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MEDIA WATCH: While Chicago Tribune touts silly 'winners' book on New Year's Day, world facts point out that only Romania has higher child poverty in the 'First World'

You won't hear this cheer on Rose Bowl day: "Go USA! Beat Romania!" but in the neoliberal Race To The Bottom, that's what's happening. Only Romania, according to world renowned economist Robert Reich, has made it worse for poor children than the USA. And Romania remains a very very poor nation, a quarter century after the termination (literally) of a ruthless Communist dictatorship.

One of the best articles to appear on New Year's Eve came from Diane Ravitch. She promoted a reading of the latest critique of American capitalism by University of California professor Robert Reich.

Meanwhile, it was probably predictable that readers of the Chicago Tribune would awaken for the New Year of 2014 to learn that instead of paying attention to Diane Ravitch and Robert Reich, Chicago readers should be listening to a pundit for the plutocracy named Amanda Ripley. Ripley is pushing the old "No Excuses" version of reality, but with a 2014 twist. Her book, rather than Ravitch's, is being touted by the plutocracy as the latest latest in thing to learn from.

Romania began to be an example of the power of public relations during the Nixon administration, when a team of British publicists worked to portray Romania's Stalinist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu as a "new" kind of Communist. Actually, it was all PR, must of the type that has come to flourish in the "free" world during the age of neoliberalism. Most of Romania was off limits to reporters, so valleys like Copsa Mica (see photo) were off limits to the truth. Romania was also an early example of "data driven management."

Everything was measured, from the tonnes of potatoes harvested to the amount of electricity the could be exported. Romanians were barred by law from using light bulbs with more than 60 watts: electricity was a major export.

Children also became a commodity, when the dictatorship ordered women to produce as many babies as possible. The objective was to make Romania the largest nation in that part of the world. Romanian women were forbidden to utilize birth control, and as a result abortions became the primary method of birth control for a growing number of women. Women were even examined at work for evidence of sexual activity, and those who were trying not to become baby producers became outlaws.

After the Communist dictators were brutally murdered by their own security police on New Year's Eve 1989, the facts that had been covered up by the public relations work and data drive management of the Ceausescus slowly came out to the world. One of the most vicious and tragic examples of how Romania's "data driven management" fared for children became an international scandal when Romanian orphanages were exposed for their criminal neglect of abandoned children. Romania, which had a surplus of white babies, for a time began exporting its children, a unique cash crop, even during the 20th Century. As the scandalous realities became clear despite the fog of public relations, that was put under more controls.

It was a combination of Dickensian ugliness and Orwellian obfuscations, much like that promoted today by Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and their armies of publicists and professional liars. It was a good thing on New Year's Day 2014 that Diane Ravitch and Robert Reich were there to bring forth the ghosts of the end of the 20th Century and bring them back to life for people learning about the 21st.

Ravitch writes January 1, 2013:

Romania at the time of the 1989 New Year's revolution the ended both the tyranny and the lives of Nicolai and Elana Ceausescu was a combination of Dickensian child poverty and Orwellian hypocrisy. The confluence of those two realities was no more clear (in the smoggiest sense, no pun intended) than in the city of Copsa Mica, one of the hundreds of places in Communist Europe that had been long closed to reporters. Officially, all of the factories in Copsa Mica had the most modern filtering systems to prevent pollution. In reality, those systems existed only on the architects' renditions that were shown to Western reporters dispatched to do the "Good Communist..." stories that had portrayed Ceausescu since the Nixon administration. Copsa Mica had been so polluted for so long that the "black squirrels" found in the area were not simply in need of a bath, but had evolved to the point where they were the only squirrels in Europe to have evolved to that local color. The youngest victims were the children of that part of Romania (above). During the quarter century since Romania dumped the Ceausescus, Romania has remained a place of horror for children, but in 2014 the USA is racing Romania to the bottom as a world center for child poverty. In the USA in 2014, the Orwell plus Dickens model is one of the pillars of corporate "school reform."If we truly want better education for all, then we must be concerned about the high levels of poverty and income inequality in our society. Social scientists have long known that family income and education are highly correlated with academic performance and educational attainment. If we reduce poverty, we increase students' chances of having good health, a secure home, and the conditions that support learning.

In this context, Robert Reich's recent article about poverty in America is relevant. Although he says that only Romania has more child poverty than the U.S. among developed nations, Romania was stuck in a repressive dictatorship for decades until 1989, and should not be in the same comparison group with the world's most powerful economy. We are truly--in this humiliating statistic--#1.

This is the issue that "reformers" don't want to talk about. They say that if you talk about what matters most, you are making excuses. Hardly. Something has gone terribly wrong in the past three decades or so, says Reich.

He writes:

"Although its still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family were born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.

"Thats not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone was once at the core of the American Dream.

"And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

"But for more than three decades weve been going backwards. Its far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

"The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that its been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

"Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, weve spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite."

He asks:

"How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent?

"The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?"

These are important questions to think about on Christmas Day, as some enjoy the bounty of our beautiful land, while far too many go hungry.

REICH'S FULL ESSAY PUBLISHED ON DECEMBER 19, 2013:

December 19, 2013 |

Its the season to show concern for the less fortunate among us. We should also be concerned about the widening gap between the most fortunate and everyone else.

Although its still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family were born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.

Thats not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone was once at the core of the American Dream.

And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

But for more than three decades weve been going backwards. Its far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that its been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, weve spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite.

Taxes have been cut on the rich, public schools have deteriorated, higher education has become unaffordable for many, safety nets have been shredded, and the minimum wage has been allowed to drop 30 percent below where it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation.

Congress has just passed a tiny bipartisan budget agreement, and the Federal Reserve has decided to wean the economy off artificially low interest rates. Both decisions reflect Washingtons (and Wall Streets) assumption that the economy is almost back on track.

But its not at all back on the track it was on more than three decades ago.

Its certainly not on track for the record 4 million Americans now unemployed for more than six months, or for the unprecedented 20 million American children in poverty (we now have the highest rate of child poverty of all developed nations other than Romania), or for the third of all working Americans whose jobs are now part-time or temporary, or for the majority of Americans whose real wages continue to drop.

How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent?

The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?

Conservatives answer that question by saying its a matter of personal choice of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in a thousand points of light.

But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice.

In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society.

Last month Pope Francis wondered aloud whether trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness. Rush Limbaugh accused the Pope of being a Marxist for merely raising the issue.

But the question of how to bring about greater justice and inclusiveness is as American as apple pie. It has animated our efforts for more than a century during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Great Society, and beyond to make capitalism work for the betterment of all rather merely than the enrichment of a few.

The supply-side, trickle-down, market-fundamentalist views that took root in America in the early 1980s got us fundamentally off track.

To get back to the kind of shared prosperity and upward mobility we once considered normal will require another era of fundamental reform, of both our economy and our democracy.

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