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What really threatens us

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The biggest story in America today is one most people don't know much about, one which seriously threatens to destroy this nation.

And no, it is not the war in Iraq. That is only damaging our economy, killing tens of thousands and making enemies of much of the world.

What's much more dangerous to us at home is the vast transfer of the nation's wealth now going on. A transfer, that is, from the poor and the middle classes, not only to the rich but to the super-rich.

That's a story the mainstream media has indeed largely ignored. Last week an excellent, richly documented account of what is happening and why did appear — but only on the Internet. Even then, it was only available to an exclusive group of New York Times customers. That's a shame, because it needs to be read by everyone in this country. The article, "The Rise of the Super-Rich," was written by editorial board member Teresa Tritch, a longtime financial writer and bureau chief for Money Magazine before joining the Times.

"In the United States today, there's a new twist to the familiar plot," she says. "Income inequality used to be about rich versus poor, but now it's increasingly a matter of the ultra-rich versus everyone else."

What she then does is prove it, with a vast array of official statistics. The author is not some little left-wing theorist, but a hard-eyed analyst who understands the economy. What she shows is how the gap between rich and poor is widening, dangerously and catastrophically — as a direct result of the Bush administration's deliberate policies.

"In 2006, the average tax cut for households with incomes of more than $1 million — the top two-tenths of 1 percent — is $112,000, which works out to a boost of 5.7 percent in after-tax income."

The poorest one-fifth of us? They get three-tenths of 1 percent. That means, if you make $25,000 a year, you get another $75 or so. Meanwhile, you are going to lose way more than $75 worth of social services. As Tritch notes, "Earlier this year, President Bush signed into law a measure that will cut $99.3 billion over the next nine years from domestic programs like Medicaid and food stamps."

What this means is that the richest 1 percent of the population is getting richer — the people making at least $316,000 a year. Everybody else is treading water or worse.

Wonder why you don't seem to be doing any better even when the White House keeps talking about "the return of prosperity?" This is why: Back in 1989, the poorest half of the population had only 3 percent of all the nation's wealth.

Now, that's down to an even stingier 2.5 percent. Half the population, in other words, gets 97.5 percent of all the stuff. The rest get the sweat off the back of George Bush's faithful Christian hand.

But the real winners are the wealthiest 1 percent, who account for exactly a third of all the nation's net worth, a figure that is growing. Every year they get a little more of it; the rest of America, a little less.

That wasn't always the case. From 1947 to the 1970s, "all income groups shared in the nation's economic growth— and poor families actually had a higher growth rate in real annual income."

Unions helped then. But then that trend started to reverse — a pattern that is now continuing with a vengeance. And the policies of George W. Bush are guaranteed to keep things this way.

"The best-off Americans are not only winning by an extraordinary margin right now — they are the only ones winning at all," Tritch writes.

"President Bush has yet to acknowledge the true state of affairs ... but the growing income gap — and the rise of the super-rich — demands attention. It is making America a less fair society, and a less stable one."

Amen. Think about what that might mean, especially when that half of the population decides they no longer have any stake in this system.

Primary Concerns: If you live in old Joe Knollenberg's congressional district, which stretches from Royal Oak up through Troy, Birmingham and Farmington Hills, you ought to seriously consider voting in the Republican primary next Tuesday— for his rival, Pan Godchaux.

You should do this, even if you are convinced your hand would fall off if you voted Republican. Why? Simple: Knollenberg, now well into his 70s, is a fossil who hasn't had an original thought or accomplished anything since his days as an insurance agent.

Well, make that one thing: He did break his promise, made when he was first running in 1992, to hang it up after the 2004 election. "I no longer believe in term limits," he says now. Or in keeping promises.

How important is he in Congress? Well, let's see. After 14 years, he has worked up to becoming chairman of ... the District of Columbia subcommittee! And — hold onto your hats — he also co-chairs the Congressional Armenian Caucus! At this rate, after another decade he may well be chosen for the Mexican War Monuments Commission.

He is being opposed for the Republican nomination by Godchaux, a far more moderate and sensible person who has served both in the state Legislature and on a couple of school boards. She thinks the war in Iraq is a bad idea, and thinks the GOP should do more than worry about the super-rich and obsessing over other people's sex lives.

What if you are deeply committed to Nancy Skinner, the former talk show host and certain Democratic nominee? Vote for Godchaux anyway — in the primary. Michigan doesn't have party registration, and anyone can vote in either primary — and then vote however they like in the general election. Skinner has no opposition on the Democratic primary ballot, and only needs one vote — presumably, her own — to get into the finals.

Besides, if Godchaux even comes close, that will stimulate the Democratic Party to pour money and support into Skinner's race.

There's another good reason to vote in the Republican contest: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is unopposed for re-nomination. But there is a two-way contest for the GOP nomination. Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard describes himself as a Reagan Republican. If he has any interesting or original views on any issues, I don't know about them. (Well, he does have a Star Trek screen saver.)

But he has legitimate qualifications for higher office, having served in both houses of the Legislature. In a few areas, such as mental health, he established a reasonably moderate record in Lansing.

However, his opponent, the Rev. Keith Butler, is sort of frightening. His sole experience is one term on Detroit City Council back in the Coleman Young era. Mainly, he runs a large church he founded himself, the Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield.

Not only are many of his family members on the payroll, he paid himself in one recent year a total of something like $1.1 million. Yes, he would probably be easier for Stabenow to beat, though the polls show she is unlikely to have a tough time with either man.

Yet you never can tell, and my philosophy is that if you can't always make sure that we get the best, then independent smart voters should work with this mantra in mind: "At least not the worst."

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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