Tag Archives: America

A Look At Wealth Inequality In America

Gross income inequality can cause a host of problems for a country.  It inhibits social mobility, stymies the entrepreneurial spirit, and it ensures that the bulk of consumers on whom we rely to keep the economy moving lack the funds to meet many ends beyond those immediately related to their survival.

That the United States is terribly unequal (one of the most unequal of the developed nations) is no secret.  But just how bad is it, really?  The imbedded video provides a good video representation of the current state of wealth distribution in America.


A Monumental Tragedy

So I am finally back after a short hiatus in which I spent the holiday season and a couple of weeks thereafter eating, drinking and hibernating in a futile attempt to stave off the inevitable: returning to work.  Anyway, I have returned to the office and to the blog, and I have decided to break my blogging fast with a piece of news that diverges somewhat from the usual topics discussed here, but which has hit very close to home for me.

When I am not working, studying or blogging I find time to serve as Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 10658 in Schweinfurt.  About six years ago this organization, an amazing collective of American combat veterans spanning a wide range of ages and conflicts, was forced to begin to come to grips with the fact that the US Army units and installations that have been here in Schweinfurt since the end of World War II would be closing in the foreseeable future.  It was then that the idea to erect a monument to the service and sacrifice of every Soldier who had been stationed or served in the city from 1946 onward began to take shape.  Four years later we learned that the base closure was coming sooner rather than later and the project to create the monument began in earnest.

Two local artists, Steff Bauer and Sören Ernst, were commissioned to design and create the monument.  The Schweinfurt VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary conducted a huge fundraising effort, raising the vast majority of the funds through private donations from individual donors, the city of Schweinfurt donated a plot of land, and a local construction firm donated time and resources to the monument’s installation.

Finally, on Veterans Day 2012, the American Soldiers Monument was dedicated in a small but proud ceremony.  In attendance was Sissy Borel, National Senior Vice-President of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary; Sebastian Remelé, Lord Mayor of Schweinfurt; LTC Michael Runey, Commander of US Army Garrison Schweinfurt; as well as a host of Veterans, past and present unit and garrison commanders, city officials, members of the media and, perhaps most importantly, the widows of several fallen American heroes.  It was as solemn occasion and every speech delivered that afternoon resonated with the themes of service, sacrifice, and the partnership and friendship of two great nations.

Sadly, just two months later, the pride that was felt on that day has been damaged.  Sometime between the evening of January 15th and the afternoon of January 16th vandals removed the head of the eagle, the national symbol of America and Germany, and made off with it.  The local police were notified; the investigation is ongoing.

I found it difficult to put into words how I felt after I found out about the vandalism.  Shock.  Anger.  Sadness.  I couldn’t sit still; I couldn’t focus on just one emotion.  Questions kept bouncing around in my skull.  Who would do this?  Why would someone do this?  What has it accomplished?  I spent most of the night somewhere between agitation and depression.

I awoke this morning to find that news of the event had begun to make its way around the regional media websites.  The local paper ran a story on the afternoon of the 16th.  The state police reported the attack on their website and provided a hotline for witnesses or individuals with information about the attack to report it; the state news agency reported on it as well.  Several smaller websites that feature local news and events also ran the report from the police website, including one which ran it under the headline, “Who would do something like this?”

This media brush fire, combined with the outpouring of shock, outrage and grief that we have received via email and commentary, has helped tremendously.  It has been heartening to read the messages of support from Veterans, Soldiers, family members, and everyone back in the United States who supported the project.  Additionally, the words that I have received and seen online from German friends and family and the citizens of Schweinfurt have been a welcome boost to morale.  It has been made clear that the desecration of a monument, a piece of art, a piece of this city, will not be tolerated.

This is not the end of the story.  Even now we are working on plans to repair the monument, likely a long and expensive process, and we will see it restored and back where it belongs.  While the symbol may have been defiled, the service, sacrifice, and friendship which it represents continues unabated.  The partnership and sense of community that has been forged over more than 60 years of peacetime cooperation cannot be destroyed so easily.

So, What’s Next?

I did not want to get out of bed this morning.  Not because I was afraid that a secret Marxist, anti-colonialist, Muslim, whatever was still the President.  Or that he was set to be replaced by a man with a Cold War mentality and magic underwear who adheres to a belief system that claims that blacks are cursed.  No, I was just really tired.

But now that I’m up, mobile, and more or less awake, I have finally been able to take a look at the particulars of Obama’s reelection victory.  While the overall margin of victory was a bit surprising, considering how narrow the polls were leading up to the day, this election seemingly lacked the punch and consequence of the 2008 and 2010 affairs that saw great upheavals in the White House and in Congress.  This morning the incumbent is still Commander in Chief, the GOP still controls the House, and the Democrats have maintained a narrow majority in the Senate.

What does this mean for the Republican party?  In the two years following President Obama’s election in 2008 the Republicans worked tirelessly to motivate their base and galvanize their most extreme elements in repudiation of the President and the Democrats, leading to a huge turnover of seats in Congress that allowed the Republicans to take the majority in the House of Representatives and greatly narrow the Democratic majority in the Senate.  Now in 2012, with a sputtering and sluggish economy, high unemployment, and an uncertain security situation abroad, the GOP was in a prime position to carry that momentum forward and improve upon the position they put themselves in 2 years ago.  But they just couldn’t get it done.

Why not?  I have no doubt that there will be a flurry of explanations and excuses offered up in the coming weeks, many of them (okay most of them) coming from people more intelligent that I, but it appears to me that many voters are simply turned off by the ultra-conservatism that has become a prevalent part of the GOP platform.  It is no secret that the GOP has moved strongly and steadily to the right ever since 2008, a phenomenon that was punctuated by the success of Tea Party backed candidates in the mid-term elections of 2010 and lead to a pattern of obstructionism in the House and Mitch McConnell’s top priority in the senate.

But in 2012 the electorate has given the election to the Democratic incumbent (by nearly 100 electoral votes as of this writing) and the Democrats have earned a net gain in seats in both chambers of Congress.  This gain of seats for the Democrats is evidence of a  repudiation of ultra-conservatism in Congress and is highlighted by the defeat of Tea Party incumbents Allen West and Joe Walsh, and the fact that Michele Bachmann‘s fate came down to the wire despite the fact that she grossly outspent her opponent this election cycle.

So what’s next as the Republicans look forward to 2014?  After seeing gay marriage legalized in three out of the four states that had it on the ballot and recreational marijuana legalized in two out of the three states with it on the ballot, after giving up ground in Congress (especially losing key Tea Party favorites), the abject failure of of the ultra-conservative primary campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and the disappointing general election showing of Mitt Romney, is it not clear that the GOP needs a new game plan?  The momentum of the push to the right is petering out.  It’s still there, but no where near what it was two years ago, and it likely will not be there again.  It would appear that the best course of action for the GOP is to throw it in reverse, pull back towards the center, and seek electoral victory via a successful policy record enacted through bi-partisan cooperation.  American voters are realizing that the obstructionism and backwards social policies that have been the backbone of the Tea Party movement and have informed the policies and actions of the GOP as of late are not the way forward for the country.  Republicans need to realize this too, and soon.

Perhaps Lindsay Graham, Republican Senator from North Carolina, said it best:

“If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough, I’m going to go nuts.  We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

Every once in a while a video, or photo, or soundbite comes along that perfectly captures the zeitgeist.  This is one of those times.  Here, 4 year-old Abigael perfectly and succinctly sums up the feelings of an entire nation.

Are we unable to look ahead?

In a recent interview with Tagesschau.de, Tasos Telloglou, a Greek journalist, shared his thoughts on his country’s recent, and controversial, elections.  Early on in the interview, Mr. Telloglou made an interesting observation about Greek voters.  He said, “They cannot look ahead, only in the past.  Many confuse cause and effect.  They believe the austerity measures to be the cause of the economic downturn.  The factions that have been empowered by the elections have sold them this.”  Now, the concept of a people in dire straights confusing the cause of their plight with the effect of it is certainly an interesting topic, one that deserves further deliberation.  However, I want to focus on the first point of this quote, on the Greek people’s inability to look towards the future.

It seems that this particular handicap is one that is shared with a great deal of the American voting public as well.  It is perhaps more pronounced in the most right-wing of American conservative ideology, with their calls for a return to so-called traditional morals and values.  But the truth is it permeates throughout all ranks of our political culture.  Many of us, citizens and politicians alike, have grown accustomed to America’s role in the world since the end of WWII.  During the decades of the Cold War, the dichotomy of geopolitics allowed the US to act with impunity in the western world as the only counter balance to Soviet aggression. Since the dissolution of the USSR the United States has enjoyed its status as sole hegemon, and its citizens have become accustomed to this consolidated power.*

The obvious problem that this presents is the difficulty with which American culture (social, political and economic) will adjust to the rapidly changing geopolitical climate.  I recently finished the book The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria (yes, I realize that I am about 4 years behind).  The thing that impressed me most about this book was that it did not disregard America’s former global status and it did not attempt to make the reader fearful for the future.  Instead, Mr. Zakaria does a fantastic job of laying out how America got to this point of power, how the circumstances (within and without of the country) are changing, and how to use those changes to our advantage.  The truth of the matter is that the US is still, and will for a long time remain, the sole global superpower (politically, economically and militarily), but that status will not longer come with the same perks that it used to.  Established industrial nations are demonstrating more power, along with the ability and the will to wield it, in global organizations and their own backyards.  And developing nations are making huge gains politically (think Brazil and Turkey handling negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago) and economically. 

In other words, it is becoming quite clear that the US can no longer rely on its superpower status in the way that it used to.  While there may not be any one nation that will truly rival the US in the foreseeable future (China may come close, but will not hold all of the cards in the way that the US has done for so long), the rise of status in so many global and regional powers is a game changer.

But this new global dynamic is one that the US can use to its advantage.  Many of the established powerhouses on the world stage are friendly towards the US and the economies of today’s rapidly developing nations are being built on the back of western capitalism.  All of this bodes well for the US if we willing to accept it and look ahead to a future in which global cooperation will play a greater role politically and economically.  To do this we must learn what we can from the past, but also realize that to pine for it and to ignore the impossibility of returning to it will be disastrous.

*I’m obviously speaking in generalizations here and I do not doubt that there are certain instances that may refute the absolute that I present.  Bear in mind that this is done for brevity’s sake, as I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to present a fully researched thesis as part of a blog.

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