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February 17, 2007

War on the Middle Class

Lou Dobbs – ISBN – 978-0670037926

Noted for his politically incorrect, curmudgeonly commentary, Dobbs makes and adequately defends his positions in this devilish missive. He offers great quotes and a wealth of valuable information . . . correct, even if one interprets the facts differently. Says he: “I can’t take seriously anyone [who takes either political party] seriously . . . because both are bought and paid for by corporate American and special interests.” Who can disagree?

He is brutal on the press, noting their bias and avoidance of facts and hard news. “The idea that fair and balanced is a substitute for truth and fact is mindless nonsense.” . . . and “Broadcast news has homogenized its coverage to the point that evening newscasts . . . have become almost indistinguishable.” . . . except for his, of course, though he does make the point.

The attack on failing government schools is withering: e.g. - New York’s dep’t of education employs more people than IBM does worldwide. Its budget is over $16 billion, of which only 40% ends up in the classroom. Over 40% goes for administration and the rest to infrastructure, with no one watching where most of that goes. Tenure protects the incompetent and the evaluation of teachers is forbidden, as is merit pay. Alas, schools are making a serious if ineffective effort to teach foreign language to Americans in order to facilitate communication with immigrants. Say what?!

Our corporations are turning to other countries . . . outsourcing tasks or importing talent . . . instead of encouraging, supporting, even demanding better performance from our own school systems in educational endeavors necessary to meet their requirements.

Milken’s creative financing is discussed in ways which I have never heard, and Dobbs asserts that Junk Bonds and “highly leveraged debt overtook cash and commercial lending” which nurtured a new corporate atmosphere of risk and irresponsibility, as did stock options as compensation (but he forswears mention of the explosive creativity of the 70’s and 80’s funded by these very measures.)

While he doesn’t give Clinton a free ride he tends to attribute most of the problem to Republican administrations . . . forgetting that we really went “off the rails” during the 90’s—due, in my opinion to the rudderless, amoral, permissive Clintonian atmosphere (which does not infer that I defend Republicans on much else the man has to say.)

A number of other positions with which I agree partially are discussed in detail: trade measures, bankruptcy laws, tort and medical malpractice suits, corporate welfare, failure of multi-nationals to exhibit any loyalty to the U.S., etc. Curiously, he spends a lot of time discussing taxes without ever mentioning the Fair Tax--or the flat one.

Dobbs observes that nearly half of both the Senate and the House are lawyers. Nationally, one in three hundred people has a law degree. The ratio on Capitol Hill is one in three! (To me both facts are frightening inasmuch as the ratio in other countries is astoundingly different: 694-England; 2,461-France; 8,195-Japan; 15,748-Korea. The U.S. leads in lawyers per capita and in trade deficits. Might this be more than coincidence?)

He is downright vicious about NAFTA, noting that the cost of free trade is exorbitant, and the U.S. is “losing not only production, capital and jobs, but our sovereignty.” I don’t totally disagree, but I’m not sure it is all due to trade, and NAFTA has not been absent benefit.

“Overall wages lost by U.S. workers due to high immigration [are estimated at] $200 billion.” Farm wages could rise by 40%, adding less than 10 dollars per year to the average family food bill for fruits and vegetables. That is astounding. Illegals paid substandard wages (off the books) create a massive underground economy which drags other wages down. It has been reported that the principal contribution to Mexico’s economy (more than its industries, oil output or tourism) is money sent home by immigrants. Over $20 billion per year! These are the same folks who can’t afford medical care, need welfare and/or food stamps and free schools. They transfer enormous cost to us, as taxpaying citizens. Still, Congress and the President think the solution is to make the illegals legal (!) . . . if you are rankled by this you are labeled racist.

His take on “cheap labor” does have considerable bite, though I believe he is unfair to Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the like in not noting that a significant group of their employees is on the bottom rung of employment, and/or comprised of retired people with other resources who are looking for something to do besides watch the tele; maybe make a couple of extra bucks. While it applies to few of these employees in any event, minimum wage, contrary to popular opinion, is low because of the level of skill necessary to perform the task. How much talent does it take to greet customers and pass out baskets at the Wal-Mart entrance? Or scan bar codes at the check out? More damaging to Dobbs’s argument is that he totally ignores reference to the enormous difference these big box stores make in the lives of the poor and the middle class, saving them thousands of dollars annually with discounted prices (as much as 25% in grocery expenditures alone) significantly enhancing the purchasing power of their wages.

He is especially outraged by corporate lobbyists, who “now comprise an industry whose power exceeds, by countless multiples, the capacity of individual citizens to voice their concerns and desires.” In a recent year these organizations spent $5.5 million--per day to influence congress! He does not, however, mention that this occupation is commonly used by the “retired” (by age or election) politicians as their special 401-K plan, supplementing their obscene pensions and benefits. This particular “perk” is a noteworthy reason to be elected in the first place. Don’t expect it to change without a fight. Nor will much else he discusses.

We “must work [skirmish maybe?] to change a social order that is in disrepair . . . and a government that is dysfunctional.” We get the government we deserve, or permit, and in order to change that we must to engage and command change. Understanding helps. Like Bill O’Reilly’s Culture Warrior, he laments that the collective “we” is doing far too little about it, perhaps failing to recognize the problems. This situation might be promptly corrected if both of these excellent books were read and meaningful action taken.

Some of Dobbs’ ideas for action are good, and some are ditzy. Nonetheless he offers suggestions. Agree or not, the read is worth the time.

Posted by respeto at February 17, 2007 4:12 PM