Understanding the State of Society on the 8th Anniversary of the War in Iraq

by on March 23, 2011 · 10 comments

in American Empire, Civil Rights, Economy, History, Peace Movement, War and Peace

Editor: This is the text of the speech given by OB doctor Dr. Jeoffry Gordon at the rally against the wars held last Saturday, March 19th, in Balboa Park.

by Jeoffry Gordon, MD, MPH

Our country is at the edge of a precarious cliff that presents the biggest danger to the survival of our democracy than anything since the Civil War…….Or like Wiley Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons – we may have run off the precipice already – but it just has not yet sunk in. The problem is one of domestic social justice and economics.

The problem is the strangulation and death of middle class America. You need to understand that this revolution –this silent coup d’etat, this CLASS WARFARE – happened before your very eyes over the past decades.

As Robert Reich recently wrote:

It is a not a complicated story…Today’s typical 30 year old male (if he has a job) is earning the same as a 30 year old man did three decades ago…The bottom 90 per cent of Americans now earn, on average, only about $280 more per year than they did thirty years ago…. But wait, the American economy is more than twice as large as it was thirty years ago. So where did the money go? TO THE TOP. The richest 1 percent’s share of national wealth has doubled – from around 9 percent in 1977 to over 20 percent now. The (wealth of the) richest one-tenth of one percent has tripled. The 150,000 households that comprise the top one-tenth of one percent now earn as much as the bottom 120 million (households) put together.”

Let me make this very concrete: In one generation from 1979 to 2009 – 30 years – family income for the bottom fifth of Americans FELL by 7.4%, while income for the top fifth rose 49% – and that of the top 5 percent (those earning over $200,000 per year) rose 73%!

In 2008 the average family in the bottom 90 percent of the population got by with $31,244 a year while the average family in the top one-tenth of 1 percent made over $5.5 million dollars. It has not always been this way! As a matter of fact between 1960 and 1979 Our political system worked so that income for the bottom 90 percent of US families rose significantly faster than that of the top 1 percent.

Let us look at the specific causes of this disastrous change: First, it is the result of our domestic politics. The dynamic started in 1980 with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as President. He began what the political scientist Jacob Hacker has called the era of WINNER TAKE ALL POLITICS. The end of the rainbow for these political operatives was the evisceration of government by marked lowering of income taxes, estate taxes, and capital gains taxes for the wealthy and larger loop holes for corporate taxpayers. This was achieved by George W. Bush.

Relative to the size of the economy, federal revenues are currently at their lowest level in 60 years. In both 2009 and 2010, revenues equaled 14.9 percent of GDP. By comparison, they averaged about 18 percent of GDP between 1971 and 2010.

We don’t have a spending problem; we have a revenue problem!

The lies and fables of Republican public policy and economics, that is, the overwhelming so called “debt crisis” and the so called damage done by government wherever it impacts our country, which are now accepted as conventional wisdom. The hatred of taxes and government has put the fire in the belly of Tea Party Republicans at both the national and state level. They have a destructive conception of how to build and maintain a successful society and are well financed by the corporate plutocracy to further destroy our country.

BUT WAIT! The Democrats clearly are no better. The deregulatory fervor and pandering to financial institutions was completed under President Clinton (and his buddies Robert Rubin and Larry Summers).  These policies were the direct cause of the 2008 depression, resulting in the on-going loss of family homes by foreclosure and continued unemployment of millions of Americans.

This economic turmoil put the stake in the heart of the middle class and the torture continues. Democrats put forward only a meek and failed oppositional fight to the policies of George W. Bush, both domestic and foreign.

Under Barack Obama they have continued the Bush wars, continued the Bush tax cuts and bailed out Wall Street and left Main Street out in the cold. The major banks are now consolidated and clearly even more too big to fail. In fact, our six largest bank holding companies currently have assets valued at just over 63 percent of GDP as of end of 2010.  This is up from around 55% of GDP in 2006 before the crisis and no more than 17% of GDP in 1995.  With assets ranging from around $800 billion to nearly $2.5 trillion, these bank holding companies are clearly even more than ever too big to fail. Their profits are privatized and their losses will continue to be socialized and the middle class taxpayers will continue to be enslaved by them.

No major players in the financial sector responsible for mortgage or financial fraud have gone to jail. Clearly the President has not provided the leadership necessary to thwart the capture of our government by the right wing, corporatist libertarians. On the contrary his policies show he is controlled by them. He was elected because he was a maverick who opposed the Iraq war, now he is the leader of the mercenary incursion into a hopelessly corrupt Afghanistan. We haven’t seen President Obama call out the failed employment or international diplomacy policies of George W. Bush nor has he articulated the abject failure of the Milton Friedman mirage economics of deregulating finance capital.

Our democratic President has abandoned the quest for a national job creation program. There are still over 13 million unemployed Americans and many millions more who are under-employed or stopped looking for work. Obama has failed to rein in the wildly illegal home foreclosure process.

Since 2008 a total of 4,731,000 American families have lost their home security to foreclosure. We haven’t seen President Obama standing in front of a home to prevent a bank foreclosure like our Congressman Bob Filner did. We haven’t seen President Obama marching on the streets of Madison Wisconsin defending union workers – the only vestiges of an organized middle class – as he promised he would during his campaign. Mainstream politics – both Republicans and Democrats – has fully accepted Reagan’s folly that government is the problem and any taxation is an inappropriate taking.

The second contribution to the end of the American dream comes from the business sector: Before the year 2000 generally wages of both high school and college graduates rose along with productivity. Since the year 2000 productivity in the US has risen about 15 percent, but with the decline of unions and traditional manufacturing the median wages of all workers has been flat. The difference has filled the coffers of corporations and Wall Street. The Koch brothers’ political conspiracy is both a cause and a self-serving result of this transformation. The United States needs both unions and a forward looking industrial policy.

Thus in 2011 we have a hugely distorted income distribution in the United States, a tilt which has not been seen since 1929 on the very eve of the Great Depression.

Organizations such as the United Nations, the CIA, and the CDC use an index called the GINI coefficient to measure income inequality. (If everyone in a population had the same income the coefficient would be zero, if one person had it all, it would be 1.) Currently the most admirable country is Sweden with a coefficient of .25. The United States has a GINI of .45, nowhere near that of Canada – .32 or Great Britain – .34, but close to that of Russia at .42, and much worse than Egypt even before its revolution – .34, and approximating that of Argentina at .46, Costa Rica – .48, Equador – .48 and Mexico – .48.

In fact, the CIA considers a Gini above .40 as a predictor of civic unrest. Folks, while you have been watching, our country has become a Banana Republic. We are totally in thrall to the caudillos. Beware: we are on the cusp of the rise of fascism, that is, a subjectivist, nationalistic, authoritarian form of government based on violence powered by and for the benefit of a ruling business class. I hope the turmoil in Wisconsin politics and the turn out on the streets there represents the start of the reawakening of the American public to the false premises of the destructive Mid-west and Southern Republicans.

So what are the implications of all this?  First a tidal wave of money has been flowing in the direction of the oligarchy that rules our country.

This is the coalition of the killing, the drilling, and the billing.  With it they have bought our Congress and a succession of Presidents; “Citizens United” represents their purchase of the Supreme Court; in health care reform they bought a federal subsidy and resurrection of for profit insurance companies – leaving 53 million Americans uninsured now and 23 million uninsured after all the reforms are done; in Iraq and Afghanistan they are reaping profits from unnecessary privatized mercenary war; and they have buried climate change as an important issue.

They throw us drunken and stoned Hollywood celebrities, the Super Bowl and March Madness in the media as diversionary substitutes for attention to meaningful issues. Reality and responsibility are no longer important to the Republican oligarchy – grabbing power and money is all that counts. Unfortunately these days the forces of progressive, liberal, humanitarian politics in America are disorganized and have no fire in their belly.

Secondly, (and this will blow your mind) recent studies by English public health epidemiologists, and now confirmed by the CDC, have shown that among wealthy countries and among the  individual states many parameters of social and civic morbidity such as life expectancy, literacy, math skills, infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage births, obesity, mental illness, and trust INCREASE with increasing income inequality. (BUT NOT with increasing average income!)

As a country we are now 50th in the world in life expectancy and 50th in the world in maternal mortality as well, yet we spend twice as much on health care per capita as the next closest country. In 2011 in the United States SOCIAL JUSTICE is no longer a public policy for the poor and ethnic minorities;  it must be a banner for us all because we are witnessing the destruction of the middle class and the dissolution of the public programs that support a healthy civic society – the courts, clean air and water, health care, and educational system and dependable police and firemen.

In 2011 we will spend $171 billion on our Iraq and Afghan wars while we are choosing not to maintain our domestic education systems. Obama’s so called health reform legislation is premised on moving about 20 million uninsured Americans into the state based Medicaid system which is falling apart and accepting as a given that everyone who can afford to buy health insurance will continue to devote a minimum of 20 percent of their family income to that purpose.

Finally I want to close with the parable of the Girl Scout cookies:

Five people are sitting around a table: the CEO of a large bank, a Republican Senator, a Democratic Congressman, a school teacher from Wisconsin, and a Tea Party Republican. God comes into the room with 12 boxes of chocolate mint Girl Scout cookies which she places on the table. Everybody smiles and recognizes that they are truly blessed. The CEO leans over and whispers something into the ear of the Senator. The Senator stands up and spouts forth a loud and rambling pro-life, anti-homosexual speech. The Congressman, seemingly bored, puts his head down on the table and goes to sleep. The CEO quietly leans over, scoops up 11 boxes and hides them under the table. He then turns to the Tea Party Republican and says “Hey that union gal wants to take all your cookies!”

This is the state of our democracy today. We need to start now, starting today to understand the tragic circumstances of American politics and fire up a movement to restore social justice and civic pride in our country and with the pledge that we will take all our cookies back.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Wolfe March 24, 2011 at 10:01 am

Dr. Gordon:
Has it occurred to you that the gap between rich and poor has grown so large during a period in which the government has exercised more control over the economy and expanded the cost and scope of our overseas military exploits. This expansion has occurred during both Republican and Democrat administrations and crosses party lines. The Republicans prefer to spend on warfare and farm subsidies while the democrats like to control social issues such as education, insider trading, and what races and genders get promotions. Both sides like to prop up the medical establishment. Doctors’ salaries have grown much faster than the general population’s thanks to restrictions on who may provide medical care and subsidies that drive up its wasteful use.
If you want to see smaller diaparity between rich and poor, you ought to favor across the board reductions in both the size and scope of governemnt. Only minority parties such as Libertarians and to a lesser extent Greens want to prune the government back to a size when working people could earn decent salaries while working for private enterprises.


Jeoffry B. Gordon, MD, MPH March 25, 2011 at 6:44 am

My friend it is not the size and scope of the government which matters, but rather what it’s values and purposes are. These depend both on who controls the levers of power and the active participation of citizens in the public square. Only government policy can create or relieve the gap between rich and poor. These days our government is clearly controlled by the corporate few – the BILLERS, THE KILLERS AND THE DRILLERS to their advantage. Personal income taxes are far less progressive than they used to be. Total income, capital gains, estate, and corporate taxes as a percent of GDP are less than they used to be and far less than in other countries which provide social security to their citizens. In fact, between 1950 and 1979 our government’s policies worked markedly to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor – and we were successful at this.
To me your comments about government are analagous to those who are climate change deniers: because they are used to enjoying clean air and oceans for all of their memory and history, they do not accept the need to work to preserve the precarious balance which allows the wonderful bounties of nature. After the Great Depression and WWII Americans spent two generations building the democratic governmental structures which functioned successfully to create domestic peace, prosperity and social justice. THE NEXT GENERATIONS TOOK THESE ACCOMPLISHMENTS FOR GRANTED (just like clean air) and has become laid back, enjoyed their bounty and not worked in civil society to preserve these accomplishments and this let the corporations and wealthy use the levers of government to their advantage and screw everyone else.


Ian March 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm

[ad hominem analysis] This article is further proof that even the highly educated can be highly misinformed. That your level of education doesn’t determine your ability to suss out the great myths perpetuated by the media. Anyone can fall for for the slight of hand that their dogmatic masters engage in. [/ad hominem analysis]

The problems you attempt to analyze are much deeper and fundamental than you recognize. The income gap problem, the stagnation of wages, the corporate power, the growing government debt and deficit, the recent economic bubbles, etc. all stem from the inflationary (and anti-deflationary) tactics of the central bank, the way capital is created in the banking sector, and how it flows to the government and corporate elite.

I understand that you will not agree, because it doesn’t fit with your mental framework and political dogma, but here is a short article to help get you started (if you so choose) on the path to understanding the true causal mechanism behind the problems we face.



Jeoffry B. Gordon, MD, MPH March 26, 2011 at 7:22 am

Actually I enthusiastically support your point of view!

I think the US Fed has been central to the last decades’ catastrophes. Even while it was happening I thought Alan Greenspan’s policies were outrageous. He showed a “benign” neglect to the housing bubble – not using fundamental regulatory authority that he had and in spite of articulate warnings from his colleagues – because it buoyed an economic prosperity that made the GW Bush administration (which otherwise was a disaster) feel good to the American people. Afterward he repeatedly denied responsibility. As for Bernake/Geithner – their approach has made corporations – especially the financial ones whole – (corporate profits are now the highest EVER), the few banks left standing are now even bigger and way to big to fail, and the stock market has rebounded admirably – by throwing ?trillions of dollars at these institutions – while unemployment, joblessness, home foreclosures and social disarray persist in painfully horrible amounts across the country. This reflects the absence of any federal policy commitment to the people of this country and their economic and social well being.

Yes the policies of the central bank have been a horrible failure – except from the point of preserving the wealth and power of the rich. The problem is not the central bank mechanism, the problem is who sets its policy. There should be more public outrage like yours. How do we get together to make a revolution?


RB March 26, 2011 at 8:21 am

I also agree with most of this post, even though I come from a fiscally conservative point of view. I agree with this Greenspan/Bush analysis and the false prosperity caused by these policies. However, to be fair, the current Bernake/Geithner approach should be labeled as the Bernake/Geithner/Obama approach. There will be no revolution until both parties are held accountable for our current situation. IMO, the first step, is to stop the revolving door between Wall Street (Goldman, Citi, Morgan) and the Treasury and Fed.


RB March 25, 2011 at 10:24 am

“Only government policy can create or relieve the gap between rich and poor. ”

Your basic premise is wrong and is the reason why socialism has failed. I have lived through the period of 1950 to 1979 and the gap between the rich and poor was reduced by individual education not by government. During this time, we were the first generation from Irish, Polish, Italian, etc. immigrants who went to college. Nobody I grew up with did not complete high school.

“Only education can create or relieve the gap between rich and poor.”


Christopher Moore March 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Where did those schools providing the education come from?

Not the “magic of the marketplace” I’ll bet ;)


RB March 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm

In my case……..the Catholic Church.


Jeoffry B. Gordon, MD, MPH March 25, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Broad based public education and a literate citizenry was one of the single accomplishments of government policy in the emerging United States which the rest of the world adopted and emulated. The persistence of local school boards and local governmental control has been one of the charms of American democracy. Again you accept as “provided by heaven” what has been created by man (except for the relatively few parochial and private schools) through the agency of government action. Now that folks like you have blissfully dismissed the important role of government we are in the process of destroying our wonderful education system in the name of saving tax money. Total cow pucky!


bodysurferbob March 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm

dr gordon, really appreciate you writing, speaking on this. it takes a brave soul to actually come out and publicly say we’re on the move toward fascism. it sounds like ob was well represented at this rally – sorry couldn’t be there – and the fact that you dr gordon are from ob makes it all the more fun to know you’re here. where is your practice? any doc like you around is worth visiting. is it a general practice? specialties?


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