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A lesson for the common good

by Ed Raymond | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Gadfly | October 4th, 2017

Norwegians know how to govern -- just ask Ole and Lena

Sometimes we get the idea from Norwegian Ole and Lena jokes that “Norvegians” play with only 39 cards.

There’s the one about Ole calling the airlines and asking how long it takes to fly from Minneapolis to Fargo. “Just a minute,” said the busy and rather irritated desk clerk. Ole says, “Vell , if it goes that fast, I tink I’ll just take a bus.”

Or there’s the one about Ole talking to his brother Svenn, who lived next door, who tells Ole he should get some new curtains for their bedroom. “Vy’s dat?” Ole asked. Svenn says, “Vell, last night I saw you and Lena, Vel, you know…..” Ole thought for awhile, then said, “Ha—ha, Svenn, da jokes on you! I vasn’t home last night!”

But the Norwegians are playing with a full deck in governing their country. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently discussed this in an editorial, comparing our two countries. First, the editorial proclaimed that the Norwegian government “provides its citizens a lifestyle that includes the world’s highest measures of quality in health care, education, labor standards and wages.”

We are not playing with a full deck because we are now in a royal mess. Every four years 169 seats in the Norwegian Parliament are filled by candidates from 24 political parties, guaranteeing that almost every political thought is represented.

In last year’s election eight parties were voted on by 78.2% of the population. One party is even called the Pirate Party. Elected in 2013, Prime Minister Erna Solberg will lead the country again with a coalition of representatives formed from eight parties.

Solberg’s Conservative Party garnered 25% of the vote, the Progress Party with 15.2%, and the opposition Labor Party 27.4%. Generally, each political party has certain views but they all have “big tents,” welcoming many opinions. Although confusing, all Norwegian politicians manage to serve the common good rather than special interests.

Our two major parties, dominated by money, plutocrats, race, religion, and economic theories, end up serving only themselves and their big contributors--and attract only about half of the eligible voters. This is a democratic process in disaster mode.

Why do Christian whites lack empathy? Inquiring minds want to know

A new study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Institute has measured our wide racial and economic spectrum for the emotion of empathy, something that Norwegian politicians evidently have in abundance.

King Donald received more than half of the votes of whites, whether they were college-educated or had a high school diploma. Almost half of college-educated whites said equal opportunity is not a major problem, even if American citizens do not have an equal opportunity to improve themselves in life. Only 36% of whites with a high school education agreed that equal opportunity was not important.

Only 37% of college-educated whites said children living in poverty are a critical issue for them, compared with minority Hispanics at 52% and blacks at 69%. In another social issue of the day, only 33% of college-educated whites agreed that domestic violence was a critically important issue, compared with 47% of high-school-educated whites and 63% of blacks.

This study suggests that the so-called “American Exceptionalism” has deteriorated to the overwhelming tribalistic customs and politics of the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The study indicated that the Republican Party is now the party of whites and white evangelical Protestants while the Democratic Party is now the party of ethnic minorities and the religiously unaffiliated.

Like the tribes of other continents, political identity and excessive partisanship is becoming defined by race, ethnicity, and religion. Most of the poor in this country are white, but the college-educated whites seem to care less about their white brothers than their black relatives do.

The rich of the world are bleeding countries dry

India, with over a billion people, is among the world’s poorest countries. Speaking of lack of empathy among the rich, the Antilla Building in Mumbai is the personal home of the richest man in India. The 27-story, 400,000 sq. ft. home has nine elevators, three helicopter landing pads, a 168-car garage, and a 600-person staff. I don’t have room to list the many amenities.

What is this man trying to prove? Many Indians do not have bathrooms so they have to defecate and urinate in the filthy streets of Mumbai.

We are becoming more like India every day. One-tenth of the top one percent in the United States possess as much wealth as the bottom 90%. The surviving members of the Walton WalMart family now have more wealth than the bottom 42%.

Alice Walton is now the richest woman in the world at $38.4 billion. She is continually targeted for protests by low-paid WalMart workers and others who have to depend on food stamps for food and free clinics for health care. In 2011 she opened her $50 million Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas to hold her $500 million art collection.

King Donald and his “merrie men” of the Manhattan Forest are now discussing “tax reform.” That only means tax cuts for the rich. Although society needs a lot of money to create equal opportunity for all races in America, the billionaires of Trump’s cabinet are already planning to raid our treasury.

The White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, a billionaire from Goldman Sachs, has already said “only morons pay the estate tax.” King Donald claimed he didn’t pay federal income taxes because he was “smart.” Maybe he was just smart enough to hire a smart guy to do his taxes because he has never demonstrated any other skills.

Remember when another billionaire New Yorker by the name of Leona Helmsley commented “only the little people pay taxes?” Well, the little people paid just enough taxes to put her in jail for tax evasion.

But we need the rich to pay their fair share taxes to bring equal opportunity to everyone for the common good.

There is visible wealth and poverty aplenty in this land

Poverty is very visible in Fargo if you drive around enough. According to a Forum article 26,000 local people and 5,500 children live in poverty in the metro area.

Corky and I have driven through poverty areas from the coast of Florida to the coasts of California and Alaska, and visited the backwoods and back roads of the many states in between. And that was years ago. Half of the public school students in the U.S. come out of poverty-level homes.

Most school districts today have extra-curricular fees to cover the costs of these very important sports, art, music, drama, and speech programs. School administrators will say they have waiver programs for poverty-level kids. But the kids may be too embarrassed to apply, so they never really get involved in the activities that college administrators say are just as important as academic programs in student successes.

My God, we live in the richest country in the world according to politicians, so we can’t cover the fee charged a poor student because he wants to play the cello? The Norwegians cover it.

This country has plenty of excess cash. I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal the other day which featured a section called “Mansions.” These are just a few of the thousands of mansions in the U.S. listed for sale: (1) A penthouse on the top of the Walker Tower in New York for $110 million, (2) A penthouse in Manhattan with 116 feet of glass showing the Hudson River for $32 million, (3) A waterfront spec home in Marin County, California for $65 million, and (4) A vacation home in Aspen, Colorado just sold for $29 million.

While the one percent represent the good life, the poor and the lower-class in the U.S. are the most overworked in the world, with more households per capita in which two parents work than almost any other country. They work longer hours with shorter vacations (and no mandate for paid vacation time, and with no paid parental leave) than workers in any other advanced country.

And the rich may be destroying the planet

World Bank economists have determined that the wealthiest 10% in the world use almost 60% of all the world’s resources. A home in Sagaponack, New York with a 91 ft. dining room, over 100,000 sq. ft. of living space and its own power plant for one family, on the tax roles at $248 million, uses a lot of resources.

If the richest 10% reduced their consumption to the average of the rest of humanity, the world’s use of resources would be cut in half. The Spelling Manor in Los Angeles, valued at $77 million, has a bowling alley and three separate gift wrapping rooms among its amenities.

The New York Times has estimated that Americans spend about $300 billion a year on luxury items. Xanadu, Bill Gates’s home in Medina, Washington valued at $143 million, has a reception room that can handle 200 guests easily—and electronics you wouldn’t believe.

Oxfam has calculated that the wealthiest 10% are responsible for half of the emissions of greenhouse gases while the bottom half of the poorest people are responsible for only 10%.

Ralph Ellison of Oracle Corporation owns a 23-acre estate with homes listed at over $200 million—and is known for trying to have the world’s largest yacht.

This inequality, which would not be tolerated in Norway, is emphasized by the fact that one out of ten homes in the U.S. is still underwater from the 2008 recession, in terms of the mortgage. The mortgage is still worth more than the house.

The living costs in the San Francisco area are so excessive that now a family of four in the area making an annual income of $103,350 is considered low income!

There are only 12 counties out of 3,142 where a low-wage worker can make enough money to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

We may be heading for a Trumpocalypse. Perhaps The Best Congress Money Can Buy should send a bipartisan group of representatives and senators to Norway to explore that bizarre political form called democracy.

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