In this edition: Okay, Buffalo Springfield, NOW I get it. Poor makers and rich takers. If we can’t pull them from their expensive cars and torch the cars while cheering in an unruly mob can we at least tax them appropriately?
For What It’s Worth
There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Tellin’ me, I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds
Gettin’ so much resistance from behind
I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down
— Written by Stephen Stills, Recorded by Buffalo Springfield (1967)
Okay, so that song is about Vietnam war protests, right? Err… sorry, no. What it is ain’t exactly clear.
Though often mistaken for an anti-war song, it was the first of the Sunset Strip Riots which inspired Stephen Stills to write For What It’s Worth. Sunset Strip Riots? From 1966 through the early 1970s a series of protests occurred in Hollywood. Music clubs like Pandora’s Box and Whiskey A Go-Go were drawing thousands–mostly students, many under 18. The resulting noise and traffic issues caused police to enforce a 10:00 curfew for teens under 18. The law had been on the books but was not usually enforced. The rock and rollers considered this an affront to civil liberties and gathered for a protest that got out of hand, resulting in arrests and property damage.
Now I have a better understanding of the second verse’s “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” and the third verse’s “mostly say hooray for our side.” I always wondered why the commitment was so diluted and that explains it, the cause was not as righteous as others of the time. This was about young rockers facing a curfew not civil rights or the Vietnam war.
In 1966 James Meredith, the first black to attend the University of Mississippi was shot while on a march through that State. Congress defeated the 1966 Civil Rights Bill that would have ended discrimination in home sales and rentals. It had only been two years since 3 civil rights workers had been lynched in Mississippi. In Vietnam, troop strength had escalated to 360,000 soldiers. More than 5,500 Americans were killed that year. In antiwar protests, 20,000 to 25,000 marched in New York, and demonstrations took place in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Oklahoma City and in other countries, Ottawa, London, Oslo, Stockholm, Lyon, and Tokyo. Hollywood youths being told to go home early, not so compelling.
Media Matters sent me email with this striking quote:
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
I found it was from FDR’s Second Inaugural Address made on January 20, 1937.
So obviously this demonstrates Roosevelt’s Socialist leanings. At least, that’s the way conservatives read the statement. (I think we need a little more perspective than that.) First, look at the times he witnessed. Second, consider his own story. While growing up, Roosevelt was surrounded by privilege and the associated sense of self-importance. He was educated by tutors and governesses until age 14, and the entire household revolved around him as an only child. He went to the University, married, had children. Then, he was stricken with polio at the age of 39. This affected him to his core. Through great effort he rehabilitated himself to get some use of his legs. So I’m suggesting that this thought of being concerned with those who have too little is really simple empathy (or even Christian values) but applied to the domain of government. The empathy was surely part of his nature (seems unlikely that it suddenly appeared) but his own struggle and the extent of the hardships he witnessed in the Depression certainly contributed to his contempt for the bankers and barons who had put their personal quest for wealth ahead of the country’s economy and even survival.
This issue, government as the solver of social problems, lies at the heart of the conflict between social conservatism and social liberalism. Social conservatives simply do not believe that it is the role of government to assume responsibility for services provided through churches and other charities. Social liberalism believes in the government’s role is to solve big problems including those of citizens in hunger and poverty (justified by the phrase “promote the general Welfare” from the U.S. Constitution’s preamble.).
More recently, social conservatives have moved into the realm of religion (here and in northern Africa and the Middle East) and adopted the issue of abortion as a critical political concern. The ability of conservatives to simultaneously over-interpret the second amendment’s juncture that the militia could be armed to mean concealed carry without restriction while ignoring the first amendment’s demand to keep religious views out of governance is a little mind-boggling. The Constitution taken á la carte.
Roosevelt went on to say, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”
And this leads to:
Lefty Boomers Unified Theory of Politics and the Economy.
Point of View #1. The masses, their low success proving their lack of effort and ability, want free stuff. So they elect politicians that will give them free stuff. The free stuff must be paid for and the masses have little, so the industrious “makers” are robbed by the needs of the slothful “takers.” Obama won the election by promising Medicaid healthcare to low-income people, relaxed immigration policy for Latinos, free contraceptives for women, Food Stamps for millions, etc. This is the thrust of much of the conversation from the right after the 2012 elections–including defeated and humiliated but not humbled candidate, Romney.
Point of View #2. If you have wealth, you have the ability to begin to reform the law to give you more advantages. You can change tax laws, banking restrictions, anti-trust laws, avoid responsibility to keep air and water clean or externalize those costs to communities, and find various ways to poison Americans at profit. You can forge a Supreme Court that will say that corporations are people and money is speech so that the ability of money to influence politics becomes integral to the process.
So… one of these seems true, and one is not supported by fact.
Every single person in America gets benefits from the U.S. government. We get defended from invasion, we get roads to drive on, we get reasonably clean air to breathe, we get parks and schools and more. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out that many, including those the conservatives might deem morally worthy, get plenty of stuff from the government. So that’s the first point–everybody gets something–perceived makers and takers alike.
Who gets more the wealthy or the poor? Consider this: General Electric spends between $20 million and $40 million each year on lobbying. They lobby for changes to tax laws, win, and profit from it. In 2010, billions in profits, zero tax liability, and tax credits for things like wind turbines. We continue to hear that corporate taxes hurt American business at 35%. But few companies pay that rate. The GAO reports that the actual corporate tax rate overall is 12.6%. The next time somebody throws the 35% corporate tax rate at you, respond with oh no buddy, they actually only pay 12.6%.
Republicans passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 under GW Bush. It contained more than $13 billion a year in tax breaks for corporations, many very beneficial to G.E. Some provisions seemed tailored for the company, and according to its 2007 regulatory filing, the company saved more than $1 billion in American taxes because of that law in the three years after it was enacted. The Congressman on the House Ways and Means Committee that introduced the House version of the Bill was Bill Thomas, who the year before had an adulterous affair with a female lobbyist, she became a VP of Eli Lilly corporation, which steered huge amounts of money back to Thomas’ campaign fund. That year, pharmaceutical companies were blessed with Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 which gave prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients but prohibited the government’s ability to set the prices for those drugs (the way they do for hospitalizations and physician visits). She rewarded Thomas (in more ways than one), he rewarded Pharma, they rewarded her.
But moving away from the corporate benefits, wealthy individuals also do well. Warren Buffett famously pointed out that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. Carried interest is the skim that fund managers take from clients, and it’s taxed at the long-term capital gains rate of 15%, a 24.9% savings from the top rate. So Romney’s income of $22 million in 2010 would have paid another $5 million in taxes if the income was treated as ordinary income instead of sweetheart-deal-for-millionaire-hedge-fund-managers income.
Romney pockets $5 million, complains about those in the 47% who get a maximum of $2400 per year (individual maximum) for food from the SNAP.
Walmart is actively anti-union, wage suppressing, and supportive of conservative causes. They benefit to the tune of $500 million SNAP dollars each year through payments for groceries. At the same time, because of Walmart’s low wages and benefits many of its employees are forced to turn to the government for aid, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, according to a report released Congressional Democrats. So the recession took away the low- and moderately-skilled worker’s ability to get a decent paying job and many were forced to work at Walmart. Their wages qualify them for food assistance, utility assistance, and possibly Medicaid. At the same time the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons have a combined income equal to the total wealth of the entire bottom 30% of wage earners.
Is Medicare morally superior to unemployment? Why would it be? They are both programs that you pay into and benefit from when need arises. But conservatives tip-toe around Medicare (because their constituency is largely older and white–the Medicare demographic) but attack unemployment mercilessly. The mortgage interest deduction isn’t morally superior to food stamps, even though conservatives like one but not the other. One subsidizes food and one subsidizes housing. It’s good to provide incentives for home purchasing, but it’s better for the lenders as a quick check of a mortgage payment times the months in the term attest.
The entitlements to the poor don’t compare to the entitlements of the wealthy (while those in the middle get little and complain little). Meanwhile, the conservatives send enough money to Karl Rove to solve any number of social problems in order to keep someone they perceived as sympathetic to the poor out of office.
So how do we know who is the taker in this modern world? Well, maybe the 20% annual growth rate in food assistance proves that the lower end of the wage scale is growing while more wealth is held at the top that than at any time since the late 1800’s Gilded Age. The number taking SNAP isn’t the issue, it’s the number NEEDING SNAP! The privileges of wealth have never been greater. Their taxes have never been lower. Thanks to Citizens United they are now free to use money to make and break candidates while suggesting the way their employees should vote. While wealth and income gravitate to the top the share of company’s income that goes to labor has dropped 4.5% in the past 20 years.
If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000. In the 1970s the top 1 percent received 8% of total income while today they receive 18%. Middle class income, adjusted for inflation, fell 7% in the past decade. The need for greed destroys our free market system because the workers can’t be good partners in the consumer sector.
The true takers are those that have the economic power to modify the system to benefit them. They cry about pennies to the poor while they push millions of dollars’ responsibility for operating the government onto the backs of their fellows. Enough never seems to be enough. Reiterating FDR’s point, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”
More on this topic at Mother Jones’ 12 Charts to make your blood boil.
Okay rude cellphone user, we surrender. Read about the customer holding up the line who when confronted had the nerve to say, “Er, excuse me? I’m on the PHONE?”