Most people, at best, get their news in disjointed fragments that the columnist Walter Lippmann once described as a “pseudo-environment” that betrayed reality. No one can know the whole story, he argued, because there is too much to know.
He wrote about it in a book titled “Public Opinion” long before digital excitement began feeding our senses much faster than most people can rationally absorb issues in their entirety. Nowhere is that more apparent than in politics where enormous amounts of money attempt to lead us to pseudo-evidence with which to sustain a preferred public opinion. (One exception to the political palaver: I care not whether a batter hit a homerun off a two-seamer or slider, no matter what I am told by the announcer.)
A towering example today is how we’ve arrived at the sinfully created gulf between the very rich and the middle- and under classes. Reports of the billionaires who are now replacing millionaires while everyone else’s income is trapped at a constant level may be squeezed into 90-second report on the network TV news, and we are quickly shifted into the weather and sports. And then forgotten , unquestioned, for another day.
In his April column, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter offered a tell-tale sign of the modern money tree:
“Back in 1982, when Forbes magazine published its First Forbes Four Hundred, only 13 of the people on the list were billionaires. Today everyone on the Forbes Four Hundred is a billionaire…”
Well, now. What can we make of this?
One writer who is attempting to connect all of the fragments of immense wealth in a national campaign against a deplorable trend in income disparfity is Hedrick Smith, the former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who makes a fail-safe case in his book “Who Stole the American Dream?”
In short, the Feds, banks, investment houses, Wall Street At Large, deregulation, sour home mortgages issued with the most rapacious motives, even ex-Federal Reserve icon who was supposed to be looking after all of our financial survival, Alan Greenspan – that’s who.
Here are some of things you’ll find in Smith’s book about the missing American dream in the New Economy:
“Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for the stockholders as possible” – conservative economist Milton Friedman.
A poster model for the corporate mentality after cutting 11,000 employes , a “slew of senior managers”, company charities, research and development, CEO Al Dunlap orchestrated a doubling of the Scott Paper Company stock,while pocketing $166,000 a day during his 18 months at the company. As he sliced company divisions, he earned the title of “Chainsaw Al.” Never mind, sayeth Al. As one of his lieutenants asserted, “Al did not worry or care about people. He cared about stockholders. He cared about stock price.”
“The economic elite of this country has performed the biggest rip-off of the middle class in the history of the universe” – Former Wisconsin Democratic congressman David Obey.
From 1973 to 20ll the productivity of the U.S. workforce rose 80.1 percent but the wages of the average worker rose only 4.2s percent.
A study by Emmanuel Suez of the University of California at Berkeley and French economist Thomas Piketty, reported that the “top one percent of the super-rich with incomes over $352,000 a year made $1.35 trillion in 2007 – more than entire countries like France, Italy or Canada.
Particularly inciteful in the shattering of the dream were the words of financial experts Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner, who wrote: “The American people realize they’ve been robbed. They’re just not sure by whom.”
The biggest gorilla in the room, of course, was the housing collapse in which we learned of junk mortgages that drove home owners into inescapable debt. Writes Smith: “Homeowners lost nearly a 30 pct. stake in what had been the nation’s $20 trillion housing stock – a collective loss of about $6 trillion primarily through equity stripping…For the first time in decades, banks owned more of the cumulative value of American homes than so-called owners.”
(Banks as perps, did he say? Today the New York Times reported five of the largest banks will plead guilty next week to an “array of fraud charges” as soon as next week. They include Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland.)
The massive greed will be a difficult challenge, but Smith is undaunted.
“The most powerful action that average Americans can take is to organize at the grass roots, as the Tea Party did…Show up at town meetings with members of Congress…Get out on Main Street and demonstrate for jobs and homes…”
That’s what he’s bee saying to folks as he moves around the country to spark citizen action. Tough assignment. Very tough. But he’s a warrior talking about your money and mine. The financial elite need not apply.