Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Not So Exceptional

Tom Sullivan asks

Has America – and the American Dream itself – gone into retreat? Once the largest, most prosperous in the world, the American middle class is faltering, crumbling like our nation’s schools and bridges.

Flag-pin-wearing American exceptionalists tell crowds this is the greatest nation on Earth, and then repeat “we’re broke.” They hope to dismantle safety net programs, telling Americans working harder than ever – at jobs and looking for jobs – that they don’t have enough “skin in the game.” Wake up and smell the austerity. America can no longer afford Americans.

The flag-wearing American exceptionalists would be hard pressed to convince Ed Green, husband of a social worker, whom The Washington Post earlier this year found

grew up in the middle class, the son of a New York City bus driver. He also went on to drive a bus, after he dropped out of technical school, got married and started having kids. He was earning $68,000 a year in a union job and was on track to retire with full benefits.

But cancer struck his mother, who had moved to North Carolina after Green’s father died. Green moved his family there to help care for her, and he went looking for the sort of good-paying factory job that powered the Carolina economy for a long time. It was 2000, and as Green was about to discover, America’s middle-class job machine was starting to sputter....

Green starts work every weekday at 7 a.m., driving the paving truck when the weather allows, pitching in on odd tasks when it doesn’t. He gets a half-hour for lunch, finishes his shift midafternoon, then changes in a transportation department locker room and usually drives to a sports stadium. In the summer, he goes to the baseball field, where the Dash, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, plays 70 games a year. In the winter, he works security at Wake Forest University’s arena, for basketball games and the odd concert. On fall weekends, he’s an usher at the school’s football games.

One day last year, when it was too cold for paving, Green and his road-crew colleagues slowly trawled up Interstate 40 east of town, clearing brush from the side of the road and feeding it into a wood chipper. Cars buzzed past at 70 miles per hour. The workers on the crew, Green said, know to listen for tires on the serrated edge of the pavement. Or for brakes screaming. You hear those things, you don’t look — you just run.

That would be difficult for a young, healthy man. Unfortunately, Green has

had shoulder problems, a pinched nerve in his back, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, a stroke.

Several years ago, doctors told him he had prostate cancer. He submitted to radiation treatment, five days a week, four straight months.

He never missed work.

Though more industrious than most people, Green isn't alone, for as technology and globalization take their toll

Today, a shrinking share of Americans are working middle-class jobs, and collectively, they earn less of the nation’s income than they used to. In 1981, according to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of American adults were classified as “middle income” — which means their household income was between two-thirds and double the nation’s median income. By 2011, it was down to 51 percent. In that time, the “middle” group’s share of the national income pie fell from 60 percent to 45 percent.

There are other indications America's exceptionalism is winding down, just as- not coincidentally- Republicans have been ramping up the rhetoric.  Fox News recently reported

The Defense Department is taking another look at the military prison in Kansas and the Navy Brig in South Carolina as it evaluates potential U.S. facilities to house detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, part of the Obama administration's controversial push to close the detention center.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said a team was surveying the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth on Friday and will do a similar assessment at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston later this month. Davis said the team will assess the costs associated with construction and other changes that would be needed in order to use the facility to house the detainees as well as conduct military commission trials for those accused of war crimes.

The closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been a top priority for President Barack Obama, who pledged on his first day in office to shut it down. But that effort has faced persistent hurdles, including staunch opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress and ongoing difficulties transferring out the dozens of detainees who have been cleared to leave.

Officials have to identify countries to take the detainees and must get assurances that they will be appropriately monitored and will not pose a security threat.

About 52 of the 116 current detainees have been cleared for release, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his predecessors have made it clear they will not release any detainees until they have all the needed security assurances. The remaining 64 have been deemed too dangerous to be released.

The inmates are not going to be set free, merely transferred. Nonetheless

Lawmakers from Kansas on Friday quickly denounced the survey.

In a letter to Carter, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he has consistently objected "to the idea of moving these terrorists to the mainland, and more especially to Kansas. I will continue to be a vocal and staunch advocate against closing our current detainment facilities due to the high security risks and economic waste doing so would cost the American public."

He said Leavenworth is not the right location because it sits on the Missouri River, "providing terrorists with the possibility of covert travel underwater and attempting access to the detention facility."

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said, "Terrorists should not be living down the road from Fort Leavenworth - home to thousands of Army soldiers and their families, as well as military personnel from across the globe who study at the Intellectual Center of the Army."

That would be Leavenworth Kansas (the most famous inmate incarcerated there, below) "a city of 35,000 just west of Kansas City, Missouri – has had an ominous place in pop culture. The name alone conjures images of chain gangs of prisoners in zebra-striped uniforms cracking rocks with pickaxes — all under the gaze of cold-eyed guards atop watch towers."  However, the American military, according to two Kansan members of the US House of Representatives, might not be able to maintain security there.

As Sullivan notes, today

America is in retreat. Its dreams are shriveled. Instead of investing in public infrastructure like aqueducts, highways and bridges, we watch ours collapse as China’s rise. In Washington, pundits and politicians wring their hands over nickels and dimes for Americans while spending hundreds of billions of deficit dollars to maintain a global empire. Almost 900 overseas military bases? Was that our Founders’ vision of greatness?

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