Morning Report 1/29/06
Let Them Eat Cake

Cheney calls economy 'superb,' while new report shows income-inequality gaps widen at frightening pace

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Foiled again: While Don Rumsfeld looks on, cabal partner Dick Cheney licks frosting from a cake celebrating the Army's 228th birthday during a Pentagon party on June 13, 2003

Ignoring reality, Vise President Dick Cheney popped up on right-wing radio the other day to confirm his host Hugh Hewitt's observation that we're experiencing "an astonishing run of economic good news."

The two agreed that the press has done a miserable job of spreading this information. As Cheney said:

    The bottom line is that a lot of people end up convinced that the economy is not doing very well, when, in fact, it's been performing superbly.

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As is so often the case, particularly when he talks about your family's financial future, Cheney lies. A new report by the mainstream Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute paints a scary picture of the growing gap between rich and poor in America. But not just between the rich and poor. The gap is widening between the richest 5 percent and the 300 million rest of us.

I've written about this subject before, but the CBPP outdid itself this time, breaking down the breakdown state by state. So I'm unhappy to tell you that after the first three years of George W. Bush's first term, the income gap in New York state (my residence) between the richest 20 percent of families and the poorest 20 percent was tops in the nation — if you don't count the poor people in the District of Columbia, who are even worse off.

I'm not talking about dollar figures here. Of course, in those terms, the rich always get richer. I'm talking about percentages, and if you're not in the top 5 percent, you're a sucker for supporting the Bush regime's disastrous policies of tax cuts for the wealthy and cutbacks of social programs.

Despite the current regime's disastrous tax cuts for the rich, you can't pin this solely on George W. Bush or the de facto president, Dick Cheney. But the start of the "Reagan revolution" in the early '80s was a watershed. Newt Gingrich's ascendancy hurt, considering that it helped usher in a whole generation of greedy schnooks like Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff. The stock market boom during the Clinton years merely masked the fact that, since the late '70s, the decades-long progress of bringing people into the middle class went into reverse.

This is the flip side of those record bonuses on Wall Street. In fact, the most dangerous trend right now is not the growing gap between the richest and poorest but between the richest and everyone else. The CBPP report, "Pulling Apart," by Jared Bernstein, Elizabeth McNichol, and Karen Lyons, notes:

    The incomes of the country’s richest families have climbed substantially over the past two decades, while middle- and lower-income families have seen only modest increases. This trend is in marked contrast to the broadly shared increases in prosperity between World War II and the 1970s.

    In addition, while income inequality declined following the bursting of the stock and high-tech bubbles in 2000 — both of which were quite costly to the highest-income families — early national-level data suggest that inequality began growing again in 2003. Incomes at the top have rebounded strongly from the stock market correction, while the negative effects of the recent recession on low- and moderate-income families have lasted longer than usual. Thus, it appears that the two-decade-long trend of worsening income inequality has resumed.

I'll spare you the figures for now, but the report is well worth reading.

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