A Potpourri of Troubling News for the “Exceptional” Nation

                          I. U.S. Wealth Concentration

In prior blogs I have given economists’ percentages on the concentration of wealth and income in the United States. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has provided a very concise portrayal of this concentration.

The wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population. The Walton family alone owns more wealth — $89 billion — than the bottom 40 percent. The top one percent owns 40 percent of all wealth; the bottom 60 percent has less than two percent. The bottom 40 percent owns three- tenths of one percent. The top one percent garners more income than the bottom 50 percent. Between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top one percent. In 2010 alone, 93 percent of all new income went to the top one percent. (1)

The six largest financial instituttions in the country (JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Metlife) own assets equivalent to the GDP of the United States — more than nine trillion dollars. They produce half the mortgages and two-thirds of the credit cards. Three of the top four are bigger now than when we bailed them out because they were “too big to fail.” (2)

                     II. U.S. Resource Consumption

The U.S., with less than five percent of the world’s population, accounts for 21.6 percent of the world’s consumption of oil; 13 percent of coal; and 21 percent of natural gas. Between 1940 and 1976, Americans used up a larger share of the earth’s mineral resources than did everyone in all previous history. (3)

In 2004, the average American used 7.9 metric tons of oil equivalent; the United Kingdom used 3.8; and China 1.0. Bangladesh used only 0.11 metric tons. (4) The ratio of U.S. use to Bangladesh was 72 to one.

U.S. energy consumption has implications for immigration policy and abortions, because adding population is bad for the rest of the world due to our voracious consumption. Roe v. Wade is estimated to have reduced the current U.S. population by 50 million, with all that implies for the consumption of the world’s finite resources.

                               III. Nukes Deter War

Since 1945, many nations not in possession of nuclear weapons and not part of the alliance systems of the nuclear powers, have not experienced a military attack. Nuclear weapons in U.S. hands did not stop non-nuclear North Korea from attacking South Korea, nor stopping then non-nuclear China from sending its armies against U.S. forces in North Korea. These weapons did not stop the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, nor Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The terrorists of 9/11 were not deterred. Soviet nuclear arms did not prevent the numerous U.S. interventions: Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, etc. British and Israeli nuclear arms have not prevented attacks (the Falklands, for example). (5)

If we feel that an arsenal of nuclear weapons prevents attacks, why have we squandered $150 billion and counting on “missile defense” systems?

We shouldn’t worry about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons if our own and Israel’s stockpiles deter attacks.

                        IV. Nuke Cuts Threatened

The U.S. House Pentagon authorization bill had provisions that would halt reduction from 2,200 to 1,550 nuclear warheads by 2018 if President Obama fails to spend $88 billion to upgrade nuclear labs and $125 billion over ten years to replace aging bombers, submarines and land-based missiles. The bill would prevent reduction, consolidation or withdrawal of tactical weapons in Europe unless certain “onerous” conditions are met. It mandated a report on the possibility of reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons into South Korea.

The bill contained $160 million to build a new plutonium plant in New Mexico. It added nearly $500 million next year to develop  a new ballistic missile submarine. (6)

                                V. Wage Theft

According to “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers”, a 2009 paper studying low-wage workers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, 26 percent of the workers had been paid less than the required minimum wage in the previous week. Sixty percent of these workers were underpaid by more than $1 per hour — work performed outside regular shifts was typically underpaid. (7)

The study further found that 89 percent of in-home childcare workers don’t even make minimum wage. (8)

  VI. Senators Pressure Obama to Cut Off Iran Negotiations

In June of this year, 44 U.S. Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, signed a letter to President Obama urging him to cut off negotiations with Iran unless very tough conditions were met: 1) the Iranians shut down the Fordo uranium enrichment facility; 2) Iran freeze all uranium enrichment above five percent; and 3) Iran ship all uranium enriched above five percent out of the country. They demanded increased pressure through sanctions and making more credible a military option.

Any pressure to increase the chances of a military attack on Iran is a step toward almost certain disaster.

(1) U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ email of 7/31/12.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Gar Alperovitz and Thomas M. Hamra, “Not So Wild A Dream.” The Nation, 6/11/12.

(4) Mayer Hillman, Tina Fawcett and Sudhir Chella Rajan, The Suicidal Planet (Thomas Dunne Books: New York, 2007).

(5) Larry Wittner, “Do Nuclear Weapons Really Deter Aggression?,” History News Network, 6/4/12.

(6) New York Times editorial of 6/10/12.

(7) Katha Pollitt, “Wage Theft,” The Nation, 6/18/12.

(8) Ibid.



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