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January 3, 2004, 10:20 A.M.

I have just returned from several days in Miami, Florida where I was on a sailing trip with my son. While he was sailing, I had time to look around a bit and what I saw confirmed some observations that I have made over the past several years.

First, the line between obscene wealth and abject poverty was bright. Fabulous motor and sailing yachts with price tags well into the 7 figures were moored within sight of the south Florida equivalent of cardboard boxes. Boats, barely floating and definitely not seaworthy were home to a large class of people struggling to survive. To me, this was just a graphic visual depiction of the growing disparity in our country between the haves and the have nots.

Second, the completely different culture confronting us in Florida suggested that our country is far less of a melting pot and far more pluralistic than the new jingoism of the Bush administration would have us believe. The pop culture of the 50s, 60s and 70s is giving way to regional and local pockets of cultural isolation with little concern for the greater good, or awareness of a national identity. Right now we are united by the common fear of terrorism, and the need for security, rather than common economic, cultural or nationalistic goals.

Finally, the middle class is in decline; the juxtaposition of wealth against poverty I saw in Miami highlighted the withering of the middle class. Of course, I was in a vacation destination, but given the prices, and taxes, I encountered, not many traditional middle class families were in evidence.

Like the Roman Empire before us, our country is faced with an increasingly diverse, pluralistic and self-centered population. We lack a moral center as evidenced by our recent scandals in banking, business and government. Seems like I, Claudius ought to be required reading in our schools. Those unfamiliar with the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.


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