Where is the American activism?

Bob Herbert, the distinguished NYTimes editorialist, looks at the crowds in Cairo and asks where is the American equivalent (When Democracy Weakens: While Egyptians celebrate, we should look at the American democracy...)

RT Koenig
Memphis TN
Maybe it's time the American people took a lesson from the people of Egypt and take to the streets. Maybe it's time that the poor and middle class working people of America staged their own Day of Rage. Maybe it's time for a million unemployed workers or the millions who have lost their homes to a recession sparked by corporate greed to march on Wall Street.
Just this week we learn that JPMorgan Chase, one of the banks responsible for the recession and the recipient of millions in bailout money, defrauded thousands of American servicemen and their families. In some cases, the second largest bank in the US illegally foreclosed on U.S. servicemen and their families. If this latest outrage doesn't spark protests, then perhaps we are no longer capable of outrage.
A Day of Rage cannot overlook Washington, where as Herbert has noted so eloquently, neither party is representing the interests of the poor, the unemployed and the underemployed. Americans fortunate enough to still have jobs need to stand together in protest lest they be next.
It's time to get off the couch and take to the streets. As the people of Egypt have shown us, even the powerful cannot afford to ignore millions united for change, freedom and fairness.
Mel Presley
Roskilde, Denmark
There are only two factions that stand in the way of a second American revolution, a true political revolt to end rule by the corporate dollar and restore democracy.

One is partisan cheerleaders for the Republican political cause.

The other is partisan cheerleaders for the Democrat political cause.

The Times' readership seems to divide itself about 10 percent to 90 percent, respectively, in favor of these two opposing camps. There's virtually nobody at all with enough common sense to see that we'll never find our way out of the woods, and away from plutocracy, until we all reject BOTH.

Street protests won't work in America as they have in Cairo, because we face a far more entrenched enemy than the Egyptians. But there's one thing that would. We need to form a temporary, single party of national unity with the sole purpose of having it write a Constitutional amendment to mandate modern, multiparty voting and an end to private funding of campaigns. If we all elect its candidates, and boycott all those of our fraudulent two-party system, we'll have the mother and father of confrontations on our hands, and if the sitting powers attempt to annul the election results, we might even start a civil war. But I can't see any other way to restore rule by the people - which is what democracy is supposed to be in the first place.
Greg Shimkaveg
Oviedo, Florida
Mr. Herbert, I don't disagree with you. But consider this: where were the disadvantaged and disenfranchised last November? I am a local Democratic Party offficer down here in Florida. I worked for and financially supported a lot of candidates, hundreds of hours and over a thousand dollars. On November 2nd, 2010 I worked the polls. Who showed up? Angry white guys in pickup trucks. Literally scowling as they drove in. Who didn't show up, despite being phoned and visited and mailed? Young people, union people, women, ethnic and racial minorities. I stood in front of a polling place in a middle-class and let's say unpretentious part of the county. The registration breakdown was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. There were lots of diverse people on the rolls. And who bothered to make a difference? Mostly white, mostly male, and overwhelmingly Republican voters.

So we reap what we sew. A decennial election, as you know, controls who decides redistricting. Our Legislature is now filibuster-proof Republican and we have a 2-to-1 Republican Congressional delegation, in a state with a 300,000 Democratic registration plurality. Despite two Constitutional Amendments that did pass requiring fair districts, the Legislature is busy Gerrymandering to keep themselves and their party in solid control until at least 2020.

So, thanks to all those who sat on their hands in November. And as you point out, Mr. Herbert, they'll be the ones most likely to suffer all the more. But they are not just blameless victims. 
joseph parmetler
The USA is not a democracy any more. Or is there anyone int he US government who represents the 40 million poor in the country? Is there anyone who represents the unemployed?
Is there anyone who represents the fading middle classes who are fighting for their economic survival?
Look at the cabinet of the president? They all represent big money.
Look at the Republicans in Congress: the poor, the unemployed do not even exist for them; if they keep on as they do now, Republicans will advance Egyptian conditions in the USA.
This is a corporatocracy or plutocracy.
Redmond, WA
The executive class holds American workers hostage by threatening to move jobs out of state or out of the country if their demands aren't met. Politicians, in fear of more job losses, then try to weaken the labor unions and accommodate the corporations' desires. Local TV stations are quick to publicize mass layoffs or plant shutdowns and blame them on public officials and labor unions.

States governments are set in competition with each other for the lowest tax rates. In Washington State the unemployment insurance tax rate was tied to the unemployment tax rate. With the increase in unemployment, the tax rate went up and a 36% increase was mandated, 36% above the current rate of slightly more than 1%. Business interests fought this and we all heard that 36% figure, even though the public did not hear that it was 36% of 1%. The unemployment tax fund was solvent, so the legislature canceled the tax increase. However, no one, not even the labor unions, even mentioned using the state's surplus to create a Tier V extension for the 99ers. As a result, the unemployment tax was reduced while there were 38,000 99ers in January, with 4000 more people per month reaching the end of their unemployment compensation with no job opportunities. The prevention of the tax increase was given away without any conditions requiring the hiring of the unemployed. Whatever slight power the state held, it threw away. This tax reduction was tacked onto the bill authorizing the continuation of the federal unemployment benefits extensions just as, in the other Washington, tax cut extensions were attached to the continuation of the federal unemployment extensions.

The corporations holler "Jump!" and public officials ask, "How high?" but it appears to be a lose-lose proposition for workers affected by mass layoffs.
Indiana, PA
Even though it's hard to recall now, Americans did recently show the world that democracy works in this country--with the amazing 2008 grassroots campaign to elect Barack Obama. During the campaign, massive numbers of new voters came to the polls, and the country witnessed a groundswell of democratic participation.

BUT President Obama has betrayed that democratic movement. He has betrayed all of us who supported him in an effort to take this country back from the corporate, financial and military elite. It's sickening and grotesque to watch as Obama continually caves into their demands--the latest being his administration's proposal to drastically cut (by half) home heating assistance to the poor. Instead of pushing back, Obama has revealed himself to be a push-over. Obama has given up so much ground to the right-wing fanatics, that it will take another massive democratic movement to regain that ground. Let's hope the Egyptian people find better leadership, one who truly advocates for democratic and economic transformation that benefits ALL people, not just the wealthy and powerful. The Egyptians are leading the way now.
Oh cry me a river. I was on line the other day at the supermarket. A woman was using food stamps while yapping on her iPhone.

46% of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three bedroom house with one and a half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio
76% of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

Only 6% of poor households are overcrowded. More than two thirds have more than two rooms per person.
The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

Nearly three quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

97% of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

78% have a DVD player; 62% have cable or satellite TV reception.

73% own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher income children and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children today are, in fact, supernourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

While the poor are generally wellnourished, some poor families do experience hunger, meaning a temporary discomfort due to food shortages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 13% of poor families and 2.6% of poor children experience hunger at some point during the year. In most cases, their hunger is shortterm. 89% of the poor report their families have "enough" food to eat, while only 2 percent say they "often" do not have enough to eat.

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, DVD player, and a stereo.

His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

Of course, the living conditions of the average poor American should not be taken as representing all the poor. There is actually a wide range in living conditions among the poor. For example, over a quarter of poor households have cell phones and telephone answering machines, but, at the other extreme, approximately one tenth have no phone at all. While the majority of poor households do not experience significant material problems, roughly a third do experience at least one problem such as overcrowding, temporary hunger, or difficulty getting medical care.

The best news is that remaining poverty can readily be reduced further, particularly among children. There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don't work much, and fathers are absent from the home.

In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year nearly 75% of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.

Father absence is another major cause of child poverty. Nearly two thirds of poor children reside in single parent homes; each year, an additional 1.3 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost three quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.

What bothers Herbert and his fellow travelers is that America doesn't satisfy his infantile delusions of a what perfect society should be. I hate to break it to you Mr. Herbert but in every society there have always been poor people. And there always will be. There have also always have been rich people who enjoy privileges. That's not gonna change either. But by all means, keep banging you spoon on the table of your high chair crying "poverty, tax cuts for the rich etc". It's futile but hilarious. Hope and change!

dc lambert

As jobs are continually shipped overseas and we work ourselves to the bone, too scared that we will be next, too exhausted to think about it, the only thing that holds our entire economy together is fear: Fear that our credit scores will plummet and we won't be able to borrow money to survive. Fear that we will be next, that there but for the grace of God and bankers go I. What happens when the worst happens and our fear is realized, and our credit rating IS destroyed and we cannot borrow money anymore?

My good friend is in this situation and finds it liberating. She will be losing her house and has filed for bankruptcy. She cannot borrow money but, as she says, her 'credit score was already shot.' Suddenly she's 'rich.' She isn't paying for her mortgage as she forecloses. She is an educated lawyer but went under when her credit card companies jacked up the interest rates to over 30% when they thought she was late one month. (She had actually paid a month in advance since she was going away for a month, but they'd misapplied her payments and it took too long to straighten out.) Soon her interest rates were unsustainable and she slipped behind. She stopped paying, they refused to work something out, they harassed her and tried to get her to be afraid instead --but eventually, after years, she just stopped paying, and filed for bankruptcy.

People talk of a 'revolution' against the plutocracy, and imply pitchforks and torches. What if our revolution instead is to upend our entire economic system, which is based on usurious loans the banks strongarm us into having to take? I myself have always considered myself frugal but I simply could not function without borrowing. My children could not go to college, I could not drive myself to work or own a home or maintain it, or even a washer/dryer without borrowing.

Banks use our credit scores as giant sticks, but what if people stopped caring about the sticks? What if everyone altogether went into foreclosure? Or didn't care about their credit card scores--just as it is meaningless for the committee to declare everyone culpable in the banking disaster, so it's meaningless if everyone has a rotten credit score.

I don't think people would do this on purpose, because the risks are too great for most. But as jobs continue to be shipped overseas, and our Republican legislature continues to propose slashes to education, basic services, infrastructure, and so on, it seems that it would only take a very little for a tipping point ot be reached, and for the bulk of people to slip and fall into the quicksand of 'bad credit' and foreclosure.

Once that happens, our entire economy, based on borrowing - 'getting and spending' - will be pulled into the wake as more and more houses foreclose and more and more people go bankrupt and can't borrow. Since the chances of this happening are very high, and since the Republicans want to nudge it into being even more likely, one has to ask: Who is pulling the strings here? In whose interest is it that the American economy go under? My motto is to always follow the money. Here we see not only naked plutocracy, not only a plutocracy that cares nothing at all for the economy on which its based, but a plutocracy that, by its OWN decisions (joined with right wing politicians) is actively working to destroy the American economy on all levels, infrastructure, jobs, and debt. Why? This is the larger question.

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