Very good show. Very good panel. Very good issues discussed. Let's get to it.
George Packer: Social mobility and the American Dream are on life support. The reality is that we're segregating ourselves in a society of the glamorous, rich, and famous and an underclass that's poor.
He's right. And the biggest problem is the decline of wealth. I've written before that the game changed in the 80s with the shift from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution retirement accounts. And nobody noticed that the game changed. So that's why the class divisions (that have always existed throughout society) seem so stark now. The relatively high wages we were able to pay unskilled laborers are gone. So now education, pedigree, and connections matter even more now to get a good paying job. And that reinforces the class divides.
Modern day society currently has 5 major socioeconomic classes: the out-of-sight, the working class, upper middle class spenders, upper middle class savers, and the capitalist class. Because only two small socioeconomic classes (UMC savers and the capitalist class) bother saving significant amounts of their income (therefore translating it into wealth), everybody else gets divided by income. And your source of income is tied directly to your job, which is now increasingly determined by social pedigree (education and "culture fit"). These classes always existed along the same lines, more or less, but it has been exacerbated by the increasing mechanization of the economy, which has disproportionately hurt low skilled workers and has disproportionately benefited people who have wealth.
That is why there is increased fretting among the chattering classes (comprised of mostly upper middle class spenders and some in the capitalist class and upper middle class savers) about the widening divides within society.
Maher and Company 1: The NSA controversy is controversial and we're not sure what to think.
I'm not sure why this has grabbed the news cycle. Maybe it's a slow one. But the fact of the matter is that this stuff has been going on for a very long time. Illicit/covert wiretapping, like they said, began shortly after the invention of the telephone. But people generally give the government wide latitude when it comes to matters of national security. And data-mining phone conversations (and financial transactions, for that matter) is very important to the intelligence community.
A lot of people are against the NSA's Echelon 2.0 program because of a slippery slope argument. It in conjunction with potential new laws could represent a huge erosion of civil rights. But that only happens when other much more egregious laws and regulations come into play. Fight on the margin when you have to. Don't try and draw a line in the sand.
Maher and Company 2: The DNA controversy is controversial and we're not sure what to think.
Same thing applies.
Kevin Williamson: Republicans have a hard time separating their politicians from their entertainers.
That was easily the best line of the night. And it's absolutely true. The Democrats can contain the fringe, extremist, and attention-whoring elements of their party. But the Republicans can't. The crazies are in charge of the sanitarium. And because of it, guys like Mitt Romney, moderates by nature, have to pander to the mouth breathers who control his fate in the primaries and by the time they get to the general, it's too hard to run back to the center.
Ana Navarro: *words*
It really does pain me to say this, but I cannot take you seriously if you talk with an accent. Suddenly, I feel very, very white.
Bill Maher: Reagan invented voodoo economics and income equality.
A lot of progressives like to use the 80s as a tipping point from when the US transitioned from the land of a vibrant middle class to a anarcho-capitalist free for all where the rich got everything and left the poor in the dust. And, there were many things that began in the 80s that contributed to the widening social divides we see today. Unfortunately, just about none of them have nothing to do with Reagan or even the Federal government in general.
An acceleration of globalization, the emergence of computers, the transition from pensions to individual retirement accounts, the crack cocaine epidemic, and uneducated/unscrupulous use of credit cards were the biggest drivers of inequality.