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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Just Keep Shopping

“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”

That quote is from the 1912 platform of the National Progressive Party, formed by supporters of Theodore Roosevelt, resident of Oyster Bay and the man for whom our Nassau County executive and legislative building is named. Even if you don’t agree with that statement, wouldn’t it be refreshing, engaging, even exciting to hear any major political force in this country talk like that today? In one short paragraph, you’ve got intrigue, courage, idealism and even a tip of the hat to the importance of wisdom and diplomacy in government. Statesmanship. One of America’s lost values.

Values. It’s the season of reaffirmed values, when George Bailey, Charlie Brown, Rudolph and Mr. Grinch all realize what’s really important.

Some of this week’s viral videos were shot from the insides of large stores. Check out thousands of people storming the gates, climbing over each other, pushing each other, stepping over each other, trying to get to tables and shelves filled with sale items. Two years after the tragedy in Valley Stream, Black Friday was even more hyped, even more pumped, even more frenzied, even more desperate than ever before.

I watched those videos over and over. What fraction of those Americans, I wonder, voted in last month’s elections? This is what happens when it is drummed into the heads of a couple of generations of Americans that they are primarily “consumers” and not “citizens.” This is what happens after years of wage stagnation. For many middle class and working class Americans, the recessions have never ended, the 1990s “boom”was only a rumor. Look at the shoving and the shouting and the pushing. It’s a portrait of the American Middle Class under pressure, having been made obsolete by free trade, technology and greed.

Many don’t see their government as being under their control. They don’t feel protected by elected representatives who should, theoretically, respond to popular desires and goals.

A few weeks before Black Friday, the Special Inspector General issued a report saying that no one could account for how our 7,000 private contractors actually spent the $18 billion we paid them for construction projects in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009. Some of the money, it turns out, ended up in Taliban hands. Then last week, the President called for a two-year wage freeze for the federal workforce, which would save all of $7 billion over two years, and further depress salaries across the country. Let’s go shopping.

You had to work to find out how the Federal Reserve’s $900 billion “quantitative easing” program (a fancy way of saying they are devaluing the dollar) will likely affect the spending power of the large majority of Americans. But I’ll bet you’ve seen the story about that woman in London who looks just like the Prince’s fiancee. Got a lot more play here than in Great Britain, where more people are concerned about the 500,000 public sector jobs the government plans to eliminate over the next three years. A Citigroup official declared on British telly that similar cuts “will soon be needed in the U.S.” That would take over $1 trillion more out of our economy. Just shop.

A few weeks ago, workers in Indiana’s Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services were caught telling thousands of parents of severely disabled children that they should consider dropping their kid off at a homeless shelter when they can no longer afford to care for them at home. Earlier this year, Indiana imposed caps on property tax increases that contained generous waivers and breaks for those owning homes worth more than $645,000. The caps cost towns and cities 10 percent of their potential revenue bases.

Some people like the idea of a docile, frightened Middle Class that doesn’t have so much time on its hands to cause trouble for those who are supposed to be in charge. Just do your part and shop until you drop.

 

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net