THE BLOG
03/04/2013 12:04 pm ET Updated May 04, 2013

This Global Leadership Role Is One We Should Be Ashamed Of

In case you haven't gotten the memo yet on growing U.S. income disparity, read this.

In the same week the New York Times wrote of looming 10 percent benefit cuts for the longterm unemployed, its Sunday Travel Section was hawking a weeklong spring break sailing trip for mom, dad and the two kids, all for just $1.06 million. Yes, that's dollars.

And while Head Start teachers hoped to dodge pink slips and Logan Airport security personnel braced for news of unpaid furloughs, Massachusetts Republicans gathered at the Danversport Yacht Club to pay $10 a vote to participate in a nonbinding straw poll to choose a candidate to fill the vacated Senate seat of Secretary of State John Kerry. Shall we call it Democracy in Action?

You'll notice I've made it three paragraphs without writing "sequestration" once. The word is an absolute snooze. Its impact isn't. Nor is the Republican Party's insistence on protecting its rich benefactors above all else. The GOP's intransigence is eroding this country, pothole by pothole, job by job.

Remember the dismissive term "Banana Republic?" When I was growing up 50 years ago, it was used to mock Latin American dictators for operating oligarchies that preyed off their poorer citizens. Today, increasingly, it describes the United States of America.

In a polished project titled "The Great Divide: Global Income Inequality and Its Cost," the international news website globalpost, with support from the Ford Foundation, looked at the growing global spread of income inequality. It wrote: "Income inequality is surging, and there are few countries where it is rising faster than the United States. The distance between rich and poor is greater in America than nearly all other developed countries, making the U.S. a leader in a trend that economists warn has dire consequences."

As for those Latin American countries U.S. citizens used to mock, many of them -- Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico among them -- today have a more equitable income distribution between the wealthiest 20 percent and poorest 20 percent than the United States.

There's a clear link between this widening disparity in income and the utterly stupid sequester now going into effect. Government programs protect the weak and the poor more than others. When programs get slashed indiscriminately, it is the poorest and weakest who suffer. So it's hardly a surprise that Monday's New York Times reports that "Cuts May Hit Poor Harder Than Most," even though some programs, such as Food Stamps, are exempt. It's also not a surprise that American income disparity will only get worse for hundreds of thousands if not millions of working middle class Americans as long as Republicans absolutely refuse to close any tax loopholes designed to make the rich richer unless such changes are offset by lower tax rates in return. And Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner reconfirmed that position last weekend.

This is the state of the United States and its dysfunctional government today. While the wealthiest Americans pay no federal taxes on inheritance up to $5.25 million, the sequester squeezes hard-working middle class Americans -- from FBI agents to air traffic controllers -- who will lose substantial income because of furloughs (mandatory unpaid days off). It could throw 1 million Americans out of work in the next two years, The New York Times estimates.

Does this sound like it's part of the American Dream of equal opportunity that both parties like to boast about? (It's a mythology that dies hard among voters who are only sort of paying attention; 20 percent still have no opinion on the sequester.)

Yesterday I bought my first smart phone at a Verizon store from a friendly guy, probably in his early 30s, who was bubbling with excitement. He was a week away from taking his first vacation in five years, his honeymoon, somewhere on the coast of Mexico.

I thought of him later when I looked at the New York Times travel section, a testament to both American inequality and over-the-top consumerism by the rich. It offered "9 Spring Breaks, From Budget to Beyond." Except that the cheapest budget choice by $500 -- a Norwegian Jewel cruise for four to the Bahamas -- started at $3,649, likely a good bit more than my new friend had budgeted for his honeymoon.

And the Times didn't stop there, with such pedestrian upper-middle-class adventures. No, it offered a week in London for a cool $90,000, complete with a two-bedroom penthouse with butler and terrace at Claridge's. It tantalized with a $70,200 week skiing trip in the French Alps, complete with a 35-minute helicopter ride from the Geneva airport to resort. And for the truly bored multimillionaire (or perhaps billionaire), it suggested that $1.06 million seven-day, seven-island cruise on a 200-foot private yacht, with six cabins and a staff of 27.

Just a little fantasy and fun, you say? It is that. But the article is equally a testament to bad taste and the obscene disparity between rich and poor in this country. And, in its unfortunate timing, it's a pretty good indicator of which class the Times brass identifies with most closely.

That, in any case, is my view. For fairness' sake, I sought a different opinion. I caught up with a gentleman, who asked to remain anonymous, outside that Republican straw poll at the yacht club. Here's what he had to say.

"As for those left at home this Spring Break, I say let them eat paint. No, paint their bedrooms. Why they will certainly have time with all those wonderful unpaid furlough days. Oh, so they can't afford to buy the paint? (Sigh.) Always the takers. Those 47 percent.

"But I have to run. My sailboat captain is waiting."

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