For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: Has America grown comfortably numb?

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Throughout my life, I’ve had a front-row seat to the tragedies of others. From investigating inconceivable violent crimes to searching for abducted children, from providing aid to victims of horrific accidents to assisting those who have lost their entire fortune to fraud, I’ve seen the worst that life has to offer.

If there’s one commonality across this spectrum of despair, it is this: No matter how deep the physical or psychological wound, humans adapt to the pain.

To quote Pink Floyd, we become comfortably numb.

Recently, it struck me that the same factors that allow individuals to cope with personal pain may be in play collectively as America adapts to the reality of our nation’s economic pain. Even those of us who have escaped the wrath of the recession have friends or extended families that have had their lives torn asunder. Add the daily drumbeat of economic data and statistical evidence that shows the depth and breadth of the fiscal harm to our nation, and it’s no wonder that some of us have begun to cope with America’s fiscal reality by pretending the crisis has passed.

I fear that far too many of us have become numb to the pain that continues to be inflicted upon our nation by the Great Recession — a recession that violently accelerated and deepened America’s self-inflicted wounds that mounted in the past half-century because of citizens and elected representatives who became addicted to private and public debt.

Last weekend, as I read “Thoughts from the Frontline,” an economic newsletter published by John Mauldin, I realized how I, too, had become immune to monthly unemployment figures that should shock the conscience. I was working my way through a detailed breakdown of labor statistics for the month of April when the following paragraph jumped off the page and cut through my personal psychological defenses:

“The longer-term picture of labor force withdrawal is kind of shocking. Total household employment is down by 4.4 million since the Great Recession began in December 2007, and the number of unemployed is up by 4.9 million. The civilian population is up 9.6 million — but the labor force is up just 447,000. The number classed as not in the labor force is up by 9.2 million — and those not in the labor force and wanting a job is up 1.7 million. In other words, just 5 percent of the increase in the adult population over the last 4 1/3 years has found its way into employment; the other 95 percent are not in the labor force.”

Allow that last statistic to sink in for a moment or two.

“Just 5 percent of the increase in the adult population over the last 4 1/3 years has found its way into employment; the other 95 percent are not in the labor force.”

Having been jolted back to reality, I started looking harder at the economic wounds reflected in the April employment numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the disability enrollment numbers from the Social Security Administration — wounds that we must acknowledge threaten the American way of life. Consider:

■ In April alone, the labor force shrank by 342,000 workers and currently is below where it was when the so-called “economic recovery” began 34 months ago.

■ Currently, the civilian labor force participation rate — the percentage of working-age Americans who are working or actively looking for a job — is 63.6 percent. That is 2.1 percent lower than it was just three years ago and the lowest it has been since 1981.

■ The civilian labor force participation rate for men — including men in their prime earning years (ages 25 to 54) — is at historic lows dating back to when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first published data in 1948.

■ Since Jan. 1, Social Security disability payment beneficiaries have jumped by 539,000. Go back to January of 2009, and the number skyrockets to more than 5 million.

Bottom line: The number of American households drawing a check from the government is escalating rapidly while the percentage of Americans depositing funds to cover those welfare checks is declining rapidly.

If America is to remain an economically vibrant world leader, these trends must be reversed.

While it may be human to adapt to pain, this is no time to grow comfortably numb.

For 20 years, Steamboat Springs resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C., private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado.

Comments

mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

I do not believe this is a question of pain. Our borrowing alone testifies to the FACT that we are leaving 45% of our "pain" behind for another generation.

Millions upon millions of Americans actually have time at the end of their "work" day to protest the production of the very opiates which run through their drip-tube.

It is not "numbness" it's dumbness.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 3 months ago

Well, I'd have to say that Rob is partially dead on right. That Congressional Republicans willing to pass draconian cuts in government aid programs must be comfortably numb.

I would vehemently disagree that overall Americans are comfortably numb. People including most Democrats and individuals like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Sergy Brin and other highly successful people see that modest tax increases on the wealthy are better than some budget cuts. The highly successful business people see this sort of economic data as part of understanding their business that explains why they actually favor higher taxes on wealthy people like themselves. It is not because they hate wealth, but they think it makes no sense that their tax rates are lower than their employees and they see the economic difficulties of so many of their current and potential customers. They, unlike Congressional Republicans, know that cutting 1.8 million from food stamps is not the solution.

Just as economists have studied why some people save and others don't. The analysis is that many nonsavers are actually economically rationally given their financial situation. When people see that they have incomplete medical insurance and have other likely circumstances that will wipe out their savings then they don't have good reasons to save. When their savings is basically what will be taken from them via bankruptcy laws that favor creditors then it actually makes sense to spend it on things which creditors cannot take. And so only those that can save a substantial amount have incentives to save since they can save enough to still have savings after life's misfortunes.

Sure there are people with incomes sufficient for substantial savings whom instead live large, but that is not 75% of the population.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 3 months ago

After the Corporations send all the jobs overseas who is going to have a job to buy the junk the corporations send back into this country?

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mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

You are dead wrong about Warren Buffet, Scott. I watched an interview with him at BH's shareholder meeting just a few days ago. While he did say tax increases were necessary he emphasised the need to cut spending.

Anyone who understands the difference between capital-gains and income knows that they are two different taxes. I suspect that includes you. Therefore, you are lying to suggest Buffets taxes are higher than his employees. When his employees realize capital-gains they pay the same rate he does; when he sees income he pays the same rates on the same bracket as everyone else does. Stop lying.

Third, there is another way for Warren Buffets taxes to be higher than his employees and I'm all for it... LOWER HIS EMPLOYEES TAXES.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 3 months ago

Mark, Yes, Warren Buffet has said that there needs to be federal budget cuts, but he has also supported safety net programs. He has been openly critical of farm subsidies and other forms of government aid that benefit those not in need.

The distinction between capital gains and income is largely arbitrary. A company that compensates employees with stock options is simply using that as part of a compensation package that is cheaper to the company that is then taxed less when the employee sells the stock. A general contractor can take minimal income while working on a spec home to maximize the capital gains when it is sold. So businesses are formed and structured to not pay income, but generate capital gains. It has long been argued that companies like Microsoft and Apple didn't pay dividends since that is taxed as earned income and instead keep profits that increase the stock value of the company and so the profits as passed as capital gains when employees sell stock from their options. (Note that most financial advisers suggest most employees quickly sell their stock options that take a few years to vest in order to maintain a balanced investment portfolio.

So yes, the federal tax code taxes capital gains at a far lower rate than earned income and so Warren Buffet has a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. Which he thinks is wrong and the two should not be considered that different. Many serious economists, including those with conservative views, think that capital gains needs to be taxed at rates similar to earned income. The economic argument is that the tax code favors investment in fields where capital gains dominate which include speculative trading and comparatively discourage investment in fields that utilize a person's knowledge and skills that generate higher wages for the small business owner. So the tax code by treating capital gains so favorably is encouraging the type of investment that is of least benefit to the overall economy and society.

Sure, lower taxes and cut spending, but only the comfortably numb would cut food stamps before farm subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare.

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mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

There is a difference between "safety nets" and "hammocks".

There is also a difference between income earned under the "safety net" of an employers factory roof VS capital voluntarily put at risk in a business venture that could fail (no safety net) and leave the venture capitalist with zero.

Americas tax burden (or lack thereof) is not our problem. Our spending is the problem... $10.5 billion every day but we only accept the pain of $5.5 billion Americans are addicted to the OPM in their drip tubes that makes up the rest... Other Peoples Money

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Neil O'Keeffe 2 years, 3 months ago

Well said Scott, as usual. May I suggest an informative read on the subject authored by a well respected economist from the right who worked with the Regan and H.W. Bush administrations; The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform why we need it and what it will take by Bruce Bartlett. Here is a reasonable response to Robb's tiring partisan rhetoric. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/opinion/the-human-cost-of-ideology.html?_r=1&nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20120511

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Sandra Sharp 2 years, 3 months ago

I hope that this links to Krugman.....

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/opinion/krugman-easy-useless-economics.html

The only simple issue here is, as Krugman implies, in the long run the only thing we know for sure is that we will all die. We can not narrow down our economic flaws to one issue such as tax burden or over spending. This is a complex issue, with complex solutions. If it was a simple right or wrong situation, it would have been fixed long ago.

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Eric J. Bowman 2 years, 3 months ago

"If America is to remain an economically vibrant world leader, these trends must be reversed."

Which is exactly the opposite of what happens with those austerity measures you support. How many teachers, cops, and firefighters have lost their jobs over the past few years? How many older workers have been forced into early retirement? The result is more folks on the public dole, and less government revenue as they're no longer paying income tax, making interest payments on the deficit a larger percentage of a smaller budget.

Austerity is fine when the economy is surging -- instead, Bush cut taxes on the wealthiest, where were you austerity-loving deficit hawks then? Oh, right, cheering him and his un-funded wars and labeling those opposed as traitors... good job. Imagine if those trillions had gone towards paying down the debt, it would've been made inconsequential by now, and we'd have plenty of breathing room to spend tax dollars on jobs programs to fix our decaying infrastructure.

Government is not a business, and shouldn't be run like one.

http://www.salon.com/2012/03/05/greed_isnt_good_for_the_government/singleton/

Yes, we CAN spend our way out of the recession, given that every dollar spent creating jobs, or building/repairing infrastructure, returns $1.40 to the economy.

I'd love to explain, since this seems like radical nonsense, but I'll just quote Noam Chomsky instead:

"There was once an interview with Jeff Greenfield in which he was asked why I was never asked onto Nightline. He gave a good answer. He said the main reason was that I lacked concision. I had never heard that word before. You have to have concision. You have to say something brief between two commercials.

What can you say that’s brief between two commercials? I can say Iran is a terrible state. I don’t need any evidence. I can say Ghaddaffi carries out terror. Suppose I try to say the US carries out terror, in fact it’s one of the leading terrorist states in the world. You can’t say that between commercials. People rightly want to know what do you mean. They’ve never heard that before. Then you have to explain. You have to give background. That’s exactly what’s cut out. Concision is a technique of propaganda. It ensures you cannot do anything except repeat clichés, the standard doctrine, or sound like a lunatic."

http://www.alternet.org/economy/155281/Noam_Chomsky_on_America's_Economic_Suicide/?page=entire

The only reason austerity seems sensible, and I seem like a lunatic, is the country's been thoroughly propagandized through the brainwashing influence of television -- which I don't have, meaning I have to do my own research and base my opinions on facts almost nobody else has even been exposed to. Making it impossible to argue my points within the character limit imposed on this forum, and giving Rob all the cover he needs to stick with the cliches of standard doctrine which are killing off the American middle class.

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Eric J. Bowman 2 years, 3 months ago

@rokboat:

I won't argue with that editorial that the House Republicans are an odious lot. But it's yet another example of the MSM feeding us the standard doctrine and ignoring the reality of what's going on in Washington, D.C. these days. I expect, as soon as next week, we'll be hearing about the "Grand Bargain" being reached to eliminate Social Security -- and that this charge will be led by Democrats like Colorado's own Bennet and Udall.

Can't find my link, guess we'll just have to wait and see. But what's really happening, is the extremist bent of the GOP has caused a rightward shift in the Democratic Party, which can no longer be assumed to be the protectors of Social Security.

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Eric J. Bowman 2 years, 3 months ago

@ericsmorris:

Gee, what insightful commentary you linked to. Yeah, Krugman's rooting for another Hitler, that's his point exactly. :rolleyes: Godwin's Law still holds true...

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Eric Morris 2 years, 3 months ago

Your hero was using Godwin's Rule. Not I; he (along with most Keynesians) believe in the multiplier effect of (especially) government spending. Austrians like myself look to production, not made up terms like aggregate demand. See also the great Bastiat's broken window fallacy to counter much of Keyneianim/Krugmanism. It's alright, though, both Obama and Romney are believers in it.

http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/111604.html

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Robert Huron 2 years, 3 months ago

The US entered the 21st Century in great shape. The economy was running on all cylinders, unemployment was at 4%, the federal budget was balanced and even running a surplus, the CBO estimated the deficit would be at zero by 2012(this year), none of our men and women in the military were dying in foreign lands. Then 10 short years ago the so called "Conservatives" took total control of our government. Within 2 years everything reversed and we had deficits thanks to unneeded massive tax cuts and at the same time two unpaid for wars which killed or wounded tens of thousand of our troops and cost over a trillion dollars. The newly deregulated banks gave us worthless credit default swaps which brought down the whole world economy and caused the great recession. Unemployment went through the roof and the government bailed out the banks to the tune of $780 billion. Add in another trillion dollars for Medicare Part D.
The middle class took the brunt of the recession which is why we will not recover until the politicians stop making pledges to lobbyists and put the country first instead of their party and their re-election campaigns. This goes for both the Democrats and Republicans. It is this type of insanity that makes us "numb".

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rhys jones 2 years, 3 months ago

I see Republican and Democrat mentioned ad nauseum, the left, the right, conservatives, liberals -- and not one word about The Federal Reserve, if I don't bring it up.

Their shell game is quite effective.

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mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

"Give me control of a nation's currency and I care not who makes its laws." --Mayer Amschel Rothschild Founder of the international banking dynasty and #7 on Forbs All Time most influential businessmen.

Is that what you mean Rhys?

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mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

Ludwig von Mises had more brains in his big toe than Krugman has in his entire family tree.

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rhys jones 2 years, 3 months ago

The Rothchild family is at the core of the Federal Reserve --

http://www.usagold.com/federalreserve.html

And here is why they killed JFK --

http://www.john-f-kennedy.net/thefederalreserve.htm

Our greatest enemy lies within.

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mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

If people cared as much about their nations future, their kids future, as they did about fishing and Denver Broncos then matbe those of us who do care would have time to fish too.

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rhys jones 2 years, 3 months ago

Tom -- Would that it were true. You can't vote out the Fed. Nobody can. They will kill you if you try. They answer to no one, are a power unto themselves. They have been fleecing our economy for their own profit for almost 99 years now. Countless Americans have died to pad their bank accounts. There is no end in sight, until every human on Earth keeps all their money in a Federal Reserve bank.

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rhys jones 2 years, 3 months ago

Tom -- The Fed and the IRS came hand-in-hand -- now the people needed to pay for all this money they were borrowing all of a sudden. The only viable current candidate who actively spoke out against them is Ron Paul, but he's gone by the wayside, probably to his fortune, lest he follow JFK.

Obama is no worse than any of the other puppets of the Fed. Same stuff's gonna happen.

I like the "high tea" -- your stash? Name the place!!

GO NUGGETS!!!!!

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jerry carlton 2 years, 3 months ago

Hey Rob How about an article on how much obese Americans cost this country?

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rhys jones 2 years, 3 months ago

Jerry -- Good luck with that!! Rob obviously doesn't miss too many meals.

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Eric J. Bowman 2 years, 3 months ago

"Your hero was using Godwin's Rule. Not I"

Godwin's Law is the act of comparing someone else's position to Hitler, or calling someone a Hitler-lover, NOT the act of making a valid historical point. Krugman states the obvious, which is without Hitler, there would have been no need for a massive ramp-up in government spending, which created enough jobs to end the Depression. Saying such a position makes someone a Hilter-lover, IS an example of Godwin's Law, and has no place in intelligent conversation.

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Eric J. Bowman 2 years, 3 months ago

Krugman isn't "my hero", just the best pundit available to this newspaper. He's not right about everything, but then again, the facts and figures do tend to back up what he has to say:

http://www.perrspectives.com/blog/archives/002475.htm

Cutting spending kills jobs, which contracts the economy. What's amazing, is that even under this all-out assault, our economy still manages anemic growth.

This country doesn't have a DEFICIT crisis, it has a REVENUE crisis. Which is not surprising since the official policy of one party is that cutting revenue (taxes) increases revenue, a prima facie logical fallacy if ever there was one.

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mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

The American government doesn't get enough money? That's like saying Charlie Sheen doesn't get enough cocaine.

Krugman is an educated idiot. Look up idiot savant in the dictionary and there's a group portrait of him and Robert Reich together with Wolf Blitzer.

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Eric J. Bowman 2 years, 3 months ago

@markhartless

Putting you on "ignore" now, as all your responses to me, are nothing but ad-hominem attacks on my sources. Let me know if you have anything intelligent to add to the conversation.

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rhys jones 2 years, 3 months ago

How about that ad manus attack the Thunder put on? See ya, Kobe.

Who are you taking in the next round, Jerry? Spurs or Thunder?

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rhys jones 2 years, 3 months ago

(lest I confuse readers with other Latin definitions for "manus" including "hand" I will cite the reference which says it also means "team" although I should have said "manu")

http://en.allexperts.com/q/Latin-2145/Translate-phrase.htm

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mark hartless 2 years, 3 months ago

If something intellignet did proceed how might you know?

After all, you are convinced a nation with 100 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities and 16 trillion in outright debt and an annual shortfall of over a trillion dollars does not have a deficit problem.

Where would that amount of revenue come from? It does not exist. Watch this video www.youtube.com/watch?v=jboTeS9Okak

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