So Silicon Valley billionaire Tom Perkins is boo-hooing the perceived maltreatment treatment of the one percent of this country. In a letter this weekend to the Wall Street Journal, he bemoaned the "rising tide of hatred" against the ultra-rich, comparing it to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.
Perkins should be smart enough to know that comparing anyone to the Nazis is one of the third rails of American political discourse. The Nazi regime was a venal, evil, corrupt and megalomaniacal institution of hate, carried out by well armed, jack-booted and uniformed thugs. To compare it to the Occupy movement or a few zealous activists is more than a stretch. It diminishes and trivializes one of the worst examples of deliberate human depravity that cannot and should not be forgotten. Kristallnacht was state-sponsored terrorism. The Holocaust was state-sponsored genocide. I don't believe Hitler and the SS cared whether a Jew was rich or poor -- so long as he or she was a Jew, that constituted cause enough to send them to Dachau, Auschwitz or Buchenwald. If Perkins has a heart, he would apologize in a nanosecond.
Yet one of Perkins one percent friends, Tim Draper, lauded Perkins' statement as "brilliant" because it identified the "bitter taste of envy" that should be channeled instead into celebrating the accomplishments of the moguls of tech.
What Perkins and Draper don't get is that it's not envy. Envy is the lens through which these individuals view the actions of others because jealousy is the currency of their private realm. But if they had an once of empathy, they would understand that anger is driving the actions of Occupy. Frustration is fueling the protesters of the Google Bus. It's resentment and confusion and fear that the America we were brought up in has changed. Channeled one way, it continues to fuel the Tea Party, and in another way provides flame to the fire in the progressive movement in San Francisco. It is why, for the fifth time, President Obama will have to address the issue of job creation in his State of the Union, and why his approval ratings continue to plummet.
Put simply, the economic cataclysm of 2008 continues to create a social chasm of seismic proportions. It has caused a serious and growing breach in the American social contract, that great part of the American myth that if you work hard, you play by the rules, your children will be better off and you might be able to retire in relative security. But all that changed, in an instant, in 2008. People who retired with pensions and health benefits found them wiped out, reduced, or eliminated. People who had gone to college, found a good job, suddenly found themselves downsized to the curb. What was once a promise of a good life turned into a nightmare of debt and broken dreams.
Since then, our nation has experienced, at best, a paper recovery, fueled by a stock market out -of-touch with human capital. Yes, tech is creating jobs, but these jobs require higher skills and higher education than many of the the older, skilled workforce that lost their jobs by the hundreds of thousands during the Great Recession. You wonder why the leaders of the tech sector, -- the same people cited by Perkins and Draper as great success stories -- are pushing for immigration reform? Because they need more engineers, and the only way presently to obtain them is through immigration reform, opening up new pathways for graduates of foreign birth -- many of whom received their education in the United States -- to work for their companies. (To be fair, Zuckerberg and others have also adopted the cause of the Dreamers as an issue of fairness and civil rights) These are jobs that presently can't all be filled by Americans -- or, at least, most of the Americans who lost their jobs. And these Americans, or their children watching the dreams of their parents shattered into a million pieces, are angry.
Just this week, Jamie Dimon, the chief of JPMorgan Chase and one of the captains of the economic Titanic of 2008, was rewarded with a salary of $20 million. A 74 percent increase from the year before. Not counting potentially $34 million in stock options. And after a year in which JPMorgan Chase paid $23 BILLION in regulatory fines and settlements. But just weeks before, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the labor force had dropped by 347,000 -- either because jobs were eliminated, or people had given up looking. Which adds to the other hundreds of thousands who have given up. In fact, one of the reasons our nation's unemployment rate has shrunk is because of the disaffected job seekers. After months and months of searching, there are no jobs to be found. Certainly not jobs that pay not just a living wage, but a comparable wage to what they had before to pay mortgages, send kids to college, and retire with security. Downscaling and downsizing lifestyles has become, for millions of Americans, a necessity, not a lifestyle choice.
Perkins and Draper must have skipped taking history courses in college because they were not prerequisites for business school. Because if either one had any grounding in the past, they would understand that the actions of Occupy and the anti-Google Bus protesters are familiar to any student of modern history and social change. The "dangerous drift" that Perkins warns of has more in common with the Ludlow miners, the Bonus Army, or the Chicago 7, than it does with any paramilitia of brownshirts. The "People Power" revolution in the Philippines and the Arab Spring movement are more akin to Perkin's so-called "progressive radicalism" than the SS.
We are a nation in search of answers. We are a people who want an American Dream that is attainable by the vast majority, not the elite few. The last thing we need is for people like Tom Perkins, or his friends, to ask us to eat their cake crumbs, and be grateful.
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