Saturday, 30 July 2011

Going Bananas


It's been a while since I discussed our country's increasing resemblance to a banana republic, but four recent reports essentially confirm that we're more like those third world countries we used to make fun of than many people think. Among the things we have in common:

1. Significant corruption

"Poll: Plurality Say Congress is Corrupt" (UPI)

A plurality of Americans say they think most members of Congress are corrupt, with less than a third saying the opposite, a Rasmussen Reports survey indicated.
The survey, released Wednesday, also indicated a staggering 85 percent of voters said they believe congressional members are interested in advancing their own careers rather than helping people.
Forty-six percent of likely voters said they view most members of Congress as corrupt, up 7 percentage points from June and the highest finding yet, Rasmussen Reports said.

2. Deteriorating infrastructure

"Infrastructure Woes Take Toll on US Economy-Engineers" (Reuters)

Failing infrastructure will cost the United States billions of dollars in lost productivity, income and trade in coming decades, according to a civil engineering report released on Wednesday that said the impact on gross domestic product could reach $2.7 trillion.

The American Society of Civil Engineers regularly tallies the amount needed to upkeep declining U.S. roads, bridges and waterways. It said the country will need to invest roughly $220 billion annually to maintain the country's infrastructure in "minimum tolerable conditions."

It said the gap between infrastructure needs and federal funding is growing.

"If present trends continue, the funding gap for rail and bus transit, seen as 41 percent in 2010, is expected to increase to 55 percent in 2040," it said. "The expected gap in highway funding, 48 percent in 2010, is expected to increase to 54 percent by 2040."

3. Reckless fiscal policies

"Republican Leaders Voted for Debt Drivers They Blame on Obama" (Bloomberg)

House Speaker John Boehner often attacks the spendthrift ways of Washington.

“In Washington, more spending and more debt is business as usual,” the Republican leader from Ohio said in a televised address yesterday amid debate over the U.S. debt. “I’ve got news for Washington - those days are over.”

Yet the speaker, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all voted for major drivers of the nation’s debt during the past decade: Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and Medicare prescription drug benefits. They also voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that rescued financial institutions and the auto industry.

Together, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News, these initiatives added $3.4 trillion to the nation’s accumulated debt and to its current annual budget deficit of $1.5 trillion.

As Congress nears votes to raise the $14.3-trillion debt ceiling to avert a default on U.S. obligations when borrowing authority expires on Aug. 2, both parties are attempting to claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility. They both bear some of the blame: Many Democrats contributed to the expenses that are forcing lawmakers to boost the nation’s debt limit, as have Republican leaders at odds over how much borrowing authority to hand President Barack Obama and when.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” for the debt, said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an Arlington, Virginia-based group that advocates for balanced budgets. “If there had been no Barack Obama, we would still be bumping up against the debt limit.’”

4. Significant wealth and income inequality

"Growing Share of Income for the Rich" (Washington Post)

Inequality in the U.S. has has grown steadily since the 1970s, following a flat period after World War II. In 2008, the wealthiest 10 percent earned almost the same amount of income as the rest of the country combined.

SHARE OF NATION'S INCOME Including capital gains


The top 0.1 percent of the population (those making about $1.7 million or more) saw the sharpest increase in income share, taking home 2.6% of the nation’s earnings in 1975 and 10.4% in 2008.

It's not your father's America, that's for sure.

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