This Big Bang Says This Country Is Ending With A Whimper

Ed Raymond

Sally Quinn has not written a “political” column in the Washington Post for some time, but in my view dropped a very powerful bomb in the middle of Washington last week with “Sally Quinn Announces the End of Power in Washington.” Actually my favorite political commentators are all women. They sort through the garbage quickly and get to the unvarnished truth of a story. Mollie Ivins sculpted a new orifice in George W. “Shrub” Bush, the worst cheerleader-president in the history of the modern presidency, every time she mentioned him in a column. She had a Texas-sized sense of humor and threw spears, barbs, and spinning stars at Lurch and his cohorts at every opportunity—with pin-point accuracy. Maureen Dowd of the NY Times is another one I depend on for facts and humor.
   I have followed Sally since she was a co-anchor on CBS Morning News. She went to the  Washington Post as a reporter following that gig, and fell in love with twice-married Ben Bradlee, who was twenty years her senior. Bradlee, the editor of the Post, was probably more responsible for Richard Nixon’s resignation of the presidency than anyone else. The Post won many Pulitzer Prizes on that story alone. Bradlee’s autobiography “A Good Life” is a very entertaining read.
   Sally and Ben shacked up for a period of time at the Watergate Apartments because he wasn’t too interested in marrying again. He told her and everybody that he wouldn’t marry her until the Roman Catholic Church elected a Polish pope. But true to his word, four days after Pope John Paul II was elected they were married.
   With his job at the Post and her biting wit, they became one of the real “power” couples for many years in Washington, entertaining foreign and domestic leaders at some of the most sought-after invitations in Washington. So when Sally announces “the end of power” in D.C., the whole country should listen to her.

Imagine Being
Caught Between The
Kardashians And Newt
And Callista Gingrich

  Bradlee, now 90 years old, and Sally attended the last White House Correspondent’s Dinner and found themselves seated by the Kardashians and the Gingriches. That’s when the fun started and when Sally realized that having power in Washington didn’t mean much. Money mattered most of all. I knew her column would be interesting when she started with these immortal lines: “I was shoved up against Callista’s hair and nearly broke my nose. It was scary. Ben and I (he spouting expletives all the way)...managed to escape.” (Ben was widely known at the Post for his colorful adjectives.)
   Then Sally got very serious in conducting an autopsy of D.C. politics. To her, the dinner signaled the absolute end of power politics and the triumph of money politics. Over 25 years ago Sally had written “The Party’s Over,” a piece about the decline of hostesses who had held dinner parties where power couples met to discuss government and politics. Policies were often set at these “meetings.”
   Sally’s post-mortem: “Today, money trumps power. ... If you find people staring over their shoulder to see who’s more important in the room, they’re usually looking at someone rich, rather than someone powerful. ... Power in Washington used to be centered on the White House, the Congress, the Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and the journalists ... Today the real power lies with the lobbyists, the money-raisers, the super PACS, the bundlers, the corporations and the rich people. The irony is that in New York people are interested in power. In Washington, people are interested in money.”

Being A Senator
Must “Be A
Nightmare Life”

   There are no more great parties in Washington. She lowers the boom on politicians: “First of all, the senators are probably out trolling for money. When a senator ... walks into a room now, you don’t think power. You think: ‘Poor guy ... what a nightmare life that is.’”
   In a New Yorker article, Supreme Court watcher Jeff Toobin writes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” Sally sums up her column with two short but very powerful sentences: “There you have it. Money is power.”

American Dream

   A Federal Reserve study has indicated that the median net worth of families has dropped almost 40 percent from 2007 to 2010, from a high of $126,400 to $77,300. Americans had a net worth of about $76,000 in 1992! So in the short span of three years, families lost a total generation’s profits and gains. Half of middle class families suffered huge losses of value in homes, autos, and stocks held in 401Ks. They became 201Ks.  
  The implosion of the housing market saw home values decline by an average of 42 percent, with about half of the outstanding mortgages under water (more than the home was worth on the market). But the net worth of the wealthiest families rose slightly during the first years of the recession. If you want a thorough discussion of why this all happened, read Charles Ferguson’s “Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hi-Jacking of America.”
    First we had the Ronald Reagan anti-regulation moves of the 1980s. Then came the dot-com bubble, the World Trade Center attack, then the huge housing/mortgage bubble of sub-prime lending and Wall Street malfeasance, followed by the roulette, blackjack, and craps of derivatives, credit default swaps, and collectivized debt junk manufactured by Wall Street crime and greed families.
   Ferguson writes, “Many Americans no doubt still believe in the American Dream. One wonders how long they can maintain that illusion for America is transforming itself into one of the most unfair, most rigid, and least socially mobile of the industrial countries.” The Republican Supreme Court with its insane Citizens United decision has put tons of corporate and billionaire money into mainstream politics, buying the Republican Party wholesale and  renting the Democratic Party whenever necessary. Not a single Wall Streeter or bankster has gone to jail for illegal activities that cost the middle class about ten trillion in assets in a three-year period. And Lurch added $5 trillion to the national debt.

Hochschild: How A
Free Market Run Amok
Destroys “Family Values”

   The research available on the broad subject of the well-being of children, whether through the United Nations or the World Health Organization, indicates that the United States is near the bottom of the rankings, or dead last, among the 21 “most affluent” countries. We are 21st in child poverty, 20th in “family and peer relationships” and “behaviors and risks.” The two strongest nations with free market policies and politics ranked at the bottom in these categories: children skipping breakfast, child obesity, pot smoking, and teen pregnancy. On the UNICEF “Report Card 9” survey of 24 nations, we are 23rd out of 24 in the proportion of children in poverty (we barely beat Slovakia), 19th in educational performance, and 22 out of 24 in child health.
   British researchers studied the results of 29 different measures of well-being of adults in 23 nations surveyed by the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations. The measures included such items as adult violence, drug abuse, levels of social trust, social mobility, mental illness, health care, life expectancy, and the size of the rich-poor income gap. The U.S., Britain, and Portugal, the three highest gap countries, reported the most “distress” among adults. As an example, the homicide rate in the three countries is ten times what it is in low-gap countries. The middle class in the three top high-gap nations had poorer physical and mental health, were more obese, and died earlier than the middle class in low-gap countries.
  We have gone from being a middle-gap nation in the late 1960s to the highest income-gap nation in 2012. The reason? Simple. The rich have bought policies from Congress that have drastically cut public services such as Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing for the homeless and disabled, and educational programs such as public schools and Head Start. Cuts in higher education have increased college tuition to the point where college enrollment is seriously declining among the U.S. middle class. Even cuts in financial support of state and national parks have forced the closing or restricted the use of many parks. These cuts directly affect the middle class, the main users of parks, libraries, and other public facilities.

The Income Gap
Among Public Schools

   The ten richest and the ten poorest school districts outline the reason why a United States citizen has less social and economic mobility now than any citizen of the top 21 industrial nations. The top ten richest public school districts in the U.S. have an average annual cost of $22,840 per student, while the ten poorest school districts have an average of $11,461 per student. North Dakota schools even run below the U.S. average for the poorest districts at $9,802, while Minnesota public school districts have an annual cost of $11,002 per student. The U.S. average is $10,591. All rich districts have high schools that made the list of the 100 best high schools in America, as judged by U.S. News & World Report. By the way, nine of the ten richest districts are New York City neighbors. That’s because of Wall Street money.
   We are now in a “One Percent” economy that rewards banksters, wealthy investors, and families like the Waltons of Walmart with more wealth than the bottom 100 million Americans. “The American Dream” and “The Land of Opportunity” have been replaced with “The Land of Opportunism.” Public and private elementary schools that serve the rich fundraise to further improve their schools. Many of these elementary school PTAs in the wealthiest ZIP codes have raised as much as $1 million annually, paying for special programs in art, music, travel, counseling, air conditioning, special heating, school parks and playgrounds, greenhouses, turtle ponds, swimming pools and lessons, iPads for all students, and other costly amenities. One school PTA paid the $100,000 salary of a science and technology expert to work with science classes. Another raised over $500,000 by sponsoring a culinary festival staffed by the finest New York chefs. Donors in many of these schools can have their names embossed on theater chairs. These schools are in New York City, where many public schools leak only when it rains. A rich donor couple made this statement in the NY Times when asked about such fundraising: “Parents in every community and school have this opportunity.” C’mon, Fargo Madison Elementary! C’mon, Fargo Jefferson Elementary!

What Is Now The
Greatest Predictor Of
A Young Person’s
Economic Fortunes?

   It is no longer education. It is no longer hard work. It is not luck or the lottery. It is not even grunting at your own bootstraps. It’s how much money your parents make. We no longer live in a meritocracy where talent and ability matter. Social research indicates that countries such as Germany, France, Canada, Finland, England, and most other industrialized countries provide greater upward mobility than the United States does.
   Each year billionaire Warren Buffett auctions off a personal lunch in Omaha. The highest bid of $3,456,789 was submitted by an anonymous bidder. This was a record-breaking bid, even in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years. Buffett is a good guy. He gives the lunch money to charity. He has promised to give all of his wealth away before he finishes his “bucket list.” But his annual lunch auction must tell us something about our economy. Please tell me what it means.