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eyes on the U.S.

From Near And Far, Bidding Farewell To The American Dream

That uniquely New World attitude that anyone can achieve success appears to be fading into history. Seen from Peoria to Paris, the so-called "Great Gatsby Curve" paints a picture of the United States with growing inequalities and stagnat

Foreclosing on the dream of a better life (Kevin Dooley)
Foreclosing on the dream of a better life (Kevin Dooley)
Claire Gatinois

Is the American Dream obsolete? Has the promise that people can "make it" in the United States better than anywhere else on the planet become nothing more than an illusion? That cruel conclusion, which seems almost to dishonor the world's biggest economy, was punctuated this February inside Barack Obama's White House.

On page 177 of the President's annual report to Congress on the state of the economy, there is mention of the "Great Gatsby Curve." F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, which so masterfully paints a picture of bourgeois vanity in 1920s America, has given its name to a graph on which data measuring the degree of income inequality is charted on the horizontal axis, and the link between a father's income and that of his descendants – a barometer of social mobility – on the vertical.

What does this curve tell us? No matter what the frame of reference of the person examining it, its bottom line is unambiguous: the United States – not supposedly fusty Europe -- rates lowest in terms of this relationship in the distribution of riches and social mobility. Yes, Paris Hilton's America ranks way below the Scandinavian countries, but also below France, New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom, and others.

French economist and historian Thomas Piketty has already demonstrated out how America's wealth is as distorted as it is vast. But should you discuss this particular matter with an American citizen, you will be told that "the rich are rich because they deserve it." The quasi Communist idea of taking from the rich to give to those in need is not a fair reward for talent.

If an American is tenacious enough, shouldn't he or she be able some day to make it to the top of the heap? "No pain, no gain," as they say. But the Great Gatsby Curve says No. So much so that in the United States, as elsewhere, "having talent" may just be another way of saying "having inherited money."

Buffett, Barack and Mitt

The American system of education, at one time considered to be "the great equalizer," is partly responsible for this state of affairs. A recent study conducted in Michigan and quoted by the New York Times shows that the discrepancy in performance levels between rich and poor students has risen by 50% since the 1980s – which means that wealth, more than race, is what makes the difference in school.

What now? The hopes of American workers of "making it" are waning. But the crisis and high unemployment, both factors that have a compressing effect on salaries, cannot explain everything. On page 65 of the President's report is the "other most commented-on graph": a curve showing that, since the 2000s, American workers are being increasingly badly paid as businesses amass larger and larger profits. The result, as Evariste Lefeuvre of the Natixis corporate and investment bank in New York points out, is that the profits of American companies amounting to 13% of GDP are at a historic high.

That this subject is addressed by the President's report in an election year is no accident. By focusing on social inequality, the document offers supposedly irrefutable arguments that open the door for the Democrats to push a redistributive fiscal agenda that flirts with populism.

After praising the "Buffett Rule," which takes its name from American billionaire Warren Buffett's call for the super-rich like him to be taxed more, President Obama goes on to attack high business profits – an audacious, even dangerous thing to do in a country where freedom of enterprise is sacred. So as not to make it too much of a shock he put another face on it, so it looked like a reduction of taxes on profits from 35% to 28%. What's actually behind it, however, is a plan to get rid of most of the fiscal loopholes used by multinational companies to pay less taxes.

While this plan has no chance whatsoever of being approved by the Congress, with its Republican majority in the House of Representatives, it has however managed to reveal that American companies hardly ever pay their full tax share – a revelation certain to unleash its share of bitterness. And indeed: just two days later, on February 24, the USA Today daily published a feature on extreme poverty in the United States, reporting that the number of families living on less than $2 a day had more than doubled in 15 years, going from 636,000 in 1996 to 1.5 million in 2011.

But the argument most favorable to Barack Obama may well lie with the man he could be facing in the general election: Republican candidate Mitt Romney. A former bigwig in the investment firm Bain Capital, Romney is a walking example of American fiscal injustice. He pays 15% tax on the fortune he made thanks to his investment fund – which puts him in the category of businessmen who pay lower tax rates than their own secretary.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Kevin Dooley

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Russian Orthodox Church Has A Kremlin Spy Network — And Now It's Spreading Abroad

The Russian Orthodox Church has long supported Russia’s ongoing war effort in Ukraine. Now, clergy members in other countries are suspected of collaborating with and recruiting for Russian security forces.

Photo of Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Wiktoria Bielaszyn

WARSAW — Several countries have accused members of the Russian Orthodox clergy of collaborating with Russian security services, pushing Kremlin policy inside the church and even recruiting spies from within.

On Sept. 21, Bulgaria deported Russian Archimandrite Vassian, guardian of the Orthodox parish in Sofia, along with two Belarusian priests. In a press release, the Bulgarian national security agency says that clergy were deported because they posed a threat to national security. "The measures were taken due to their actions against the security and interests of the Republic of Bulgaria," Bulgarian authorities wrote in a statement, according to Radio Svoboda.

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These reports were also confirmed by Russia's ambassador to Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova, who told Russian state news agency TASS that the priests must leave Bulgaria within 24 hours. “After being declared persona non grata, Wassian and the other two clerics were taken home under police supervision to pack up their belongings. Then they will be taken to the border with Serbia" she said.

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