Paul-BuchheitKourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: Paul Buchheit, a progressive American writer and activist, says that economic inequality is growing in the United States on a daily basis while the U.S. government continues to spend enormous amounts of money on military expeditions across the world.

“The US ranks high in macroeconomic indicators, technology, higher education, and numerous other areas that highlight its global economic dominance. But within our nation the situation is quite different. Our wealth gap is worse than that of the third world. Out of all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the US has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon,” Buchheit said in an interview with Fars News Agency.

Paul Buchheit is a researcher and writer for progressive publications. He documents and records the different data and statistics which indicate the growth of income inequality, unemployment, homelessness and social gaps in the United States. Many of his writings can be found on the Common Dreams website.

He is also the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org.

Regarding the US military expeditions in different parts of the world, Buchheit says, “Although the Human Security Report 2005 found that the number of armed conflicts has decreased around the world since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the US has actually been involved in more wars, on the average, since before the end of the Cold War… And to ensure our continued success, even in the face of suspected connections between occupation and terrorism, we keep a quarter of a million U.S. troops in 135 countries around the globe.”

What follows is the text of FNA’s interview with Mr. Buchheit regarding the current economic and financial situation of the American society.

Q: In one of your recent articles, you provided some statistics, revealing that in the United States, the richest 30 individuals own about $792 billion, while the bottom half of the Americans own only 1.1% of the country’s wealth, which means that 30 people in the country own as much as 157,000,000 people. What’s the reason for this wide gap? The United States is an industrialized and developed country, but there seems to be a wide social gap between the different ranks of the people. Why is it so?

A: From the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013, total US wealth increased from $47 trillion to $72 trillion. About $16 trillion of that is financial gain – stocks and other financial instruments.

The richest 1% owns about 38 percent of stocks, and half of non-stock financial assets. So they’ve gained at least $6.1 trillion (38 percent of $16 trillion). That’s over $5 million for each of 1.2 million households.

The next richest 4%, based on similar calculations, gained about $5.1 trillion. That’s over a million dollars for each of their 4.8 million households.

The least wealthy 90% in our country own only 11 percent of all stocks excluding pensions, which are fast disappearing. The frantic recent surge in the stock market has largely bypassed these families.

Q: You once noted that on a winter day in 2012, over 633,000 people were homeless in the United States. Do you have any precise figure of the total homeless people in the United States? Does the government have any structured plan for providing shelter to the homeless population?

A: On a winter day in 2012 over 633,000 people were homeless in the United States. Based on an annual single room occupancy (SRO) cost of $558 per month, a little over $4 billion would provide shelter for every homeless person for the entire year.

Approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2007). [here]

Utah has figured out that it’s cheaper to provide housing than to deal with homeless issues in other ways. [here]

Q: In October 2011, the Congress members filibustered Nancy Pelosi’s “Prevention of Outsourcing Act” while around two million jobs were being outsourced. They also temporarily blocked the “Small Business Jobs Act.” You referred to the Congress members as hypocrites. Is it really the case that the Congress members don’t care about the unemployment crisis in the United States?

A: I also noted that in April, 2013 only one member of Congress bothered to show up for a hearing on unemployment. Consider this in light of John Boehner’s quote, “Our job here is…to help every American have a fair shot at the American dream.” They are not doing that job, That is, in my view, hypocritical.

Q: As you’ve mentioned in your articles, the price of consumer goods and food staples have increased a great deal in the recent years in the United States. For example, wheat rose in price from $105 to $481 in a period of 8 years. What do you think is the reason for the increase in the price of basic staples, while as of January 2014, the annual inflation rate for the United States is 1.6%?

A: Speculation is certainly part of the reason for food price increases. From 1996 to 2011 the portion of speculative wheat market trades by Goldman Sachs and other players went from 12 percent to 61 percent. The price of wheat went from $105 a ton in 2000 to $481 a ton in 2008.

Food prices dropped after the recession, but the World Bank notes that they’ve jumped 43 percent since 2010. The World Food Programme reported that since 2008 high prices have pushed 115 million more people into hunger and poverty.

Speculation hasn’t hurt the speculators. According to the World Wealth Report 2013, the number of High Net Worth Individuals – $1 million or more in investable assets, increased by 11.5 percent in North America in 2012, the highest rate in the world.

Q: The Occupy Wall Street movement was a popular uprising against economic inequalities and political injustices perceived by the American people; however, it was soon quashed by the police brutality. Do you think that this movement could realize its aspirations and goals? Are there chances that the OWS can reemerge once again and challenge the domestic and foreign policies of the US government?

A: It’s getting harder and harder for grass-roots movements to conduct any form of civil disobedience. We’re well aware of the NSA’s invasion of our privacy. Worse yet, a powerful government-corporate relationship is beginning to work against populism. As Corporate Policy notes, “Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations — including the US Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON — have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.”

Ralph Nader adds that all the following are targeted by corporate spies: environmental, public interest, consumer, food safety, animal rights, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control and social justice.

Q: You wrote in one of your pieces that 250 American individuals have more money than the total annual living expenses of over three billion people, half of the world population. This is incredible and can rarely happen in a competitive economy. How is it that the United States ranks 5th in the Global Competitiveness Index, but has provided a limited group of people with the opportunity to possess such an enormous amount of wealth?

A: The US ranks high in macroeconomic indicators, technology, higher education, and numerous other areas that highlight its global economic dominance. But within our nation the situation is quite different. Our wealth gap is worse than that of the third world. Out of all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.

Q: You’re the editor of the book “American Wars: Illusions and Realities.” What’s the dominant attitude of the American public toward the wars the U.S. government wages? One of the questions which really need to be addressed regarding the US military expeditions is that, aren’t there better ways for solving the crises and problems in the world other than wars and military confrontations? What’s your take on that?

A: Our country is divided on this matter, with many favoring an ever-powerful military, others recognizing the waste of Cold-War-like spending. We need to look at facts and unbiased opinions. The Economist ranked the US 96th out of 119 countries in its Global Peace Index. Although the Human Security Report 2005 found that the number of armed conflicts has decreased around the world since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the US has actually been involved in more wars, on the average, since before the end of the Cold War. Each year we spend an increasing amount on the materials of war. We are the world’s leading weapons trader. We preside over a world ruptured by economic inequality. And to ensure our continued success, even in the face of suspected connections between occupation and terrorism, we keep a quarter of a million US troops in 135 countries around the globe.

Our aggressive anti-terrorist policies may actually be working against us. A comprehensive study using the highly regarded MIPT-RAND terrorism database showed a sevenfold increase in the annual rate of fatal terrorist attacks around the world since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. A University of Chicago study of 71 terrorists concluded that suicide attackers are motivated more than anything else by their aversion to foreign occupation. An assessment by 16 US intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the FBI, the State Dept., and all four branches of the armed forces, revealed that the long occupation of Iraq contributed to an increase in the overall terrorist threat.

Q: Do the US mainstream media tell the American people the truth about the US foreign policy, the reasons White House starts new wars and the underpinning causes of the income inequality and wide social gaps in the American society? What do you think about the role the mass media are playing in keeping the American people informed or uninformed about the current affairs in the country?

A: The business-friendly mainstream media refuses to provide information on a number of vital topics; for example, that the U.S. attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments from the end of WW II to the turn of the century, many of them populist and democratic movements that were battling oppressive regimes. That the US opposed United Nations votes on the right to food, the rights of women, the rights of children, and the banning of landmines. That while we bicker about “Life vs. Choice,” every day of the year 30,000 children die of hunger and preventable diseases around the world. And that out of all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the US has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world.

This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency.