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The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I cannot go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree, but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

--Theodore Roethke


Joy's Updates - Straight from the Horse's Mouth.
Friday, June 13, 2008  
The Second Gilded Age

If you didn't watch Bill Moyers Journal, please read the transcript or watch a video of it here. The discussion this week on the economy is scary. Here are some excerpts:

BILL MOYERS: Listening to those workers, I couldn't help but think about Henry Moyers, my father, who dropped out of school in the fourth grade because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. The Great Depression knocked him down and almost out, and he struggled on one pittance paying job after another, until finally, late in life, he had a crack at a union job. His last paycheck was the most he'd ever taken home in a week, $96 and change and he was proud of it. He said that job was the best he'd ever had.

I saw then how union struggled to preserve the middle class, and can make the difference between earning a living wage and being part of the working poor. Few have documented this struggle as thoroughly as columnist and author Holly Sklar, who's with me now. She co-authored RAISE THE FLOOR: WAGES AND POLICIES THAT WORK FOR ALL OF US, which looks closely at what it really takes to make ends meet in America.

Holly Sklar is also Director of Business for Shared Prosperity, an organization of business executives and investors, dedicated to our economy's long-term success. Holly Sklar, welcome to the JOURNAL.

HOLLY SKLAR: Our wages now adjusting for inflation, average wages are lower than they were in the 1970s. Our minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1950s, and why is it? One of the things going on is that income and wealth inequality have gone back to the 1920s. We are back at levels that we saw right before the Great Depression.

BILL MOYERS: But, during this time, the economy's been growing. Why aren't workers sharing in the prosperity that they've helped create?

HOLLY SKLAR: You got the fair day's pay for the fair day's work, you got more results. You shared in the rise and work of productivity. Now, almost all the rise and work of productivity is going not just to the upper class, but to the very top of the upper class. So, we have had a great redistribution of income and wealth in this country in the last three decades. The problem is that redistribution of wealth and income has been going up to the very top. And most people have even been treading water, or going behind. And often working for many, many longer hours to keep up with the living standards.

BILL MOYERS: Why aren't we in the streets? Why isn't there real indignation?

HOLLY SKLAR: Well, one of the things that happened, you know, if we go back to 1980, the 1980s, the two longest periods where we had without a minimum wage increase, have both taken place since 1980. And so, one of things that went on in the 1980s was, remember early on in the Reagan administration, PATCO, the air-traffic controllers union went on strike. And Reagan, essentially said, "You're fired, goodbye," broke the union. You know, and this was really quite unprecedented and set, a real green light to union busting.

Where it became normal to replace striking workers, not even just temporarily while they were out on strike, but basically saying your jobs are gone. And so one factor has been the decline of union strength relative to the workforce.

BILL MOYERS: There are plenty of studies which show, it wasn't just my father's anecdote, but there are plenty of studies that show that as unions increase their share of the economy, they bring other people who are not in unions up with them, they raise the wage standards for a lot of other people too, right?

HOLLY SKLAR: They do, absolutely. And the other factor is, that if people are afraid to lose their job, whether they're trying to unionize, or you're in a union, but you don't want to ask to much, or threaten companies threatening to outsource. But if you're in a situation which everybody's scared to lose their job in the-- before, and now you add on in recent years, terrified to lose their job because if they have health insurance through their job, and of course many workers don't, but those that do, terrified to lose their job. It's a much harder context in which to ask for higher wages

HOLLY SKLAR: Well, we need a few things. One is, raise the minimum wage. Raise the floor. Set a green light in a different direction, and the green light is, raise wages, fair wages. The other is universal health care. Get to universal healthcare.


HOLLY SKLAR: Because one, because something like 18,000 people die from lack of health insurance every year. Two, it's really destroying a lot of small businesses in the sense that they know they want to give health care to their workers but they are in a situation where they just are paying. I mean, it's just become astronomical. It's like a giant shift from, you know, from one person and from one business to another.

BILL MOYERS: It only hurts when you laugh. Even as our streets and highways crumble, our schools gasp for help, and health care becomes more and more costly for those who are fortunate enough to have it, wealth is being so ostentatiously squandered that historians are calling this the Second Gilded Age. The first gilded age, so named after this novel, published by Mark Twain in 1873, depicted the late 19th century as an era marked by great frauds, shabby scandals and mediocrity in high places. Greed and speculation drove big business, and politicians lined up to do what trusts and corporations told them. Tycoons provided the capital; human nature did the rest. Sound familiar? Well, as Mark Twain himself said, history may not repeat itself but it certainly does rhyme.

Parsing our new Gilded Age, with its income gap the greatest in a hundred years, is historian Steve Fraser. His award-winning books include EVERY MAN A SPECULATOR, LABOR WILL RULE, and his latest, WALL STREET: AMERICA'S DREAM PALACE.

STEVE FRASER: The greatest single difference between the first Gilded Age and the second is what I call the great silence. That is to say, the first Gilded Age was informed by enormous resistance to this amassing of wealth and political power in the hands of the small elite.

There were labor uprisings. And very bloody ones. The Homestead Strike in 1892. The Pullman Strike of 1894. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The Great Uprising of 1886. Massive uprisings with whole communities joining in resistance to the power of coal mine wealth and railroad wealth and other forms of industrial wealth

BILL MOYERS: Which came out of the first Gilded Age. That sense of a collaborative commonwealth.

STEVE FRASER: That's right. That's right. Exactly. A cooperative commonwealth, something that could end this dog eat dog, Darwinian jungle like society that many people called that first Gilded Age. I said, "No, we can do better than this." We can have a cooperative commonwealth. Consumer culture makes it somewhat harder to see look Wal-Mart's a perfect example. Wal-Mart pays people badly, treats them badly, there's a lot of - doesn't give them a lot of rights and so on. And there's been protest against Wal-Mart. But a lot of time, that protest is defeated by what Wal-Mart does well: Low prices. And so, the unity of the community is dissipating by that. And it's understandable

Bernie Sanders, the Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont, took to the floor of the Senate recently to talk about what's happened to everyday Americans over the last eight years.

BERNIE SANDERS: I think it is terribly important that the Senate hears from ordinary people to get a sense of what is really going on in America; the struggles that people are having,

BILL MOYERS: So, the Senator used his e-mail list to ask the people of Vermont to tell him about their lives today. Instead of a few dozen replies, he received more than 600 responses from all around the state. He has published them in a booklet that is available on his web site.

As Sanders told the Senate, they are not easy to read.

"…some nights we eat cereal and toast for dinner because that's all I have."

"…we have at times had to choose between baby food, diapers and heating fuel."

"I don't go to church many Sundays, because the gasoline is too expensive to drive there."

"…the pennies have all but dried up…I am sad, broken, and very discouraged."

"…my mortgage is behind, we are at risk for foreclosure, and I can't keep up with my car payments."

And this:

"does anybody in Washington care?"

Well, some people in Washington do care, some of the time. But most of the time our elected officials are on the side of the organized rich. That's where they get the money to campaign, and money is the golden rule of politics; those who have it, rule.

10:08:00 PM

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