Cold-Hearted Politics

In a “secret” taping of a speech to a group of fundraisers which everyone and his dog has heard about by now, Mitt Romney revealed a side of himself that he might not want us to see. As I say this, I am aware that he makes no apologies so I guess we must conclude that he is proud of his lack of concern for nearly half of this country’s voting public — the poor half who “pay no taxes.”  Consider the two following paragraphs from Yahoo News if you will:

[In explaining his position] Romney seems to be referring to the estimated 47 percent of Americans who did not owe federal income taxes in 2011 because their incomes were so low that they qualified for a tax credit, or because they didn’t work at all. Last year, 22 percent of people who didn’t owe income taxes were elderly people on Social Security, and an additional 17 percent were students, disabled people or the unemployed. More than 60 percent of the group were low-income workers, many of whom qualified for the child tax credit or the earned income tax credit. (These workers did pay payroll taxes for Social Security and other programs.)

Romney campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho released a statement about the video Monday evening. “Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy,” she said. “As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney’s plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs.”

The second paragraph was written by a Romney “spokeswoman,” not Mitt himself. She gets paid to help Mitt get his foot out of his mouth. It’s getting to be a full-time job! But Mitt sticks by his guns. He cares not in the least about the poor in this country — we must believe this because this is what he keeps saying.

There are a number of problems with this scenario, of course, beginning with the cold heart that leads anyone to brag about the fact that he doesn’t care about the many poor people in this country — despite what his spokeswoman says. And it’s not just the poor vote he ignores, his policies are also designed to bypass the poor and favor the wealthy. But the attitude reflected here is not peculiar to Mitt Romney, sad to say. It is shared by a great many other people who see the poor as bloodsucking leeches who simply take and take and never give back. These stereotypes are more prevalent than we might like to admit in a country in which millions of Christians embrace the New Testament which preaches compassion for the poor.

But more to the point is the fact that the stereotype is built on a half-truth. To be sure, there are those in this country who have become dependent on the largess of the government and who will vote for a Democratic candidate in the hope that they continue to receive benefits from the large hand of the government. But there are also many poor — growing numbers in fact — who are in want not through any fault of their own, but because things simply didn’t go their way in an economy that is struggling.

But even if this were not the case, how can we condemn those in need for wanting help from their government when so many of the very wealthy receive even greater handouts in the form of tax breaks, bailouts, and subsidies that allow them to expand and protect their immense wealth? Talk about “paying no taxes”! And the people in this group are able to directly affect the way the government is elected in ways the poor simply cannot — by buying themselves politicians who are then obliged to see to it that the rich be allowed to continue to amass great wealth and avoid paying their fair share of taxes to help the poor and educate our children. Those people Mitt apparently cares about.

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Repercussions

As readers of my blog will have noted, I am a staunch supporter of clean energy. In fact, I selected a number of “heroes” on the basis of their contributions to saving the planet and have strong feelings about the unfettered greed that is Big Oil and giant corporations generally. But a New York Times article recently raised an interesting issue that is worth reflection. As the solar industry grows and prospers those who cannot afford solar energy are paying a price. Those who are able to install solar collectors on their homes and businesses are now able to sell some of the energy back to the power companies. But this cuts into the profits of the power companies who are starting to complain — and pass their losses along to the remaining customers. As the article says, focusing on a particular solar customer,

Mr. Burman says the credit system, known as net metering, is a “very nice benefit” for him. But it’s not such a good deal for his utility, Pacific Gas and Electric.

As he and tens of thousands of other residential and commercial customers switch to solar in California, the utilities not only lose valuable customers that help support the costs of the power grid but also have to pay them for the power they generate. Ultimately, the utilities say, the combination will lead to higher rate increases for everyone left on the traditional electric system.

In a word, as those at the top end benefit, those on the bottom suffer. It’s an old story and a sad one. There are a number of things that can be said about the problem, however,  starting with the obvious point that the situation is temporary and eventually, if we hang in there, the benefits will be passed along to all. Renewable energy is a benefit not only to customers, but to everyone on this planet. But the notion that some should make sacrifices now to benefit all later on is suspect — especially when a few benefit immediately and many of those who cannot afford solar panels are made to pay increased energy prices. It’s a certainty that the energy companies aren’t going to take a loss!

Of course, a great many people will claim they cannot afford to install solar panels though they simply have different priorities. Higher energy costs will provide an incentive for those people to do the right thing. But there are many who really cannot afford the conversion and those are the people who are being hurt by the move to solar and wind. There is, of course, a solution.

As things now stand, Big Oil gets anywhere from $10 billion to $52 billion a year in subsidies from the U.S. government (estimates vary).  I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t really matter. Suppose those subsidies, or even a part of them, were transferred to the clean energy industry!  Unfortunately, as we all know, those in Congress who might vote to change these subsidies are in the pockets of the oil and gas industries and aren’t about to change their thinking. In fact, President Obama failed recently to cut $4 billion from the subsidies. But if those in Congress somehow could be prevailed upon to do so, those subsidies might be shifted to the clean energy industry to allow companies like Pacific Gas and Electric to maintain current costs to customers with low incomes while the solar industry gets a toe-hold and is able to bring its costs down to levels affordable by all. In other words, the subsidies that now benefit Big Oil could actually benefit the country as a whole. The power companies could cut their losses by buying into clean energy (hey, we’re imagining here!).

Wouldn’t that be something? A government that works for us instead of them! Do I think such a thing will ever happen? Of course not. But I can dream, can’t I?