Monday, August 07, 2006

POLITICS - A Dream Slowly Dies

"Death of the American Dream" by JERRY LANDAY , Capitol Hill Blue

It slowly dawns on Americans that their lives are changing. For more and more of us, "the American Dream," which we assumed as our birthright -- founded on infinite plenty, a bottomless cup of creature comforts, and fair rewards for hard work -- is fading.

The material components of the Dream were steady jobs, inexpensive mortgages and other credit, cheap gasoline, secure pensions, and flag-waving confidence in imperial America -- an invulnerable power, which could do no wrong.

But the deadly albatross of Iraq, gasoline at over $3 a gallon, weak growth in jobs and pay, by companies that won't share productivity gains with workers and do export their work to Asia, have produced the sharpest drop in consumer confidence since the recession of the early 1980s.

The Dream -- powerful, pervasive, energizing, defining -- has been the holy writ of the middle class. But today, ask the 20,000 union workers about the American Dream at bankrupt Delphi who face permanent layoffs, while thousands of others confront the prospect of pay cut in half. Or ask the thousands more union and salaried workers with jobs at risk at General Motors and Ford -- once the world's auto-and-truck leaders, now with 40 percent of their home market taken by Toyota and Honda. Or ask the retired guys who've been told by the company they served for decades that they're being stripped of their "assured" pensions and health benefits.

Those young home owners lured by cash-free adjustable-rate mortgages to buy homes beyond their means confront rising interest rates, corrosive debt, and possible foreclosure. With the real-estate market sagging, their home equity shrinks.

Adding insult to injury, the redistribution of our dwindling wealth under Bush widens the gap between the "wealth aristocracy" and the rest of us.

The American consumer economy is operating on two tiers. On top are the relative handful of CEOs and investment people, immune from assault. The Republicans' gratuitous tax cuts on investment income have significantly lowered the tax burden on the richest Americans _ earning more than $10 million _ by an average of about $500,000. Mr. Bush continues to press Congress to make permanent cuts for the privileged while the national deficit goes through the roof.

The rest of us are in a squeeze as inflation is driven by energy costs, medical care, and prescription drugs. Home-foreclosure rates are growing; they jumped an average 13 percent a month nationally at the end of 2005, with highs of 30 percent in Massachusetts, 61 percent in Texas, 70 percent in Arkansas, 145 percent in New Mexico, and 210 percent in West Virginia.

This fine article ends with the question....

"Will the great ideas that have animated America vanish with the retreat of the good life that came to define the American Dream? With what shall we replace them?"

Well, what do you think?

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