by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
Whenever I pay taxes, I think of the fact that GE and Exxon paid no taxes in 2009, that Goldman Sachs pays under 2% taxes, and that billionaire hedge fund managers pay a tax rate of 15%. As Warren Buffett says, his secretary pays taxes at a higher rate than he does.
The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas talks about the face-to-face encounter with the Other that induces empathy and morality. Well, I feel like my little face is going face-to-face with the gnarly butt of big business. And there's about as much empathy to be gotten from that butt as a mouse gets from a snake.
Bizarrely, I hear everyone walking around saying America and its states are broke, while Wall Street is coining billions and criminally under-paying their taxes. I hear the GOP saying we don't have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. I see Obama extending the Bush tax cuts, which created no new jobs in eight years. And I'm thinking, I have so little hair left, what's the use of tearing out the last few?
Then it occurs to me that Americans must be one of four things, or a combination of all four:
b) stupid victims of learned helplessness.
c) stupidly apathetic to the point of cowardice.
d) stupid masochists.
d) plain stupid.
That includes you and me, dear reader.
Then I think of GOP governors giving tax breaks to big business and claiming teachers have to give up benefits so these governors can balance their state budgets. Teachers are getting paid too much. Not CEOs. Not Wall Street bankers. Not lawyers. Not doctors. Teachers.
Meanwhile, one teacher does more important work in one day than the entire board of vampire squid Goldman Sachs fraudsters do in their entire socially useless lives. Teachers should be paid more, not less.
Then I see the polls say Americans are concerned about jobs, jobs, jobs, but Washington is fighting over deficits, deficits, deficits. The GOP's deficit-cutting plan will cause a job loss of a million. Nobody in power is actually listening to what actual Americans want. The big guys are stuffing down Marie Antionette layer cake while one in six of West Virginia's population is on food stamps.
I watch 100,000 public service labor union members in Wisconsin protest to keep their collective bargaining rights, as they bargain away their benefits.
And I think: how pathetic.
They're not asking for rich people to pay more taxes, or for corporations to pay ANY taxes; they're asking to keep their collective bargaining rights.
That's like a guy being skinned alive asking his torturer not to skin his penis.
1. SHE WANTS TO TAKE YOUR COOKIE
Middle-class wages have remained essentially flat since the Reagan Revolution, while our productivity has improved dramatically. But CEO compensation has gone up by the hundredfolds. Between 2002 and 2007, the top 1% captured two thirds of income growth.
You've heard the big joke these days. A CEO is sitting down with a Tea Partier and a teacher, and there's a plate of 12 cookies on the table. The CEO takes 11 cookies for himself, and says to the Tea Partier: “Watch out for that teacher. She wants a piece of your cookie.”
Given the fact that Americans are really stupid, really cowardly, really masochistic and really helpless, how can we save ourselves from our predatory elite?
I don't think the Wisconsin protests will do it (what might help a little, is if they recall Governor Walker next year).
What this country needs is some kind of miraculous transplant of smarts and guts, which might lead to our citizens actually organizing themselves into a Cheese Party to take over the Democratic Party and scare them to act progressive for a change — like the Tea Party has taken over the GOP and scared them hard right.
But do we have the innate guts and smarts for this? For a little genetic contrast: if, for example, what is happening to us were happening to the French, what would be happening?
Let me tell you. We'd have Americans marching by the millions on Wall Street and burning Lloyd Blankfein in effigy. We'd have angry jobless people occupying the offices of Goldman Sachs from top to bottom. We'd have CEOs sitting locked up in their offices by their employees until they stopped outsourcing jobs. We'd have Tahrir Squares on the front lawns of Wall Street partners.
Unlike we Americans, the French people aren't cowards. They've got guts. They don't swallow crap on their knees on a hourly basis like we do, while our elite butt-bang us every minute of our waking days as we stoop to be conquered. When the French government screws up, the French citizens start tearing up the sidewalks and pelt the noggins of their cops with berets made of concrete.
If only we had a little French sass in our genetic makeup. But we don't. We're Americans. We just lie down and take it. For how long, how long, how long?
2. OBAMA HAS THE GUTS OF A FEATHER DUSTER
Forever, it seems.
Our leaders have no guts either. Obama didn't have the guts to go for the big stimulus of $1.3 trillion that his own economist Christina Romer told him was needed, and that Nobel-winning economists Krugman and Stiglitz said we needed in 2009. He settled for less than $800 billion with almost $300 billion wasted on tax remedies which were as stimulating as a road-killed armadillo is to a bunny rabbit on heat. So he came in with a third of what was needed, like a guy trying to impress a date by shlepping her to the local Burger King.
Then Obama didn't have the guts to start a WPA program to employ our unemployed construction workers to repair and rebuild our infrastructure, like FDR did when he created eight million jobs. Then Obama didn't have the guts to call off the costly war in Afghanistan immediately (a war that props up the second most corrupt state on earth after Somalia) but like a typical coward, he sucked up to the Pentagon by sending in more troops, and then he tried to brown-nose the rest of us by promising to pull the troops out in a year or two, or well … sometime. This July maybe. Soonish. Depends on what people think at re-election time in 2012. Whenever. Never mind the Wikileaks revelation about the $52 million of our money in cash that Afghan Vice-President Ahmed Zia Massoud was caught with when he visited the Arab Emirates where the banks are; $52 million which we let him keep.
Then Obama didn't have the guts to turn the BP oil spill into a national cause for green energy investment.
But don't blame just him. He's following a hallowed American tradition of no guts, no imagination and no smarts. A tradition stupendously honored by the gutless dumbasses we've consistently voted into the presidency for the last 30 years. Reagan, Bush One, Clinton, Bush Two and Obama … these gutless dumbasses combined don't add up to one cell in FDR's brain or one ab in FDR's guts.
3. THE ONE PLACE THAT OUR SMARTS AND GUTS COULD COME FROM
There's only one place that our guts and smarts might come from. And that's from our unemployed. Yes, being unemployed, like the prospect of being hanged, concentrates the mind wonderfully. And it makes you desperate, too, which can make you gutsy.
You never know what could happen when people get desperate.
In Tunisia, one guy set himself on fire because the government fined his little sidewalk fruit stall, confiscated his equipment and wouldn't give it back … and a short one month later, after some furious Facebook organizing and protests in which the oppressed populace suddenly grew balls, the dictator president who'd been in power for 23 years, fled the country to save his own suddenly-spooked-spermless balls. (He fled to our good friends the Saudis, whose citizens flew two planes into our World Trade Center, and who also took in Idi Amin.)
This amazing revolution happened in Tunisia without a single word about it in their media: the revolt happened exclusively via Facebook, until Al Jazeera TV got word. Now finally many of the Arab dictators, including the Saudi princes, are shitting bricks like ants trying to pass elephant turds, and making sure they've got a private jet standing by fueled up 24/7 with enough ready Swiss bank money to scarper the heck out of Dodge toute suite, just in case the same thing happens in their oppressed corner of oppressed Muslim Arabia. As has happened in the biggest Muslim nation in the Middle East, Egypt, where Mubarak didn't leave the country, leaving himself open to possible prosecution.
All this came about because one no-account dude got upset when the government swiped his fucking fruit stall.
Here in America, we have a jumped-up-from-nowhere-in-no-time Tea Party movement that has spooked all the GOP leaders to the lunatic right, to the point that John McCain claims he never was a party maverick.
These Tea Party people complain bitterly about Obama's spending. Funny, they never complained about Bush's spending; they didn't even exist then. So where did they spring from so suddenly? Who are these Tea Party people? Here's who: they're simply older white Republicans with time on their hands who had enough money to retire and watch Fox News, and who got worried that a black president was going to take their money and give it to poor people. A black guy got inaugurated and wham! that's all it took for the Tea Party to spring up like maggots on a dead dog, and change the moribund GOP overnight from a party of seemingly slightly unhinged run-of-the-mill lunatics into a party of off-the-wall gibbering crazed-from-sternum-to-cranium lunatics (the GOP's new vaunted brainiac, Paul Ryan, believes in privatizing Social Security, proving him more crazily brainless than a flatworm's anal orifice).
Change can happen real fast in today's internet-connected world.
4. HERE COME THE 99ERS
Here in America the fastest-growing new subgroup of Americans to watch out for isn't the Tea Party, but the so-called 99ers. These are folks who've been unemployed for 99 weeks, so their unemployment insurance has run out.
I'm thinking they could be our saviors — our Tunisians, so to speak. Listen up as I marshall my facts.
In June 2010, the Labor Department reported that there were an estimated 4.3 million 99ers. It's been estimated that there were 7 million at the end of 2010, and perhaps 4 million will be added in 2011. These are people who have no income: they are drawing down all their savings and losing their homes, and they will become tent city dwellers if they aren't already. If I were George Soros, I'd give them all tickets to go to Washington D.C. so they can make a huge tent city of millions right under the snot-nosed noses of our rulers.
You have to wonder what's going to happen when there are say 20 million of them. 20 million unemployed, desperate, penniless, homeless Americans. Or 40 million. Many of them will be young people who can't find a job, and have moved back in with their parents: young people in much the same position as can't-find-a-job young people in Tunisia and Egypt. Like the Tea Party people, these 99ers will have time on their hands. These 99ers already have their own websites.
Meanwhile, right on time, our punditry is currently banging on about the inequality of wealth, income and opportunity in America. Like the top 1% own 35% of our wealth, while the top 20% own 85% of our wealth, leaving the bottom 80% to squabble for the last 15%, which is rapidly moving away from them into the hands of the folks at the top.
Enough to give the 99ers some food for thought. Enough to turn their natural paranoia and fear of survival onto an enemy out there.
5. THE COMING CLASS WAR IN AMERICA
To make a long story short, the stage is being set — courtesy of our dumbass elite — for a good old-fashioned class war. The unemployed against the rest of us. And if the rest of us don't join the unemployed in a class war against the actual greedy-to-the-max 1% — no more than 1.3 million fat cats out of our working population — America will tear itself to pieces. Let's hope it will be 99% of us against 1%. That gives us a fighting chance of reversing the class war that the top 1% of don't-care fat cats have waged upon the rest of America — and won big with the help of our oh-so-caring government.
In the Great Depression — our only valid comparison point — there was indeed a class war. Same as now: the downtrodden against the greedy-to-the-max. The downtrodden were so trodden down, when the unemployment rate rose to over 19%, millions of Americans actually died of starvation. Yep, starvation … while businesses and the government were destroying “redundant” food.
Back in those days, in the spring and summer of 1932, there was a march on Washington of the so-called Bonus Army of 43,000 marchers (17,000 WW1 vets and their families and affiliates). The Bonus Army demanded immediate cash redemption of bonus certificates issued to the WW1 vets in 1924, that were to be paid out in 1945 (maybe the government figured they'd all be dead by then).
Think about the 99ers marching on Washington as the Bonus Army did, and in their case demanding immediate reinstatement of their unemployment benefits. Those 100,000 Wisconsin labor protesters will be a petite storm in a porcelain teacup compared to a tsunami of millions of marching 99ers.
Here's what happened to the Bonus Army. First the Washington Police tried to drive the Bonus Army out of their encampment. Two vets were killed, but the protesters stayed put. Then President Herbert Hoover called in the army. The Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur, commanded a bunch of cavalry and six tanks. In the ensuing battle, he drove the vets out of their encampment, killing another two of them. Their shelters and belongings were burnt to ashes. Yes, children, this happened in America, in our capital, when the closest thing to our present circumstances obtained in our dear land.
Finally, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR's veto and the Bonus Army got paid early.
6. THINK OF THE UNEMPLOYED AS GODZILLA
All this, plus other unrest, especially big strikes in 1934, led to the big changes of the New Deal, which was essentially a successful power grab by the people, wresting power away from our then-greedy-to-the-max elite. The people were significantly helped by the fact that a leading member of the upperclass switched allegiance, betrayed his class and joined the underclass in their power grab. He happened to be the President, and from his high perch FDR heard and heeded the voices of the damned. So huge changes happened — like Social Security, like the Glass-Steagall Act that hogtied the banksters, like labor unions getting strong enough to give workers a decisive voice, etcetera. And after the class war got settled in favor of the people, we had a good long comfortable ride, full employment for forty years after WW2, until that rich man's poodle Ronald Reagan started the comeback of the privileged rich, which led to trade unions being weakened, and immense productivity gains by workers not coming to them but going to the already rich, and the gutting of Glass-Steagall so the banksters were free to fleece us, and the removal of oversight over derivatives — both under that dumbass Clinton — and the lifting of the 12:1 leverage limit on Wall Street speculation under that even bigger dumbass Bush Two. Suddenly our economy went into boom-and-bust mode again after growing steadily for fifty years, and the Reagan Revolution turned the loss of the elite during the New Deal into a clear win for them.
Now our fat cats are occupying the fat catbird's seats again. And with the exception of Bernie Madoff, not a single big-time Wall Street bankster is in jail for Wall Street's worldwide Ponzi fraud. If just one of them — say, Lloyd Blankfein or Dick Fuld — was having his Hershey canal invaded on a regular basis by some over-muscled prison inmate, Wall Street would behave themselves ASAP. Instead, they're back to making million-dollar bonuses while their victims go jobless and homeless. Result: today our democracy is a fully-fledged plutocracy: government by the rich, of the rich, and for the rich. Wall Streeters have bought themselves a lifetime stay-out-of-jail-free card.
Not that Wall Street should rest all that easy. Their rip-off schemes have become more evident to more of the ripped-off. And when they wreck us again … well, folks, we may end up living in interesting times.
As our main competition, the Chinese, like to curse their enemies.
I'd say there's a fifty-fifty chance that within the next ten years, if a few good demagogues get on a few media-covered soapboxes, the unemployed may rise up like a mightily pissed Godzilla, and then the national fan could be hit by the sizable excrement like no fan has been hit by any excrement, and there will be bits and pieces of excrement flying flotsam-and-jetsam-like all over the place, all over you and me, dear reader, all over America, from sea to shining sea.
Even a worm like America can turn.
Personally, I can't wait. What with 400 channels and nothing on TV, I could do with an interesting time in my life. I wouldn't mind seeing the 99ers loot the headquarters of Goldman Sachs. I wouldn't mind seeing some of our rich crooks jump on their private jets and flee. In fact, I'd like to see some social and economic justice in our country for a change. How about you?