Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Malamute Blogging

Finally warm enough to take him to the lake and let him play in the water. I can't believe I just wrote that on the last day of July in Chicago. What happened to summer?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Them That's Got Shall Get...

If you were wondering how wealth, income, and power have been, and still are, distributed in the USA than have a look-see at an article by Professor G. William Domhoff, available at the Sociology Dept. at UC Santa Cruz. I've excerpted some of the more upsetting paragraphs, tables, and figures below.

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2004, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.3% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.3%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers).

Besides illustrating the significance of home ownership as a measure of wealth, the graph also shows how much worse Black and Latino households are faring overall, whether we are talking about income or net worth. In 2004, the average white household had 10 times as much total wealth as the average African-American household, and 21 times as much as the average Latino household. If we exclude home equity from the calculations and consider only financial wealth, the ratios are more startling: 120:1 and 360:1, respectively. Extrapolating from these figures, we see that 69% of white families' wealth is in the form of their principal residence; for Blacks and Hispanics, the figures are 97% and 98%, respectively.

Here are some dramatic facts that sum up how the wealth distribution became even more concentrated between 1983 and 2004, in good part due to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the defeat of labor unions: Of all the new financial wealth created by the American economy in that 21-year-period, fully 42% of it went to the top 1%. A whopping 94% went to the top 20%, which of course means that the bottom 80% received only 6% of all the new financial wealth generated in the United States during the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s (Wolff, 2007).

It's even more revealing to compare the actual rates of increase of the salaries of CEOs and ordinary workers; from 1990 to 2005, CEOs' pay increased almost 300% (adjusted for inflation), while production workers gained a scant 4.3%. The purchasing power of the federal minimum wage actually declined by 9.3%, when inflation is taken into account. These startling results are illustrated in Figure 7.

ht to alr

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Watching The Fog of War for the second time around, I couldn't help but wonder: is this watery-eyed man in Rumsfield's future? Twenty, or so years, down the road will he subject himself to hours of interviews on his many errors in the Iraq war?

As of today confirmed deaths in the Iraq War stand at just over 4,300, a far cry from the over 25,000 who died during McNamara's seven-year term as Secretary of Defense. This isn't to say that fewer deaths should lay more lightly on Rumsfield's conscience, but rather that, as much as we make easy comparisons between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, those of us who are for the first time grappling with a war with significant casualties have no concept of the ultimate blood cost of a protracted, and ultimately futile, conflict.

The Fog of War, and McNamara himself, frustrates our need for a complete mea culpa. In so many ways he remained to the end a Washington bureaucrat, rationalizing at the same time he chided those who rationalized war, and, at times, flatly refusing to address the issue of his own guilt. However, throughout the documentary he numbers the dead, numbers them and draws comparisons to the populations of American cities. For a cracker-jack statistician the way he recalls those numbers speaks of a mind who never stops seeing the loss of life, never stops wondering how many had to die.

McNamara strikes me as someone who desperately wanted forgiveness and yet was enough of a realist not to ask for it. Yet, he spent his years following his time attacking poverty, the nuclear arms race, and, ultimately, the culture of war itself. It's difficult to know how to weigh the actions of his later years with those of his sojourn at the Pentagon; for at the end of the day how do you weigh a few good works against the thousands of lives either lost or irrevocably damaged by your actions?

Atonement works great in theology but it is pretty much impossible in real life. Asking regular human beings to have enough grace to forgive on that scale is too much. So I don't want to make excuses nor suggest that in attempting to atone for his crimes McNamara deserves a break. At the same time in measuring him against others of his ilk--his contemporary Henry Kissinger for one and those who followed, Cheney and Rumsfield-- McNamara's dedication to atoning for his crimes raises him above those others merely in the recognition of having done egregious wrongs. That recognition seems such a small thing yet is so rare amongst those who recklessly drive us into deadly and morally compromising situations. In our time we are faced either with silence (Colin Powell) or a flat denial of any wrongdoing. Cheney's callousness is so despicable as to suggest a certain joy in the chaos he creates. It shouldn't be so much to ask for those in power to recognize that their actions have consequences. It shouldn't, but it is.

McNamara offered himself up as a cautionary tale in 2003, the same year we invaded Iraq, possibly in the vain hope that the mess we're in could be avoided. I think that all by itself, while many might say it is 40 years too late, is worthy of our consideration if not our absolution.

Friday, July 03, 2009