Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Re-Post: Wassail Your Troubles Away (12/31/05)

 And God knows there were plenty of troubles.

wassailing Here's to the old pagan tradition of wassailing the apple trees.  From the Sulgrave Manor website we read:
" Apple trees were sprinkled with wassail to ensure a good crop. Villagers would gather around the apple trees with shotguns or pots and pans and made a tremendous racket to raise the Sleeping Tree Spirit and to scare off demons. A toast was then drunk from the Wassail Cup. Wassailing was meant to keep the tree safe from evil spirits until the next year's apples appeared.
Oh apple tree, we'll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord does know where we may go
To be merry another year
To grow well and to bear well
  And so merrily let us be
                                            Let every man drink up his glass
                                           And a health to the old apple tree
                                           Brave boys, and a health to the old apple tree"
And a number of other variations on this theme can be found around the net, here:
"A cider-soaked cake is laid in the fork of a tree and then more cider is splashed on it. The men fire their guns into the tree and bang on pots and pans while the rest of the people bow their heads and sing the special `Wassail Song`. This custom is said to ward off bad spirits from the orchard and encourages the good spirits to provide a bountiful crop for the following year.
In other traditions, the men of the village went out to the orchards carrying the wassail bowl, to alternately serenade and browbeat the apple trees. There were songs, dances and libations (for tree and man) until finally, in frustration, the trees would be threatened with the axe if they did not produce well in the coming year. A newspaper account of 1851 documents Devonshire men firing guns (charged only with powder) at the trees."

and here:
"It was apparently an old midwinter custom (old Christmas eve or old twelfth night or some such time) to get together in an orchard and drink cider or strong beer, possibly warmed and spiced, have a bonfire, fire shotguns into the tres 'to frighten off hte evil spirits', sing, and depending on local tradition carry out various customs, the most common of which was for a piece of toast on which some cider had been poured to be put nto the oldest tree 'for the robins'. "
and here:
"Wassail is an ale-based drink seasoned with spices and honey. It was served from huge bowls, often made of silver or pewter. The Wassail bowl would be passed around with the greeting, 'Wassail'.
Wassail gets its name from the Old English term "waes hael", meaning "be well". It was a Saxon custom that, at the start of each year, the lord of the manor would shout 'waes hael'. The assembled crowd would reply 'drinc hael', meaning 'drink and be healthy'.
As time went on, the tradition was carried on by people going from door to door, bearing good wishes and a wassail bowl of hot, spiced ale. In return people in the houses gave them drink, money and Christmas fayre and they believed they would receive good luck for the year to come.
The contents of the bowl varied in different parts of the country, but a popular one was known as lambs wool. It consisted of ale, baked apples, sugar, spices, eggs, and cream served with little pieces of bread or toast. It was the bread floating on the top that made it look like lamb's wool."

BD20b24_0122wfThe recipe for making a wassail bowl found in The Joy of Cooking is about as authentic as you can get:

"WASSAIL
• 1 dozen apples
• 1 cup water
• 4 cups sugar
• 1 tablespoon grated nutmeg
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
• 6 whole cloves
• 6 allspice berries
• 1 stick cinnamon
• 1 dozen eggs, whites and yolks separated and reserved
• 4 bottles sherry or madeira
• 2 cups brandy
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Core and bake apples for about 30 minutes, until tender but not mushy.
In a saucepan, combine water, sugar, nutmeg, ginger, mace, cloves, allspice berries and cinnamon and boil for 5 minutes. Let cool.
Beat egg whites until stiff, forming soft peaks, but not dry. Separately, beat egg yolks until light in color. Gently fold whites into yolks, using large bowl. Strain cooled sugar and spice mixture through sieve into eggs, combining quickly. In separate pots, bring sherry or madeira and brandy almost to the boiling point.
Incorporate hot sherry or madeira with the spice and egg mixture, beginning slowly and stirring briskly with each addition. Toward the end of this process, add brandy. Just before serving and while mixture is still foaming, add baked apples. Serve in a heat-resistant punch bowl or in individual mugs."


You can read a similar recipe with song and story here.

A couple years ago some friends and we sang and danced around the old man apple tree in our back yard (the "old man" being the oldest, largest of the trees), and we had a remarkably huge crop of fruit from all the trees the following summer.

wassailWhile I can't recommend the activity for everyone, I enjoyed it immensely, and although the drink itself wasn't as tasty as I'd hoped for, it was an interesting exercise in reconnecting to the past.  But on this, the nub end of the old year and the brink of the new, I can't think of anything better than to wish you all better days and better luck.  As the old song says:


Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you,
A happy New Year,
And God send you,
A happy new year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blessings


Merry Christmas

From my home (that's part of it over there) to yours.  Since my Christmas wishes for peace and love and all that have mostly ended in frustration, I wish this for myself, and for you as well:  that we cast off anger as a default position, find compassion in our hearts for those with whom we disagree, and in doing so experience some small peace.  Be well.  Do well.

Update: Christmas for our family always includes 3 things---watching Bad Santa, listening to Fairytale of New York, and watching and listening to the Christmas in Heaven sequence from Monty Python's Meaning of Life.  And this year, after being sucked in by an unexpected presentation on PBS of Sting at Durham Cathedral, I rushed to buy the DVD of If On A Winter's Night, which arrived on Christmas Eve and made for a magical evening.  Though I couldn't post something from that, I did find a lovely version of Christmas at Sea in a different venue.  O come let us adore them.









Wednesday, December 23, 2009

American Idle

Now that we understand that the House will have to give up the few decent features of its own reform bill to the nasty piece of business being passed in the Senate, I have to ask: with what will liberals be rewarded for abdicating their own ideals and principles to the hobby horse of "history" and the fata morgana of future fixes? Now that Republicans have been courted and feted while liberals were threatened and exiled, now that Nelson and Lieberman and Stupak have ringed our noses and led progressives and "reform" around the killing floor, now that Big Medicine and Pharma and the health insurance monopoly have wrung every concession and promise of status quo from the administration we entrusted with our vote, how will the White House and the right-wing cohort in Congress return the favor? Meaningful climate change legislation? FIRE sector reform with teeth? Consumer protection? Agricultural reform? Help for workers? Exit from Iraq? Torture policy reversed?

For me, the previews on these issues have been disheartening, and I won't hold my breath. The Republicans, who now represent the escaped insane of the nation, have built a party platform on dismantling the government and transforming it into a feedlot for the war industry. They have no stake in passing any legislation, for anything. They would love to make abortion (and many of them, contraception) illegal again, but they know they can effect basically the same thing through more and restrictive state-level regulations on clinics, providers, and the procedure itself, and there is no way the current Supreme Court will find any of it crossing the line as delineated by Casey v Planned Parenthood. Other than this, I don't see them caring about much of anything except sitting in front of the manger and starving the cow. And power, of course. They hate government but they won't stand for anyone but them running it, so like spoiled children deprived of a toy on a shopping outing, they will make everyone around them as miserable as themselves. No matter what other changes liberals seek, no matter how beneficial to the nation, we can expect no more than what we have already gotten: a parade of insults upon our character and intellect from the appeasers of our own group, and a big backhand across the face from the White House.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What's YOUR Story?

From now on, let's have full disclosure from every pundit and blogger shooting off his or her mouth about the "affordability" of the Insurance Monopoly Bill. What I want to know is:

1) What is your current income?

2) What is your current health insurance arrangement---premium, cost-share, employer share, family or individual coverage, etc.?

3) Do you have a chronic illness or impairment?

4) Do you have a child or dependent, and if so, do they have any chronic illness or impairment?

5) Have you ever had to spend any time without health insurance while raising a child, caring for an impaired dependent, or living through your own illness or impairment?

6) Have you ever had a family member who went a substantial period of time without health insurance?

7) Have you ever had to put off going for medical care for yourself or another because you couldn't afford it?

The answers to these questions should certainly put the content of any blather about affordability into context, and they will tell us whether their authors have the standing to be making such a call in the first place.

Me, I'll tell all in the next chapter.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let's Not Allow the Perfect to Be the Enemy of the Abominable

After weeks of perusing liberal websites whose writers have been whistling past the graveyard of health care reform, insisting that this "historic" moment is only a launching pad for the really good reform that everyone will come to a consensus on and create in a couple years, and after posting my own pessimistic take on the matter, I have looked over the final Senate product and see that my worst fears have come to pass. Perhaps the most egregiously obvious sign that it heralds more business-as-usual is this:
The (Senate) legislation would not strip health insurance companies of their longstanding exemption from federal antitrust laws.
Good news. If you're Ronald Williams. Or a stockholder. The soup is on.

I wish I could think we were finally done with the divisive recriminations that have torn the liberal wing apart these past weeks, but I'm afraid it's only just starting, now that the House and Senate bills must be reconciled. The House bill, with all its flaws, is a piece of humanitarian genius compared to the Piece Of Shit (as Charles Pierce calls it) the Millionaires' Club finally extruded from their constipated asses. There will be an inevitable mitosis within the Democratic party as a result of this, and I'm beginning to think that may be the healthiest way for us to finally begin to represent the poor and disenfranchised again. God knows the Democratic Party as it now stands has long since given up even pretending it cares about those.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trying to To Make A Ray of Sunshine Out of A Stream of Bat's Piss

People are trying to make the best out of the concessions Ben Nelson blackmailed the Senate into. Like, for instance, the abortion issue: states will be able to individually refuse permission for insurers in the insurance exchange to offer abortion coverage, and a woman will need to pay into a separate revenue stream when seeking an abortion using coverage provided by her insurer. Some say this isn't so bad. Many of those are men and women past childbearing age.

Forget what impact individual states can have on whether an insurer want the hassle of setting up different plans for different state exchanges, and whether that may influence the insurer to eliminate abortion coverage for simplicity's sake. It's that separate pay-out that strikes me as especially hollow. I've been able to do that since 1973. It's called paying out of pocket. So this does me no favors; what it does is put restrictions on what is ostensibly a legal medical procedure. But as we know, the fine points of legality have been lost on this Congress for many decades.

And BTW, is there a restriction on paying for fertility treatments that deliberately create numerous excess embryos, many of whom are then deliberately terminated in the womb? I really want to know, why is it we don't see big trucks with bloody blown-up photos and weeping children with protest signs outside fertility clinics? Why isn't there a move in the Senate to restrict them, to throw up ridiculous regulations and laws to make it impossible to find a clinic or a doctor to perform fertility procedures? Why don't we get long-winded sermons in Congress about the "holocaust" of wasted life? Oh, wait. Fertility treatments are legal, aren't they?

Dumb Shit is Our Birthright

Roy Edroso is feeling moroso:
That the grand hopes for we-dia and all the crap that came with it would prove a catastrophic bust is no surprise to students of history, who know what became of the Journals-Affiches of the French Revolution, and all the proletarian outlets thereafter.

But it is important to note not only what, but who failed in this case. It is tempting but too easy to lay the blame at the doorstep of one political faction or other. The real force behind blogs, Twitter, and all other social media is its users, which is to say, practically everyone of the internet. And this is the saddest part of the demise of the internet as anything other than a microwave for the mind: we are the ones who killed it. And no matter how feverishly we click and scroll and friend and block, nothing we do can bring it back to life.
--"Why This Decade Sucked, Reason #10: Social Media Ruined the Internet" Village Voice
Every time human beings communicate, there is a drag toward the lowest common denominator. We have seen in in the evolution of every one of our communication and social networking tools: schools, books, newspapers, music, movies, plays, philosophies and ideologies.

The whole history of humanity is the history of seining out the accumulating crap of an endeavor to search for the one worthwhile thing. If we can find a few on the internet, we can call it a draw.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Storm Coming

Mmmmm.

What We Lost When We Thought We'd Won

The Obama Plan for Health Care Reform during the campaign:
Limits premium discrimination based on gender and age.
The current Senate Bill:
A qualified high risk pool meets the requirements of this paragraph if such pool—...(C) ensures that with respect to the premium rate charged for health insurance coverage offered to eligible individuals through the high risk pool, such rate shall— (ii) vary on the basis of age by a factor of not greater than 4 to 1;....

With respect to the premium rate charged by a health insurance issuer for health insurance coverage offered in the individual or small group market— ‘‘(A) such rate shall vary with respect to the particular plan or coverage involved only by— ...(iii) age, except that such rate shall not vary by more than 3 to 1 for adults (consistent with section 2707(c));
The Obama Plan during the campaign:
Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.
The current Senate Bill:
December 16, 2009--Senate Democratic leaders abandoned the last vestige of a government health plan yesterday but pledged to move ahead on a sweeping health care overhaul, infuriating many liberals but pleasing President Obama, who said victory on his highest domestic priority was within sight.
The full specifics of Obama's Health Care during the campaign:
--Allow consumers to import safe drugs from other countries.
--Allow Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drug prices.
--NEW AFFORDABLE, ACCESSIBLE HEALTH INSURANCE OPTIONS. Through the Exchange, any American will have the opportunity to enroll in the new public plan or an approved private plan...
What will be in any bill:
(In the July 7, 2009 memo) the White House agreed to oppose any congressional efforts to use the government's leverage to bargain for lower drug prices or import drugs from Canada -- and also agreed not to pursue Medicare rebates or shift some drugs from Medicare Part B to Medicare Part D, which would cost Big Pharma billions in reduced reimbursements.

In exchange, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) agreed to cut $80 billion in projected costs to taxpayers and senior citizens over ten years. Or, as the memo says: "Commitment of up to $80 billion, but not more than $80 billion."
Now, please, tell me again that Obama did not build his campaign around the very things that have been trashed with his smiling approval, and that this bill, combined with business-as-usual economic "reform", is not going to turn us all into the indentured servantry of the corporate classes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And By the Way...

While much of my objection to the current incarnations of the House and Senate "Health Care Reform" bills has been on affordability grounds, let's just get this up front: there is nothing in either bill that would reduce the bureaucracy and storms of pointless, redundant paperwork, or that would actually reduce the costs of premiums in toto. Here's a chart by Nate Silver. I have problems with how he breaks down the amount of money the family in question will have to pay out-of-pocket, but that's not my concern here. My concern is that in comparing the various costs his family will have to pay in 2016, the total prices charged by the insurance company are essentially the same. As Matt Taibbi pointed out, allowing insurance companies, Pharma, and medical providers to continue doing business as usual was not supposed to be the goal of this reform effort. And for this, this big fucking humbug, we have the privilege of being forced to enrich the coffers of the already well-to-do.

To recap my ongoing argument with Kevin Drum (who is an inveterate optimist on this matter) in his comments:
Medicare buy-in is also now bye-byes. The plan is going to end up being a fat wet kiss to insurance and Pharma, and a financial burden to people with incomes under 100k and more than 40k. AND there is a good likelihood that after 9 long freaking years, we'll still be looking at 24 million people uninsured into 2019, so there goes your "universal". This is turning into a months long exercise in utter humiliation for liberals, and the only thing we are getting out of it is another administration pandering to the right and flipping the bird to progressive frustration. Kevin, it sucks, and speaking on behalf of all the people who do NOT make a shitload of money in this country, it's a millionaire's idea of affordability, given the imprimatur of affordability by media millionaires nodding and grunting their approval. The recent DHS report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says this about the affordability of this great plan:

"The (Senate bill) specifies maximum out of pocket limits in 2014 equal to the corresponding maximums as defined by the Internal Revenue Code for high-deductible health plans. We estimate that these limits would be $6,645 for an individual and $13, 290 for a family with qualified creditable coverage (including employer-sponsored health insurance). For future years, the limits are indexed to the growth in the average health insurance premium in the U.S. Under this approach, the proportion of health care costs above the out-of-pocket maximum would be relatively stable over time. For the basic 'bronze' benefit plan for individuals, with an actuarial value of 60%, we estimate that the cost-sharing percentage applicable before the out-of-pocket maximum is reached would be about 76% in 2014 and later. The corresponding cost-sharing rate for family coverage is 64%...

We also considered the required penalty associated with the individual mandate if they chose to remain uninsured...Our model indicated that roughly 65% of those eligible for the Exchanges would choose to take such coverage, with the principal incentive being the level of premium assistance available....individuals or families for whom the 'bronze' plan premium level (reduced by the refundable premium assistance tax credit, if applicable) would exceed 8% of income would not be subject to penalty if they chose not to enroll in the Exchange plan. We estimate that this provision would exempt...about 16% of the non-aged population.""

Fuck that shit.
And this:
Millions WILL Remain Uninsured. There is NOTHING in this bill that will do that. They will continue to stick it to consumers because there is nothing in this bill that amounts to any kind of protection for affordability. Maybe in your world it is affordable to pay almost $14,000 a year for insurance plus co-pays on the order of 30% until you've spent $10K out of pocket. In my world, and the world of the people I know, this is not in any way affordable. Who's living in a dream world, Kevin?

As for losing a chance that may not come again for 40 years, if the Right gets back in charge down the road, there is nothing to stop them from gutting or rescinding any bill that passes anyway, so why not try for something worth fighting for? This bill as Lieberman wants it amounts to the government holding us for ransom on behalf of corporate profit.
Finally, my comment at the NYTimes on the fallout for Joe Lieberman after his shameful display of cupidity this week:
“I don’t feel like a spoiler,” Mr. Lieberman said.

That's because you couldn't feel with both hands and a feeling-hand dog to guide you, you disgraceful egomaniac. You haven't had a human feeling for years, as exemplified by your present inability to care one whit about the thousands who are dying while you grandstand and preen in the spotlight.

And this is the man all the Democrats are shaking in their boots over. Oh, Mary, pleeeze.
Yes, it's going to be a fine season of goodwill toward men.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let's All Go Home and Let Joe Run the Country

At last: my very worst fears are about to become flesh:
The day before, Mr. Lieberman threatened on national television to join the Republicans in blocking the health care bill, President Obama’s chief domestic initiative. Within hours, he was in a meeting at the Capitol with top White House officials.

And on Monday night, Democratic senators emerged from a tense 90-minute closed-door session and suggested that they were on the verge of bowing to Mr. Lieberman’s main demands: that they scrap a plan to let people buy into Medicare beginning at age 55, and scotch even a fallback version of a new government-run health insurance plan, or public option.

Mr. Lieberman said he believed that the Medicare expansion was off the table, though he did not get any guarantee.
And of course, despite the wasted paragraphs spent fluffing Lieberman's ego, not one sentence was spent in this article on the fact that his wife is neck-deep in connections to the health insurance and Pharma industries. (Correction: The article did mention Lieberman kvetching that "...some people had begun attacking his wife, Hadassah, urging that she be fired from her job at a nonprofit organization that fights breast cancer, because she previously worked in public relations for two pharmaceutical companies." But that single sentence doesn't even begin to hint at the deep and decades-long tentacles Lieberman has within the various corporations for which she has worked and shilled.)

Where on earth is Obama in all this? What is wrong with our so-called leaders in the Senate, that they allow this hateful dwarf to lead them around by the nose in public like this? Doesn't anyone remember that we can have this watered-down compromise by reconciliation, and fuck the 60 votes?

And I'll bet that after he derails this "reform", he hangs on to his leadership position, too. I have an idea that will make him and his wife happy: let's just all line up every month and drop $600 into a bucket directly connected by pneumatic tube to the bank accounts of every insurance company and drug company in the country, and then go home and take care of our diseases with hot tea.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

War is Peace, Hate is Love

I have been mystified by the liberal responses to Obama's Nobel acceptance speech. I mean, really? Lauding and justifying 6 decades of near-constant and pointless war as you receive a prize for peace? This gets you misty-eyed? Really?? And after spending hours complaining about it to every innocent within earshot yesterday, I read Glenn Greenwald's reaction, which pretty well echoed my own and made me feel that perhaps I wasn't insane:
Is that what liberals were hoping for when they elected Obama: someone who would march right into Oslo and proudly announce to the world that we have a unilateral right to wage war when we want and to sing the virtues of war as a key instrument for peace?
I knew he was no dove when I voted for him, but when I compared his vote to ban cluster bombs to Hilary Clinton's vote against the ban, I really did think I was getting someone who might have some hesitance about continuing to fuel the dark Satanic mills of the military/industrial complex.

But I guess liberals will accept anything from a president these days so long as he can use multisyllabic words and talk in complete sentences, (another of my themes in yesterday's venting, and also coincidentally Greenwald's, here):
After eight years of enduring a President who spoke in simplistic Manichean imperatives and bullying decrees, many liberals are understandably joyous over having a President who uses their language and the rhetorical approach that resonates with them.
Yes. And if he uses that language to defend the indefensible, so much the better for getting the left to buy into the policies of the previous 8 years.

Greenwald also links to Chris Hayes over at The Nation, who quotes David Cortright, a Vietnam veteran and the Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame:
"I found the Nobel speech disappointing...To use the Nobel dais to justify the use of military force is unseemly. The president's characterization of the historic role of US military power was distorted, and his interpretation of just war theory was incomplete."
Disappointing. I wish I could tone it down to merely disappointing. As time goes on, I find Obama's various compromises and retreats on principles he outlined during his campaign to be more than just politics as usual. He worked tirelessly to gain our trust and make us believe that, this time, it could be different. I realize that his foreign policy approach was never intended to be completely dovish, but I personally think his acceptance speech in its overall tone and constant harking to a cynical realpolitik was inexcusable. Reagan could have done no better.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

When I'm Calling Yoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oooo

Matt Y. posts a piece on a Pew poll showing the differences in policy outlook between ordinary citizens and members of the Council on Foreign Relations. But for me this was the eye-opener:
The proportion of the public saying torture is at least sometimes justified against suspected terrorists has increased modestly over the past year. Currently, 54% say torture is at least sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists, compared with 49% in April and 44% in February.
But another 16% believe torture is "rarely" justified, meaning that even they can visualize some rare scenario in which it could be used. So what this actually tells us is that 70% of respondents believe that torture can be justified in some cases. Thank you, John Yoo.

And thanks also to Matt for linking to this editorial (cached link) in the Financial Times by Steven Hill that points up the irony of awaiting a decision on healthcare reform by a deliberative body that is (surprise!) primarily an aristocracy of old male white millionaires who represent a minority of the electorate and most of whom haven't had to worry about their own health insurance for decades. This is why I have been harping on affordability, and this is why I still think it is the single most important element of reform. The public will judge the results by whether they are pushed into the poorhouse, a place most senators have never even read about, let alone visited.

Maybe we could torture them into passing something decent. Do you think the public would see that as "sometimes justified?" Yoo could write the memo.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

It's Hard to Light the Torches When Everything Is Wet



WASHINGTON — President Obama on Thursday hosted a forum with scores of business and labor leaders and economic advisers to both political parties to field “every demonstrably good idea” for creating jobs, but he cautioned that “our resources are limited.”

...“I want to be clear: While I believe the government has a critical role in creating the conditions for economic growth, ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector,” he told his audience, which included critics as well as executives from American Airlines, Nucor Corp., Google Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Fed-Ex.

Mr. Obama told the chief executives that he wanted to know: “What’s holding back business investment and how we can increase confidence and spur hiring? And if there are things that we’re doing here in Washington that are inhibiting you, then we want to know about it.”
Oh, sweet Christ on a crutch, we're on our own, friends. Find a bucket and start bailing, because the poor are already treading water and going down for the third time, and the middle class just got the lifeboat with the hole in the bottom: (Elizabeth Warren via HuffPo)
Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.

Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed.
Warren goes on to note this cruel irony:
But core expenses kept going up. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much (adjusted for inflation) on mortgages than they did a generation ago -- for a house that was, on average, only ten percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much to hang on to their health insurance.

To cope, millions of families put a second parent into the workforce. But higher housing and medical costs combined with new expenses for child care, the costs of a second car to get to work and higher taxes combined to squeeze families even harder. Even with two incomes, they tightened their belts. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases -- but it hasn't been enough to save them. Today's families have spent all their income, have spent all their savings, and have gone into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, and just to stay afloat a little while longer.
Warren's observations on the irony of being squeezed financially, despite the fact that the price of many goods have dropped sharply over the decades, is cited by Eileen Ruppell Shell in her book "Cheap". While Americans have been fed a continuing diet of cheap and inexpensive foods, entertainments, and household goods that has distracted them from their slipping wages, the so-called "inelastics", i.e., non-discountable essentials such as gasoline, health care, and housing, have gone up sharply. In times of high unemployment, this becomes a class-killer. How did our wages lose so much ground? Shell reminds us that the inflation of the 70s and de-regulation of the 80s spawned a nightmare of unemployment and credit debt, thanks to government policies (no link):
In 1978 the Humphrey-Hawkins Act mandated that inflation be reduced in 10 years from 9% to zero. The Federal Reserve Bank under both Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan strove tirelessly to achieve this ambitious goal by controlling employment levels through the manipulation of interest rates. Volcker and Greenspan reasoned that too great a demand for workers would lead to an increase in wages, which both economists deemed inflationary. When the unemployment rate fell below 5.5 or 6%, or seemed headed in that direction, the Fed raised interest rates to inhibit economic growth and by extension, hiring. As a result of this strategy, the unemployment rate climbed to 9.6% in 1983...greatly enlarging the pool of people seeking work and substantially diminishing the power of most workers to demand an increase in wages and benefits. Wages flattened, and if workers wanted to buy more, they took out a loan, often in the form of credit card debt.
And the rest, unfortunately, is history. All but the wealthiest fell into an earnings tar pit that we have yet to drag ourselves from. The predators at the top of the food chain have been eating us alive ever since.

Hear more about this from Warren herself in this Berkeley lecture from March 2007: