Not everyone has a steak in today's economy


America's wealthy are enjoying a never-ending bowl of steak, apparently:

Darden Restaurants, the Orlando-based purveyor of sit-down food chains, announced its fourth-quarter earnings on Friday, revealing that some of its restaurants have done much better than others in the past few months.

What was the major difference between success and failure at its restaurants? The diners. Restaurants that serve the well-off are thriving, while those that serve the rest of us are struggling, in a microcosm of the broader economy.

Struggling are Olive Garden and Red Lobster, which are largely geared toward middle-class customers, who have been squeezed during the recession and slow recovery. Families with young children cut back on restaurant spending during the downturn, and they haven’t come back, according to a recent survey by restaurant research firm NPD Group.

But someone's doing OK!

On the other hand, at Darden’s Capital Grille, where most dinner entrees fetch more than $40 each, same-store sales increased 4 percent over the quarter. That makes sense, too: Over the past few years, the kinds of people who can afford a fancy dinner have seen their incomes grow, even as everybody else's incomes have stayed flat.

On one hand, I find this story interesting -- but it also feels like I've read it six times before. Income inequality is getting a bit like the those Geico commercials that were airing a few months ago...."everybody knows that." So why don't we do something? For one thing, it's not an easy problem to solve, and even it we did know the answers it would take time to get anywhere back near the 1950s and 1960s, when the American middle class was flourishing.

But the real reason there's no political solution is that the political system is rigged -- and the easiest way for the 1 Percent to fix this particular game is to buy off both teams. It was typical today that when a pension-fund manager got dinged for making improper "pay-to-play" campaign contributions, they were to a conservative Republican, Gov. Corbett, and to a liberal-ish Democrat, Mayor Nutter. The donors could care less about their ideas. It's all about the influence.

And these days, it's the Democrats looking a lot more hypocritical, because they're the ones claiming they'll crack down on Wall Street's abuses while taking their money under the table. Just tonight, I've read articles about former President (and possible future First Man) Bill Clinton taking $200,000 from the Vanguard Group to give one speech (!!), a major Democratic donor who's under indictment and may have (accidentally?) killed someone while he was at it (!!), and a lobbyist friend of President Obama who got a job in the administration and may have gone to bat for a huge megabank.

I also read this:

In a conversation on civil rights on Thursday, Surpeme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor offered an ominous forecast for America amid ever-rising income inequality.

Addressing the American Constitution Society in Washington, Sotomayor warned that “[a]s the wealth difference grows, we’re going to see, I suspect, many of the problems other countries have, the unrest other countries have,” the National Law Journal reported Thursday.

The remark was a response to her fellow speaker, civil rights leader Theodore Shaw, who said that preserving America's social mobility is “one of the most, if not the most, challenging issues of the 21st century.”

Sotomayor listed factors contributing to the country's wealth gap, focusing particularly on the rising cost of education: "[T]here’s a lot more of kids … across the spectrum who no longer have the hope to attend the schools we did.”

Well....yeah. But there's only only one reason that people take to the streets to protest -- especially in this country. It's when there's no way to step inside a voting booth and throw the bums out of office. Republicans no longer even trying to pretend that their constituency isn't the mega-wealthy, but the rich have also bought off most of the influential Democrats as an insurance policy. One day the never-ending bowl of pasta is going to run out..and then what?