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The Summer of 2010: From promises broken to the powder keg

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The Summer of 2010: From promises broken to the powder keg

Forget a repeat of 9/11, the real terror that strikes the heart of Republicans is one former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan articulated constantly: inflation driven by rising wages! At least that was the excuse used to trample America's workers underfoot, then rungs-up for the corporate execs: George Bush's "Haves and have mores."

As if the average American needed any more evidence, the evidence is in, the Aughts were an awful continuation of the Republican campaign against American wage-earners that began in earnest with the election of Ronald Reagan. The ten years, from 2000 through 2009, were a victory trophy for those at the top of the social pyramid, an ever-deepening pit of rot for everyone else.

This issue perilously threatens the stretched thin strands of the social fabric, and should therefore seriously worry even those whose economic altitude would seem to put their fortresses of comfort above any fray. But all of us, including those at the top, should think again. Every uprising since the dawning days of the Industrial Revolution has been led by those well-educated, of better than moderate means, and fomented by an untenable spread between the wealthy and those who most assuredly were not. Most notable were those of the French Revolution, that was the precursor to the Reign of Terror, and Russia's 1917 October Red Revolution. As to bloody, brutal social upheaval, you can ask Marie Antoinette and the Romanov family. Oh, that's right, you can't. Along with tens of thousands in France and millions in Russia, they were eliminated with extreme prejudice.

Hardly with the same panache, it has happened here; Pennsylvania's Molly Maguires in the 1870s, the Haymarket Square riot of 1886, the Pullman riots of 1893, and during the 1960s, from Newark to Detroit to L.A. As I'll note in a moment, the period in US history between 1897 and 1903 closely parallels what has been the ongoing accretion of wealth in fewer and fewer hands today. In the late 1800s, the nation's wealth was held by just one percent of the population, with half of America's families in 1900 forced to subsist on an annual income of $500, a sum that was below the cost of living for a family of four. That while industrialist Andrew Carnegie gathered to himself $23 million! (

However not quite so extreme today, the extreme is at least as outrageous, and potentially much more dangerous for our society. Approximately five percent of Americans at the apex earn fully 50% of the country's income. According to a Washington Post article, printed January 2 (click here), whereas every decade between 1940 and 2000 saw minimally 20% job growth - with net ZERO job growth, the decade we just bid adieu to was the worst for the American worker in the past 70 years. Economic production was the worst since the 30s, the middle-class suffered a net income loss -- when adjusted for inflation -- since 1999, and the net worths of Americans, whether in retirement funds, college savings funds, or home equity, were shoved off the cliff. All tolled, Americans were worse off through the entirety of the new millennium's first decade than they were at the previous millennium's last call at midnight.

Empathy, sympathy, and a dynamite keg.

However much the first two terms sound synonymous, and are frequently -- and quite incorrectly -- used interchangeably, there is dramatic distinction between empathy and sympathy. Empathy means I understand your feelings. Sympathy means your feelings are my feelings. On the one hand, I can see you. On the other, I am you. A neighbor loses his or her job, and the house. You're facing losing your job and the house. A huge difference in a social environment fraught through with economic anxiety. Empathy looks at the keg, sympathy lights it.

At least once a week we're told in a newspaper or a magazine or on some television program of the country's growing obesity problem, and how we need to eat healthy; reduced-fat milk, fish twice a week, and plenty of vegetables. Here in Palm Springs a gallon of milk is $2.39, Tilapia -- a relatively inexpensive white fish -- hovers around $5.00 per pound, farm-raised salmon is close to $9.00, and fresh green beans are coming in at $1.99. After subtracting the 7% Social Security and Medicare that's up-front lifted from paychecks, after rent, after the car payment, after utilities, after the contribution for health insurance, the proposition that a $12.50 per hour wage earning head of a family of four can afford any of that is preposterous. You think that $12.50 per hour mother doesn't think about that? Think again.

Promises that we made are being broken; watch for shattered glass.

No one has to tell the out-of-work folks that life is unfair. Besides, no one believes it until it is to them. See "sympathy," above. Everyone has heard the song lyrics, "work hard, get a good education, and play by the rules."

Last year was tough enough for college grads, those who had been fed and who had fed upon that song. They had worked hard. They had gotten a good education. They had played by the rules. But the working and the studying and the rules observing made no difference: most were still as much out of a job as if they'd dropped out of high school. And last summer they found they were taking any job they could get, even waitressing . . .. (Not that there is anything dismissive about waitressing, it's just not what anyone goes to college and borrows $40,000 or more to become.) Stoically, waiting for that interview that would land them the position they studied and borrowed to the hilt for, while not participating, they observed last summer's T-bag rallies. Nonsensical. Stupid. You becha. But as the long line grows, the summer of 2010 could turn explosive. Literally.

With little to lose (And fighting 101: Never, ever get in a fight with a person who has nothing to lose!), this summer could well find the ranks of unemployed college grads leading those T-bag rallies, all of which, were overflowing with molten anger last year. Do you really believe, in an election year in which the GOP is going to add gallon upon gallon of nitro to the acidic brew, that the boiling will be cooled?

All it might take is for one mayor to call one police chief to put down one protest rally, on one 100+ degree July or August day. Next add one nervous cop, with one loaded weapon, who lets off one nervous round or canister of pepper spray or who tasers just one person, and just one protester with a cell-phone who sees it, or one news reporter with a camera who captures the footage, and . . .. Camden to Chicago to south-central L.A.

Every armed revolution is conservative.

It's a terrible mistake for anyone to think that there have been violent social uprisings on behalf of some social positive. The American revolution, for example, was not for liberty, or for anything else that American classrooms teach. It wasn't for a single step forward. Rather, it was to keep from taking just one more step backward. The founding fathers were convinced that, if unchecked, their lives under King George would only become untenably much worse, to the point they dared not try to imagine what that worse might be like. And they were prepared to fight to the death, or be hanged, rather than suffer knowing how that "worse" might be defined.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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