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Editorial: America’s destructive divide
The United States is becoming somewhat like a Latin American oligarchy, with a tiny wealthy elite living like kings, while everyone else slips downward. That’s the theme of a new book, Losing Our Way, by former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.
The author says millions of middle-class Americans seem demoralized, adding:
“The economy seemed to work only for the very wealthy. By 2013, the richest 1 percent in America was hauling in nearly a quarter of the nation’s entire annual income and owned 40 percent of its wealth. The bottom 80 percent of Americans, 250 million people, were struggling to hold onto just 7 percent of the nation’s wealth.”
Herbert describes how Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein drew $13.2 million pay in 2010, while laid-off workers became homeless and slept in their cars.
The book says U.S. births dropped dramatically after the 2008 Great Recession. “The lowest birth rates ever recorded in the United States were in 2011 and 2012…. From 1990 to 2008, the life expectancy for the poorest, least well educated white Americans fell by a stunning four years. For white women without a high school diploma, it fell by five years.”
Herbert says the worsening American gulf happened because “we refused to fend off the destructive excesses of free-market zealots and casino capitalists. Greed was not only tolerated, but encouraged, and that led to catastrophic imbalances in wealth, income and political power…. We fought wars that should never have been fought. We allowed giant banks and predatory corporations to plunder the nation’s wealth and resources without regard for the damage done to the economy, the environment or the people.”
The author’s picture of America is depressing — and it won’t be improved by the 2014 election in which Republicans, the party of the rich and corporations, won enormous power.
Herbert says America won’t brighten again until the nation “begins to stop fighting pointless and profoundly debilitating wars” and acts against “the poisonous effects of wealth and income inequality.”
Diane Ravitch, who was assistant U.S. secretary of education under Republican President George H.W. Bush, calls Herbert’s warning “one of the most important, most compelling books that I have read in many years.” We hope growing numbers of Americans get its message.
Matthew Fisher: Tensions with Sweden’s refugee communities challenge the country’s liberal image of itself
Rosengard, where more than 80 per cent of the population was not born in Sweden, has become widely regarded a flashpoint for communal strife
August 18, 2017
3:07 PM EDT
MALMO, Sweden — One afternoon, as I asked two young women for directions to the Arab bazaar in the district of Rosengard, near this city’s centre, a man appeared seemingly from nowhere and, shouting at the women in Iraqi-accented Arabic, said something to them that caused them literally to run away.
Rounding on me, the man, probably in his late twenties with a well-groomed beard, demanded by what right had I spoken to his sister and her friend. I answered that I had only been seeking directions.
His sister had been raised in Sweden, he said, and therefore did not understand that European men were pedophiles and that it was perilous for her to speak with them for any reason. Approaching me again later in the crowded bazaar, where almost all the signs were in Arab script and some of the women were totally covered by hijabs, he declined to give his name but said that he was a dentistry student. Before stomping off, he said he was furious with the West for having murdered Muslim women and children in the Middle East, and vowed that Islam’s green flag would fly one day over Sweden.
It would be unfair to describe this exchange as typical. Many Arabs that I have met during several visits to Rosengard over the past few years have been gracious and helpful. But ethnic tensions have definitely been rising in Sweden, a country of just 10 million people which in 2015 accepted 163,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 80 per cent of the people living in the Malmo suburb of Rosengard speak Arabic
Rosengard, where more than 80 per cent of the population was not born in Sweden, has become widely regarded a flashpoint for communal strife. I was told again and again by Swedes and Arabs in Sweden’s third-largest city that the slightly scruffy neighbourhood (few communities in Scandinavia are truly scruffy) had already become a virtual No-Go Zone for fire trucks and ambulances unless protected by a robust police escort and that when crimes were committed the community was tight lipped with police about what had happened.
In an open letter to the public earlier this year, Malmo’s police chief, Stefan Sinteus, pleaded for help solving the murder of a 16-year-old Iraqi boy, Ahmed Obaid, who had been shot in the head in Rosengard, as well as with more than 100 other serious crimes including murders, attempted murders, rape and assault. This followed a Christmas Eve bombing in 2014 and a wave of violence during the summer of 2015.
“I can assure you that the police in Malmo are doing everything we can for suspected perpetrators to be held accountable,” Sinteus said. “But we cannot do it on our own.”
Finding an ethnic Swede who lives in Rosengard was not easy. One of the very few was 28-year-old Josefine Angusson, was shopping in small mall near the bazaar with her three-year-old son.
Her voice full of despair, Angusson said she had lived all her life in Rosengard but was planning to move “far away” next week.
“There is a lot of violence and drugs and shooting here,” she said. “It’s gangs, and not many of them are Swedish. My son has nobody to play with because he doesn’t speak Arabic. None of our neighbours talk to me.
“I am not a racist at all but it’s like that. We are looking for another option where we can live because all of Malmo will be become like this. Swedes are not happy about it. Would Canadians be?”
Despite Sweden’s famously liberal social traditions there was a perception that refugees were overtaxing the country’s generous welfare system, hospitals and schools and that finding places for the newcomers to live and to work was becoming problematic. Nobody seemed to know for sure, but there are published reports in Sweden that the unemployment rate in Rosengard exceeds 60 per cent.
“We hate it because of the murders, and they all seem to be Arabs getting killed,” said Eddie Hagmann, whose work as a security guard takes him through Rosengard three times every night to check on some properties there
“When we go on foot patrols there have to always be three of us. I am 21. I don’t want to die for this job.”
A fear that is much discussed in the media is that Rosengard and Arab-majority neighborhoods elsewhere in Sweden have become home to large numbers of Islamic extremists.
Sweden’s top spy, Anders Thornberg, believes that where there were fewer than 200 Islamic extremists in the country 10 years ago that number has today exploded into the thousands.
“We have never seen anything like this before,” Thornberg told Sweden’s TT news agency. “This is the new normal,”
Until recently, welcoming refugees was a central part of how most Swedes regarded themselves. But several polls taken this year have found that more than half the population wanted the government to curb the number of refugees it accepts. This dovetailed with a survey by the state statistics agency that indicated about one Swede in five supports the strongly anti-immigration Swedish Democrats, who are now second only to the ruling Social Democrats in popularity and the third party in parliament.
Pondering the changing mood, a young man who would only give his name as Mahmoud, and who had arrived in Malmo from the former Yugoslavia as a refugee with his parents as a young child said, “Swedes don’t have a problem with Muslims. They have a problem with Arabs. The cultures are just so different. And those differences are worse in Malmo than anywhere else.”
Palestinian-Iraqi Abdulhamid Abuqweili said a lot had changed since he arrived in the city as a refugee 14 years ago.
“Sweden is a very good country but it cannot take in so many refugees. The cost to the people who are already here is too great,” Abuqweili said during a drive around Rosengard, which is mostly drab apartment towers occasionally brightened by a wall mural depicting Arab life.
It is a wonderful thing to help people but it must be done in the right way
“The radicals who have come are bad for the other Arabs. The Swedes think that when Arabs are together there will be problems. Those who come now don’t want to learn the language. They want to live as they did back home.”
With Sweden’s traditional centre-left leaders feeling intense pressure from the surging right, the government has become much more vigilant about who gets into their country. For example, I spent an hour on a packed, overheated train at the first stop in Sweden after the road and rail bridge from Copenhagen while teams of police went through every car carefully examining travelers’ documents.
Carina Costa-Correa, who had emigrated to Spain but was back visiting her family in Malmo, said that was happening in her homeland today was “a well-intentioned disaster. There was no plan for how to deal with so many refugees at once who arrived with little or no education or skills. Clearly it would be much better to help them where they were rather than here. But the government was blind to that.”
As he waited for his train at the Malmo station, 56-year-old tire salesman Roger Knast said over a beer that, “Swedes think the country is overcrowded with Muslims. But it is still generally considered a bad thing to say it, so it is said quietly.
“This is a crisis for Sweden. The government asked us to open our hearts to refugees but they don’t see the consequences. There are so many of them that they no longer mix in and we have created a whole industry of people who take care of them. It is a wonderful thing to help people but it must be done in the right way. It is time for us to close our borders and take care of those who are already here.”
Oliver Stone: Putin is the most experienced statesman on the planet.
Statesman: “Usually a politician, diplomat or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career at the national or international level.”
Subject: NYTimes.com Article: Stating the Obvious
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 12:44:07 -0400 (EDT)
By PAUL KRUGMAN
“The lunatics are now in charge of the asylum.” So wrote the normally staid Financial Times, traditionally the voice of solid British business opinion, when surveying last week’s tax bill. Indeed, the legislation is doubly absurd: the gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry an official price tag of only $320 billion are a joke, yet the cost without the gimmicks is so large that the nation can’t possibly afford it while keeping its other promises.
But then maybe that’s the point. The Financial Times suggests that “more extreme Republicans” actually want a fiscal train wreck: “Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door.”
It’s no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration’s policies might actually be driven by those ideologues – that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut – was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.
Yet by pushing through another huge tax cut in the face of record deficits, the administration clearly demonstrates either that it is completely feckless, or that it actually wants a fiscal crisis. (Or maybe both.)
Here’s one way to look at the situation: Although you wouldn’t know it from the rhetoric, federal taxes are already historically low as a share of G.D.P. Once the new round of cuts takes effect, federal taxes will be lower than their average during the Eisenhower administration. How, then, can the government pay for Medicare and Medicaid – which didn’t exist in the 1950’s – and Social Security, which will become far more expensive as the population ages? (Defense spending has fallen compared with the economy, but not that much, and it’s on the rise again.)
The answer is that it can’t. The government can borrow to make up the difference as long as investors remain in denial, unable to believe that the world’s only superpower is turning into a banana republic. But at some point bond markets will balk – they won’t lend money to a government, even that of the United States, if that government’s debt is growing faster than its revenues and there is no plausible story about how the budget will eventually come under control.
At that point, either taxes will go up again, or programs that have become fundamental to the American way of life will be gutted. We can be sure that the right will do whatever it takes to preserve the Bush tax cuts – right now the administration is even skimping on homeland security to save a few dollars here and there. But balancing the books without tax increases will require deep cuts where the money is: that is, in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
The pain of these benefit cuts will fall on the middle class and the poor, while the tax cuts overwhelmingly favor the rich. For example, the tax cut passed last week will raise the after-tax income of most people by less than 1 percent – not nearly enough to compensate them for the loss of benefits. But people with incomes over $1 million per year will, on average, see their after-tax income rise 4.4 percent.
The Financial Times suggests this is deliberate (and I agree): “For them,” it says of those extreme Republicans, “undermining the multilateral international order is not enough; long-held views on income distribution also require radical revision.”
How can this be happening? Most people, even most liberals, are complacent. They don’t realize how dire the fiscal outlook really is, and they don’t read what the ideologues write. They imagine that the Bush administration, like the Reagan administration, will modify our system only at the edges, that it won’t destroy the social safety net built up over the past 70 years.
But the people now running America aren’t conservatives: they’re radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need. The Financial Times, it seems, now understands what’s going on, but when will the public wake up?