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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 05:34 am

America’s shameful leadership

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
PHOTO BY CHUCK KENNEDY/MCT

OK, Barack Obama has not exactly turned out to be Mount Rushmore material, but – good God! – the petulant pettiness of right-wing Republican congressional leaders has turned them into a national embarrassment.

America has big needs right now. But those needs are not even being addressed, because little whiney ideologues like Eric Cantor, the GOP’s House majority leader, keep throwing hissy fits, demanding that they get their way, or there’ll be no way.

Of course, their way – on everything from tax policy to Wall Street regulation – is always the corporate way. Their plutocratic theories were exactly what was tried throughout George W’s eight-year reign, and they failed spectacularly. Yet Cantor & Crew are now pushing the same nonsense – the very policies that caused America’s economic crash, which continues to crush grassroots people. “But it’s ideologically correct,” cries Little Eric, “so we and the Koch brothers won’t stop screaming until you give us more of it.”

They are so insanely obsessed with extremist anti-government dogma that they have even hitched their star to the reviled Lords of Wall Street – the only group in America with a lower public approval rating than that of Congress itself!

Bankers are furious that Democrats created a new regulatory agency last year with real clout to protect consumers from the assorted rip-offs and frauds that banks keep inventing. So, in a perverse political reflex, Republicans have rushed to protect Wall Street’s gougers from us gougees, locking arms (as well as their minds) in a ridiculous “Save-the-Poor-Bankers” stand.

Stamping their tiny feet, they say they’ll block Obama’s nominee to head the agency until Democrats let them rewrite the law to make the agency toothless. In fact, they’ve declared that they’ll block anyone that Obama nominates, no matter how qualified.

Great – a government of dogmatists, by temper tantrum, for corporate elites. How pathetic.

Meanwhile, both the GOP Congress and the Obama White House continue to ignore America’s greatest economic need: good jobs. Beaucoup of them. Now.

As Bob Dylan famously wrote, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Especially when the wind is right in your face, howling at gale force. While Washington fiddles with the knobs and levers of budget reduction, America’s great working class is being blown down by harsh economic winds. Our country’s political and financial elites, sitting in the comfort of their power centers, however, don’t seem to see, hear or care. If the elites just looked around, here are just a few of the real-life indicators that would hit them right in the face:

 – In central Texas, a surge in poverty is now severely straining the area food bank, which is struggling with more than a 50 percent increase in demand in the past three years.

 – Arizona, which has added only 4,000 jobs in the past year, has 10 unemployed job seekers for every opening – and 45,000 Arizonans are set to lose their jobless benefits in the next few months.

 – By the end of the Great Recession in 2009, the median white household in America had lost $36,000 in net worth. Worse, the median African-American household had lost 83 percent of its net worth, which is now down to the financially perilous level of less than $2,200.

 – While CEOs of major corporations have jacked up their pay by a fourth since the recession technically ended in 2009, average wages for workers have stagnated. Meanwhile, the price of such basics as food and gasoline have risen relentlessly. Real wages today are 1.6 percent lower than a year ago.

So, who is Washington working to help? Not the hard-hit workaday majority, but those pampered CEOs, who’re now averaging more than $9 million a year in pay, and the Wall Street hedge-fund barons who are hauling in as much as $5 billion each!

Suffering from what appears to be incurable ethicalitis, these moneyed narcissists are demanding that officials of both parties make devastating budget cuts in programs that help working families, while also insisting that their own lavish fortunes be spared from even the slightest dings.

What a shameful time in our history! Can’t America do better than this?  

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.


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