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Matt Taibbi: America's Middle Class Can't Take Much More Punishment

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marmar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 06:54 AM
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Matt Taibbi: America's Middle Class Can't Take Much More Punishment
via AlterNet:

America's Middle Class Can't Take Much More Punishment

By Matt Taibbi, Posted July 23, 2008.

Whether we like it or not, America is in the midst of revolutionary economic changes that are crushing the middle class.

The following is an adapted version of a recent article by Taibbi.

I am a single mother with a 9-year-old boy. To stay warm at night my son and I would pull off all the pillows from the couch and pile them on the kitchen floor. I'd hang a blanket from the kitchen doorway and we'd sleep right there on the floor. By February we ran out of wood and I burned my mother's dining room furniture. I have no oil for hot water. We boil our water on the stove and pour it in the tub. I'd like to order one of your flags and hang it upside down at the capital building we are certainly a country in distress.
-- Letter from a single mother in a Vermont city, to Senator Bernie Sanders

A few weeks back, I got a call from someone in the office of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders wanted to tell me about an effort his office had recently made to solicit information about his constituents' economic problems. He sent out a notice on his e-mail list asking Vermont residents to "tell me what was going on in their lives economically." He expected a few dozen letters at best -- but got, instead, more than 700 in the first week alone. Some, like the excerpt posted above, sounded like typical tales of life for struggling single-parent families below the poverty line. More unnerving, however, were the stories Sanders received from people who held one or two or even three jobs, from families in which both spouses held at least one regular job -- in other words, from people one would normally describe as middle-class. For example, this letter came from the owner of his own commercial cleaning service:

My 90-year-old father in Connecticut has recently become ill and asked me to visit him. I want to drop everything I am doing and go visit him, however, I am finding it hard to save enough money to add to the extra gas I'll need to get there. I make more than I did a year ago and I don't have enough to pay my property taxes this quarter for the first time in many years. They are due tomorrow.

This single mother buys clothes from thrift stores and unsuccessfully tried to sell her house to pay for her son's schooling:

I don't go to church many Sundays, because the gasoline is too expensive to drive there. Every thought of an activity is dependent on the cost.

Sanders got letters from working people who have been reduced to eating "cereal and toast" for dinner, from a 71-year-old man who has been forced to go back to work to pay for heating oil and property taxes, from a worker in an oncology department of a hospital who reports that clinically ill patients are foregoing cancer treatments because the cost of gas makes it too expensive to reach the hospital. The recurring theme is that employment, even dual employment, is no longer any kind of barrier against poverty. Not economic discomfort, mind you, but actual poverty. Meaning, having less than you need to eat and live in heated shelter -- forgetting entirely about health care and dentistry, which has long ceased to be considered an automatic component of American middle-class life. The key factors in almost all of the Sanders letters are exploding gas and heating oil costs, reduced salaries and benefits, and sharply increased property taxes (a phenomenon I hear about all across the country at campaign trail stops, something that seems to me to be directly tied to the Bush tax cuts and the consequent reduced federal aid to states). And it all adds up to one thing.

"The middle class is disappearing," says Sanders. "In real ways we're becoming more like a third-world country." ......(more)

The complete piece is at: /

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Historic NY Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 07:19 AM
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1. I had to break my last CD just to pay bills and living expenses...
money is draining faster than it comes in.
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flashl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 07:49 AM
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2. The disappearing middle class is the newly poor.
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The2ndWheel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 08:24 AM
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3. The middle class exists because of cheap non-human energy
Non-living energy really.

So the more expensive the energy, whatever it may be, the less of a middle class. On the other hand, the chepaer the energy, the larger our environmental impact, since cheap energy allows more people to do more things.

We don't get to have everything.
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tavalon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 09:58 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Yep, that's the dirty little secret here
I'm not happy about why the costs are going up now (the oil companies wanted one more really good profit windfall before the long decline) but this had to come someday. We are living on borrowed time, or rather borrowed resources. There have been too many of us soaking up the world's resources (she says, fully cognizant of the irony that she's sitting in her cushy chair typing on a computer to many other equally privileged folk).
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Two Americas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-24-08 03:54 AM
Response to Reply #3
6. really?
So without cheap oil, feudalism is inevitable? With cheap oil, a middle class is inevitable?

How can you read that story and characterize those suffering people as expecting to "get to have everything?"
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AdHocSolver Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-24-08 01:37 AM
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5. Kevin Phillips wrote of how empires collapsed hand in hand with the destruction of the middle class.
Phillips was Richard Nixon's economics advisor. The book I read was "Wealth and Democracy".

The Roman, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Soviet empires, among others, collapsed from within due to the greed, corruption, and incompetence of their respective ruling classes.

Offshoring of jobs to colonies (for cheaper labor), maintaining large armies and being involved in continual warfare, high taxes to support both the warfare and an expensive and grandiose lifestyle for the ruling class, widespread corruption and decadence in the upper classes all contributed to the decline and eventual collapse of these empires. The U.S. will not be an exception.
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