil and gas, “but whether it’s 50 million or 100 million, that’s still a pretty decent target,” with potential revenues in the billions of dollars.

Through a spokesman, BP said it was too early to say what would become of Mississippi Canyon Block 252, the nine-square-mile plot about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast where the well was drilled. But in August, Doug Suttles, the company’s chief operating officer, while saying the stricken well and two relief wells would be abandoned, left open the possibility that the company might drill in the area again.

“There’s lots of oil and gas here,” he said at the time. “We’re going to have to think about what to do with that at some point.”

America 2010: poverty soars while corporate executives wallow in cash


Contrast this:

The poverty rate jumped to 14.3 percent in 2009, up from 13.2 percent a year earlier and the highest rate since 1994, the Census Bureau said Thursday. Last year, a record 43.6 million people were in poverty, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive increase. “The number of people in poverty in 2009 is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published,” the Census Bureau said.

With this:

A chief executive officer of a Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 index company was paid, on average, $9.25 million in total compensation in 2009.

Eli Pariser of MoveOn captures the obscenity in a tweet:

In the US, the richest country on earth in terms of total wealth, 1 in 7 live in poverty.

As a New Yorker, it’s easy to see that things are completely out of whack when luxury real estate listings for multi-million dollar apartments are a dime a dozen.

As I’ve said, these are dark days for progressives and for America with inequality, injustice, hunger, poverty, human rights violations, oppression of women and so many other ills rampant. Our work is cut out for us.

UPDATE: More on income inequality from Joan McCarter:

Based on the preliminary data from the Census, Democrats on the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) have issued a report based on the Census data, showing that “income inequality skyrocketed in the past three decades, peaked under President Bush just before the Great Recession began, and may have been a root cause of the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

The report talks about how increasing income inequality has been compounded by financial deregulation, resulting in easier access to credit and more and more American families getting deeper and deeper into debt just to make ends meet.

The poor are “strikingly generous” – but billionaires are catching up


I’m sure many of you have seen anecdotal evidence of this in your lives, but here it is, spelled out:

With the battle over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy shaping up as the major political event of the fall, opponents of repeal were handed a bounteous gift this summer when Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and 38 others announced that they formed a pact to give at least half their wealth to charity. After all, what better illustration could there be of the great social good that wealthy people can do when the government lets them keep their hard-earned dollars to spend as they please?

The problem is that the exceptional philanthropy of the superwealthy few doesn’t apply to the many more people defined as rich in the current debate over the Bush tax cuts — individuals earning over $200,000 and couples with revenues over $250,000. For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.

More on that Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge:

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced today that 40 signers, including at least 30 billionaires and other wealthy families, had officially made the Giving Pledge–a promise to give away more than half their fortunes.

…Some people may write off the pledge as a gimmick aimed at simply improving the PR of the super-rich, which could certainly use some improving. But the list could become a strong financial force for philanthropy, if for no other reason than peer pressure, publicity and the inspiring example of others.

America’s rich have been searching for new status symbols in the wake of the Great Recession. Yachts, private jets, seaside mansions are so 2007. But being wealthy enough and generous enough to get on the Giving Pledge list may quickly become the ultimate badge of status–both in the U.S. and abroad.

The billionaire’s pledge is undeniably a good thing, and Buffet and Gates are setting an excellent example and saving lives. Still, for the 40+ signers, you have to ask yourself if being left with a few hundred million or even a few billion dollars after you’ve given away half your fortune should be considered a sacrifice in any meaningful sense of that word.