THE NEWS: Paul Ryan says President Obama's proposed "Buffett Rule" - which would introduce a higher minimum tax for those making more than $1 million a year - amounts to class warfare. Obama, on the other hand, says it's not.
THE PROVOCATION: Obama has to be the statesman. The diplomat.
Paul Ryan doesn't, and neither do I.
You'll probably never hear me say this again, but Ryan is right. Sort of. Maybe the Buffett Rule is class warfare, and maybe it's not, but make no mistake about this: We are in the middle of a class war, and we have been for years now. The only reason many of us haven't recognized it is that it's so one-sided. No mortars are being fired and no bombs are being dropped. Even the battle lines are invisible because those of us under siege are too distracted by decoys and ambushes to even guess where they might be. Indeed, many of us have been providing aid and comfort to the enemy without even knowing it.
But who can blame us? We're up against a propaganda machine that's better funded and more sophisticated than anything Hitler or Stalin ever dreamed up. It's something more akin to Orwell's 1984, where clocks strike 13 and 2+2=5. Everything's askew, or even entirely backward. Instead of investing in consumers so they can drive the economic engine - as they historically do - we're investing in the producers ... who promptly jack up prices (because they can afford to do so) and pocket the profits for themselves. That's why they call it "voodoo economics."
As a friend of mine put it recently, "The ironic part is that the rich, and the economy in general, benefit from those at the bottom having more money. Give someone at the bottom of the economic scale more money, and it gets pumped right back into the system occupied by big corporations that are owned by ... hey, rich people! Trickle-down economics doesn't work, but trickle-up sure does."
There's a good reason trickle-down (or supply-side) economics is such a colossal failure: Greed. The corporate backers of this "theory" are keen on perpetuating a single fallacy: The more money they make, the more they'll reinvest in their workers, in their customers, in the economy.
But after a certain point, the producers have made so much money that they no longer have any incentive to produce. They have far more than what they need to run their businesses effectively. So instead of boosting wages for workers or cutting prices for consumers, they stick the money in offshore investments and pay high-priced attorneys to find tax loopholes that can keep it safe. Their money grows while their staffing shrinks. In the long term, it's a terrible business strategy. But for a CEO who plans on working two or three more years and then "retiring" with a massive severance package, it all makes perfect sense.
There's a reason why huge CEO salaries are bad for business: They encourage the people at the top to think short term. Why shouldn't a CEO make as much money as possible during a few short years, then retire and live off the proceeds? There's no incentive not to. Even if he runs the company into the ground, the board will pay him a hefty chunk of cash to simply disappear. It doesn't take an economist to figure out the incentives present in this warped model. It's simple human nature. But if you want the numbers, here they are:
The average CEO compensation at Fortune 500 companies this year is $11.3 million - nearly 247 times as much as the average household income in the United States.
I'm tired of supply-siders whining that we, the average Joes and Josephines, are a bunch of commies trying to separate these poor, beleaguered souls from their hard-earned greenbacks. Or that we're a collection of welfare cheats who'd rather lie around watching the NFL and NASCAR than getting out to earn an honest living.
Sorry, guys, but that's not me. And even if it were, I'd feel a lot less guilty about taking a little bit of government money to make ends meet than taking a lot of government money I don't need - via tax breaks and loopholes - while I'm busy firing a bunch of hardworking stiffs who have neither the money nor political clout to fight back. Yet fight back we must, or the fat cats will continue to pillage and plunder their way through our hard-earned money by jacking up the price on everything from gasoline to prescription drugs to college tuition.
Yes, listen to Paul Ryan. We are in the middle of a class war. And he's just tipped the hand of those in power to tell the rest of us exactly what we're up against. We'd better start paying attention. This isn't a fight we've enlisted in. We've been drafted - by the enemy.
And the sad part is, many of us are serving willingly. It's testimony to the power of the enemy's propaganda machine that we've swallowed the "trickle-down" dogma hook, line and sinker. In the past, populist politicians would emerge to challenge the establishment. Sometimes, they were crooks themselves, out to ride their charisma and demagoguery straight into the halls of power. (Huey Long comes to mind.) But in other cases, they were honest crusaders fed up with being kicked around by people who could buy and sell them as fast - and with as much remorse - as a Wall Street speculator.
|Statue of Huey Long|
These days, however, the wealthy have co-opted the protesters. Wall Street and Corporate America have diverted their anger away from the Enrons and the Madoffs and the BPs by focusing it instead onto the government - the one institution powerful enough to offer them some protection. The tragedy, or beauty, of such an arrangement, depending on one's point of view, is obvious. It simultaneously strengthens the corporate side and weakens the government watchdog. Who benefits? Corporations, of course. Their vehicle for doing so?
The tea party. A group that is, in fact, nothing more than a pawn of people with far more money and far more clarity of purpose. The tea party has, on behalf of its corporate patrons, harnessed the kind of anger once directed toward sweatshop owners, monopolies and corrupt bankers. And it has redirected that anger toward "big government." Where is the populist rage over multimillionaire CEOs hoarding cash for bloated corporations? Over mass layoffs by these same corporate Scrooges? Over oil companies that watch people die and pollute the oceans while they drill for profits? I'll tell you where it is. It's been siphoned away by the tea party and used against a government trying desperately to repair the damage from previous corporate schemes that brought the economy to the brink of collapse - and beyond.
We let it happen once, and now we're about to give the tea party permission to let it - to make it - happen again.
Because we don't realize we're already in a class war - we're oblivious to the signs. The shrinking middle class. The widening gap between rich and poor. The high unemployment rate. Shouldn't this be enough to tip us off about what's going on under our very noses? Apparently not. And while we sit here, oblivious to the war that is raging all around us, our most potent weapon in this fight has been all but neutralized. That weapon is the right to vote. And it's been diluted by a Supreme Court that views campaign money as "freedom of speech" and treats corporations as though they were flesh and blood. The absurdity of such statements should be self-evident, but it has been lost on justices appointed by presidents beholden to corporate interests. Presidents who, in a further irony, have cast themselves as defenders of the Constitution.
They're the very people trying to undermine it. And we've got to stop them before it's too late. We are in a class war, ladies and gentlemen. And we're losing. Badly.
The sooner we come to our senses, the better chance we have of saving America.