Submerged Concern

I recently discussed a Reuters poll that showed that more than 60% of Americans of all political stripes would like to see the E.P.A. maintain its present strength or increase it to help protect the environment. Indeed, polls have shown for years that Americans are concerned about the environment, a concern that usually appears among the top ten with astonishing consistency. And yet, as I have noted, when it comes to electing our representatives to Congress we tend to ignore their stand on the environment and show a much greater concern for such things as terrorism, defense, and the economy.  This has been a pattern for many years and it requires some explaining.

I’m not sure I can provide that explanation, but I can speculate — a thing I tend to be fairly good at, since it requires little research. I am guessing that the concern over the environment is indeed genuine. I don’t question it at all. But it is what I would call a “submerged concern.” That is, it’s there, but it doesn’t surface in any meaningful way. It will surface, of course, when we can no longer drink the water, breathe the air, or are forced to pay two week’s salary for groceries.  But until then, since it is not as pressing for most folks as, say, being able to make the payment on the new SUV, it will remain submerged.

Much of our tendency to keep the concern submerged is fear, of course. None of us wants to think about the dire consequences of continued attacks on the earth which supports us and the air that we require. And none of us wants to make sacrifices. God forbid that we should drive more economical cars and grab a sweater when we are chilly rather than turning up the thermostat! But some of it, at least, is due to our unreasonable conviction that no matter how great the problem someone will solve it. We have blind faith in science — while at the same time we question the veracity of the scientists who tell us that we are destroying the planet. (No one said folks worry about such things as consistency — the minds of so many of us resembling in many ways a rat’s nest of confused bits and pieces of truth, half-truth, and blatant falsehoods — all of which are bound together by wishful thinking. It’s the only kind of thinking a great many people are capable of, sad to say.)

In any event, we are faced with the undeniable fact that a great many people in this society repeatedly elect to Congress men and women who are paid to vote for Big Oil and whose reelection depends on continuing to support programs and people who are hell-bent on taking as much plunder out of the earth as humanly possible and leaving it to future generations to clean up the mess — while they gasp for air and drink Kool-Aid made up of reconditioned toilet water, presumably. We fault those folks in Congress, as we should. They really should put the well-being of their constituents before their own political party and their own re-election. But, judging form the past, this will not happen as long as the cushy jobs in Washington pay well (and the representatives see to that) and the voters are stupid enough to keep them in office. And the fault that this is allowed to happen is our own.

The founders made it clear that the idea was to rotate the representatives every couple of years so there would be new blood and new ideas. George Washington was smart enough to know that the President, at least, should have term limits. At that time the jobs didn’t pay very well and involved a lot of work for men who had more important things to get back to at home. But slowly and surely representation in Congress turned into a full-time, high-paying  job and those in office found that they were making huge piles of money and really preferred to keep things that way. Voting for clean energy and against Big Oil simply doesn’t fit into that scheme. This is why there should be term-limits, of course, but more importantly, it is why we should vote out of office those whose only concern is for themselves and their own well-being. What will it take to wake enough people up to the very real dangers we all face in the not-so-distant future? That is the question!

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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.