Waiting For Plan C

As the country lurches toward the fiscal cliff an army of Tea Party supporters has been on the phones putting pressure on Republican representatives to reject House Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” which was supposed to help stave off the inevitable. Bear in mind that Plan B would have, in effect, involved raising taxes on people making over $1 million and that was considered unacceptable by the Tea Party faithful. They think they can save the economy by raising taxes not on themselves but on the dwindling middle class and cutting programs such as health care and food stamps — but NOT “defense” (which is a sacred cow). Their plan is absurd, but this doesn’t deter them in the least.

One of the more disturbing facets of the fight to avoid the fiscal cliff is the amount of pressure Tea Party groups can put on the Congress. Clearly, this group is made up of the 20% of those in this country who control 93% of the wealth. As a story in HuffPost noted recently, referring to the Club for Growth, a powerful Tea Party affiliate:

“Members of Congress know we’re not afraid to get involved in a primary,” Club for Growth’s communications director, Barney Keller, told HuffPost on Thursday night. “Members know that the first thing we do is look to our scorecard, and decide who is a pro-growth vote and who isn’t. And we felt that to vote in favor [of Boehner’s plan] would be to vote for a tax increase, and against economic growth”

Talk about arrogant: if you want to keep your job you will play ball with us. And why wouldn’t the members of Congress want to “play ball”? Where else could they make the kind of money they make for doing little or nothing and voting themselves pay raises whenever they feel like it? It’s the gravy train and they want to stay on it. They are indeed single-minded in their determination to remain in office. You can’t really blame them. As HuffPost noted:

Keller was unapologetic about Club for Growth’s impact on congressional races. “The number one thing people in Congress fear is losing their jobs,” he said. “So we don’t lobby members, we help educate them. And if you look at the rising stars of the [Republican] party, it’s a lot of people who were supported by” Club for Growth.

Why do I get the feeling as I read this that the man is smirking? In any event, the notion that we can work out of the economic mess we are in by raising taxes on the dwindling middle classes and protecting the wealthy — that this will promote “economic growth” — borders on delusion. It can’t be done. To be sure, some programs will have to be cut, including (one would hope) defense spending. But the wealthy who pay very little of their income in taxes must start to pay their share or matters will continue to worsen. One does wonder if they really care.

The wealthy on average pay somewhere around 35% of their income in taxes — though exact figures are hard to come by in light of all the loopholes in the tax laws and the ways the rich have found to hide and protect their wealth. Mitt Romney, for example, was reported to have paid a mere 14% last year in income taxes on a very large income. But when we think that this country was at its most prosperous just after the two World Wars when the wealthy were paying a large portion of their income in taxes — as high as 91% in 1946! — the unwillingness of the wealthy to pay the piddling amount they are being asked to pay, even with Boehner’s anemic plan, tells us more than we want to know about their commitment to the growth of this economy.

Even if the wealthy were asked to pay as much as 70% of their income, they would still retain $300,000 on an income of $1 million. You could somehow manage to feed your family on that amount, and the wealthy make considerably more than $1 million a year. Stare at the flag and put your hand to your heart, but heaven forbid that you part with some of your money to help out your country. This is “patriotism” spelled  f-u-c-k-y-o-u. It stinks.

A Disquieting Parallel

I read with some dismay the story about the athletes from North Korea who have had success and will therefore be welcomed home — and about those who fail and are punished by their government when they return back home. In part, the story reads as follows:

International sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, a decaying economy and a defective food distribution system have left almost a third of its 24 million people poor and hungry and it has few friends besides its neighbor China.

The gold medalists are hoping their feats will cover the country in glory and please its people and one man in particular – new leader Kim Jong-un, who only recently took over as head of the family dynasty on the death of his father Kim Jong-il.

For good reason: a life of luxury awaits the Olympians as reward for glorifying the Stalinist state. Elite athletes receive cash, cars, houses and the coveted membership of the Workers Party of Korea.. . .

The consequences of sporting failure are far less palatable.

The coach of the national soccer team, who lost all three of their 2010 World Cup games, was reportedly expelled from the Worker’s Party and forced to become a builder for his “betrayal”.

Now we certainly do not punish losers in this country — unless vanishing from the public eye can be regarded as punishment. They are quickly forgotten. But there are some alarming parallels between a country that chooses to ignore its poor and disadvantaged and our country.  Bear in mind that North Korea is in serious trouble because of the failure of its food production and distribution plus the sanctions it has brought down on itself because of its intransigence regarding the continued development of nuclear weapons. The country has thousands of hungry and out-of-work citizens who barely manage to stay alive because the country has put a premium — that is, spending the major portion of their income — on the development of weapons of war.

Therein lies the parallel. No, we are not a Communist (that is, Stalinist) country. But we glory in the gold our champions win (we also pay the winners, big time), relegate our losers to oblivion, and our government has also chosen to put its focus on the development of weapons of war at a time when a two-year drought in the Midwest threatens to further damage farm production, thereby making food more costly at a time when thousands are out of work, and the numbers of hungry and homeless people in this country grows perceptibly.

I do not wish to push the parallel farther than it will go. But the fact that there is any sort of parallel between a supposedly “free” country and one that holds its citizens in chains of intimidation and repression is deeply disturbing. The fact that there are thousands of wealthy people in this country who endorse their government’s decision to continue to spend money on “defense” while it ignores the plight of their neighbors —  neighbors who have no place to live and very little food to put on the table, or who have to work two jobs at minimum wage (if they can find work) to support a hungry family — is also deeply disturbing.

We talk about the 1% who control the wealth in this country but we tend to ignore the plight of  the 1% who are homeless, who sleep in their family van or in a cardboard box, and worry where their next meal is coming from — an average of 842,000 in a given week. And there are thousands more who are not categorized as “homeless” but who live in temporary shelters and suffer from lack of adequate food; 46 million Americans are on food stamps. We call them “bums” but they are people like you and me who have been caught in the “trickle down” [sic] of wealth from the rich to the very rich. It is not something we can be proud of. And given the fact that these people and the government they support continue to build weapons of war while their fellow citizens suffer and they look for another social program to cut is a somewhat alarming parallel between our country and a country that we rightly criticize for being cruel and inhumane.

No, we don’t punish those who lose athletics contests. Not really. But we punish those who cannot keep their heads above water in life and we call them “losers” when it is we who are the losers.