Monday, October 3, 2011

The "G" in GOP stands for greed

FUN FACT: Today is your birthday!
Well, probably not. But just for fun, pretend you and your twin sister just turned a year older. It’s kind of a pain to share the special day with somebody else, but at least Aunt Tracy’s looking out for you.
Every year, Aunt Tracy sends you and your sister $100 to share. But here’s the best part: Aunt Tracy always loved you best, and every year she insists that you get 84 of those dollars. You’ve tried to justify this split in your head for years, but in truth there’s no logical reason. Plain and simple, she likes you better, and your sister only gets $16.
This strange form of gift-giving has been going on as long as you can remember, but things started to change right around 2008. Aunt Tracy is getting a little older, and her medical bills are starting to increase. As a result, she’s only sent you and your sister $90 for the past few years – yet still insisted you keep the same 84% share of the money.
But you were always Aunt Tracy’s favorite, and that’s why she’s come to you with an interesting ultimatum. You can either keep taking 84% of the gift, or agree to share some with your sister.
Your Aunt Tracy is fine with you keeping the same chunk of the birthday gift that you always have, but she’s issued a warning: as long as you refuse to share any more with your sister, the yearly gift will be smaller and smaller until Aunt Tracy finally runs out of money.
But if you agree to let your sister have $40, she’ll up the yearly gift to $120. You won’t get quite as much as you used to, but this will ensure that Aunt Tracy (with a little help from your parents, who were growing tired of the inexplicable inequity) can continue sending you money long into the future. The choice is easy, right?
One would think the second choice is common sense. But to most Republicans, this smacks of “class warfare.”
Aunt Tracy might not be real, but the analogy certainly is. The top 20% of wage-earners in the United States control 84% of the nation’s collective wealth, with the remaining 16% controlled by the rest of us. The bottom 50% of Americans, in fact, control a scant 0.3% of the pie. This kind of income inequality puts the U.S. in company with other such nations as Mexico, Rwanda, Mozambique and Serbia.
It’s no secret that our government is going broke. We’ve arrived at this point through a series of wars that were never paid for, and cheered on by warhawk blowhards who insisted that Iraqis and Afghanis would greet us as liberators, and gladly repay our efforts from their oil fields. For the first time in American history we fought a war funded by the nation’s Mastercard, and the bills are piling up.
Many of the warhawk blowhards who pushed for war all over the media in 2002-2003 belong to the top 20% - the ones who control most of our country’s money. They never wanted to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they still don’t. Instead, they’ve introduced a series of outright lies designed to placate an ignorant public while ensuring their chokehold on 84% of America’s money remains firm.
LIE #1: “Entitlement” spending is out of control
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has recently been touting his memoirs on the punditry circuit, famously argued that “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” His tenure with the Bush administration proved that Republicans took this practically as marching orders, as our country blindly plunged into two wars in the Middle East while simultaneously enacting massive tax cuts – something never before attempted in our nation’s history. The GOP stared reality in the face and refused to back down, never acknowledging the hidden tolls that unending wars and tax cuts would take on our economy.
When the Democrats won back the presidency with Obama’s election, suddenly deficit spending DID matter. But rather than acknowledge the mistakes made during the Bush era, Republicans have instead elected to attack social programs aimed at protecting our nation’s poor, such as Medicaid and Social Security.
Presidential hopeful Rick Perry lambasted Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme,” and the rest of the candidate field consistently refers to federal health care programs as “entitlements,” as if those who utilize them feel “entitled” to their benefits without contributing their own funds to the program. Rather than own their mistakes, Republicans would rather blame old, sick, and destitute Americans for dragging our country down, and enact cuts to social programs as punishment.
LIE #2: Tax increases are a “punishment” on success
U.S. Representative John Fleming (R-Louisiana) recently made headlines by complaining in an MSNBC interview about his yearly income. Evidently, after the money earned by his chain of Subway restaurants (about $6.3 million last year) was taxed and used to pay business expenses, he “only” had $600,000 left over to personally invest in his business as well as “feed his family” – this on top of the annual $174,000 he earns from being a Congressman. Any increase in his taxes, Fleming argued, would be too much of a burden given his current income.
When pressed by MSNBC host Chris Fleming that his position was not sympathetic to the average American making less than six figures a year, he was quick to blurt the second big Republican lie: “being successful in business is a virtue, not a vice.”
Notice the framing here. While Fleming’s statement isn’t false on its own, he’s made clear how most wealthy conservatives feel about taxing corporate profits – like it’s a vice that the government is attempting to curb, much like the taxing of liquor or cigarettes.
Wealthy businessmen of Fleming’s ilk truly believe that they are the golden cogs that keep our economy moving, and closing tax loopholes will leave them unable to create the new jobs we desperately need. You know, the same ones they exploit in order to establish factories and call centers overseas, and hire international workers to fill formerly American jobs at a fraction of the cost.
LIE #3: The way to increased revenue is to “broaden” the tax base
This cynical talking point has been a favorite among Republican presidential frontrunners. Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann, and numerous others have cried foul at the fact that so many Americans living off minimum wage salaries are exempt from paying income taxes. By “broadening” the tax base, they argue, and ensuring that everyone pays something (“even if it’s just a dollar!” Bachmann herself as argued), our revenue shortfalls will be magically solved.
No matter how you try to spin it, 20% of our country controls 84% of the wealth in our country. When nothing is done to relinquish that stranglehold, phrases like “broaden the tax base” are birthed – phrases that are simply code for “how can we squeeze every last penny out of the other 16%?”
Return to our Aunt Tracy analogy for one more moment. This is where the real class warfare lies. The real cynicism in all of this lies in the fact that the one with $84 dollars in his pocket refuses to admit that a dollar does not share the same value to him as it does to the one with $16. The “twin sister” who comes up short every year represents the vast majority of America, the ones who can’t afford to attend $30,000-per-plate fundraisers to make sure their interests are represented in Congress. They work hard every day to earn a salary that on average is 1/85th the size of what’s paid to CEOs in this country.
But you can’t argue with success. It seems to be working for Mexico and Rwanda.

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