Thursday, February 17, 2011

Decency, Honesty and Common Sense Have Left the Room

I’d like to mention a few things about the American past – which feels particularly important at a time when many Americans have no sense of history, even when it’s fairly recent.

After Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 by the vast silent majority that thought Jimmy Carter was the root of all evil, he instituted a new era of “trickle down” economics, the theory that if rich folks at the top of the food chain (individuals and companies) do well, a good portion of their bounty will trickle down to the rest of us. It didn’t work, never happened. But through both Democratic and Republican administrations since Regan, “trickle down” has been the active policy.

In addition, it was Regan who began chipping away at core US revenues – taxes – and also did something that has important ramifications to this day: he included all those in military service among those who were employed in the country. This created a greatly lowered perception of how many Americans were unemployed. That policy has never changed, so when we’re told now that unemployment is below 10%, it doesn’t reflect the actual number of those unemployed. Additionally, unemployment statistics don’t count those who are unemployed but no longer receiving government Unemployment Benefits, or those who are underemployed: persons working for far less than they used to earn, whether through one fulltime job or several part-time jobs.

Lastly (for the purposes of this discussion), it was Reagan who initiated great changes in Welfare benefits, a policy maintained and furthered by Clinton and the Bush Dynasty. That’s because there are still millions of Americans who genuinely believe that Welfare is a gravy train that permits the “so-called poor” to buy Cadillacs and huge-screen TVs. Welfare benefits vary from state to state. New York has long been considered (and still is) among the most generous. Just as a reality check, I want to acknowledge here that I was on Welfare (for the first and only time in my life) for a few months in 2004 as I awaited permanent Social Security Disability benefits to come through. On Welfare, my rent was paid, I got $150 per month in Food Stamps, received $67 every two weeks for all other expenses, and Medicaid was my health insurance. Oh how the good times rolled!

And speaking of Bushes, it was #43 who turned the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton into the monumental deficit we have now. He did this by never including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in his budgets; he fought those wars off the books, thereby essentially bankrupting the nation. Simultaneously, he provided enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and virtually stripped the financial industry of all pesky government regulations. Despite recent “reforms,” the tax cuts are still in place and banks & Wall Street are having a banner year. Also celebrating their good fortune are oil companies. Exxon/Mobile, for example, earned $19 billion in profits in 2010 and paid $0 (yes, zero) in Federal taxes. Apparently, this is acceptable.

Now, our assorted leaders are creating federal, state and local budgets. Since taxes has become a dirty word and tax increases are now deemed as heinous as child molestation, the Feds, the States and the Cities, all of whom are broke, are proposing budgets that totally eschew tax increases and call for service/benefit cuts in areas that make no sense in a country that prides itself on being the greatest in the world – deep cuts in benefits for indigent women and children, education, police and fire protection, infrastructure repair, all forms of R&D, the arts and public broadcasting, and on and on and on. At every governmental level, the message seems to be “let them eat cake,” except we’re not supposed to eat cake, because we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic…but that’s okay, since nothing produces weight loss like starvation.

Ladies and gentlemen – whoever you are out there – we are living in an age of Unparalleled Stupidity, the imposition of Puritan values, and an undeclared but very real Class War. I’m speechless with incredulity and concern. So I ask you as I ask myself: Whataya gonna do about it? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

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