Friday, November 8, 2013

Misplaced Displaced Outrage




Lately, I often seem to come across people who, though they may not see themselves as regressives, still dutifully parrot the wingnut party line in regards to slamming the ‘takers’, ‘moochers’, ‘freeloaders’,  ‘lazy welfare cheats’ who live off of the taxes paid by hard working people like themselves. Now that burns me, not because there aren’t lots of common people who’re gaming or trying to game the system, but rather because they find it so easy to pick on the little guy while being blind to the really big rip-off sleazeballs whose gaming not only involves billions, but often also crashes the whole system when their games don’t work out.
In the latest iteration a friend of a friend on facebook was snidely pointing out that individuals who’re about to lose $36 of their $657 monthly food stamp allotment will just have to get by with less beer and cigs. I had to point out that the figure he quoted was for a family of 4, not an individual. A big part of the problem is that many of these people have their information so wrong they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, not to mention that they’re so out of touch with reality, they actually believe the crap that comes out of their mouths. Anybody who thinks the government gives individuals more than six hundred dollars a month in food stamps might as well be living on a parallel universe.
Five billion dollars is being cut from the food stamp program to satisfy the Repugs new found crusade to reduce the deficit. New found because they love deficits and debt when they’re in power. Besides they’ve never come across a program that helps the bottom rung of society that they didn’t hate and it’s been that way since the first social programs were enacted in the 1930s Great Depression. Herbert Hoover, president when the depression began in 1929, was adamantly opposed to feeding the poor since it would ruin their self-reliance. Better to starve than depend on government handouts. The Dumbocrats are hardly blameless, since they love to capitulate to every petty demand of the Repugs.
47 million people are on food stamps; not surprising considering that unemployment is still very high and a lot of the new jobs being created pay so little that even many full time workers, such as those working for Mall*Wart and the fast food chains, qualify for benefits. McDonald’s website has a page devoted to helping its employees in their budgeting. One item is get a second job. Another is apply for food stamps. Another allocates $20 per month for health care.
But lets put that $5b food stamp cut into a little perspective. General Electric, one of the world’s largest, richest corporations, earned $14b last year. It not only didn’t pay any taxes but got a $3.5b refund from the IRS. The difference between what they should have paid at 35% and what actually happened was $8b. So, in essence, 47 million people take a hit so one corporation can enjoy just 60% of its corporate subsidy. Or how about the special tax breaks for Big Oil of another $8b per year. Exxon Mobile before 47 million Americans? Obviously top priority for the US government. Clearly doesn’t impact their self-reliance. They’re already so rich, the paltry $8b we throw at them doesn’t even amount to all that much when you consider just one of them has profits up around $50b annually.
Another much more egregious example of misunderstanding and/or manipulation and/or just plain ignorance, was a screed forwarded by a friend, in which the writer railed against the situation in New Orleans, in which welfare mothers receive $1500 per month per child. He then went on to tally up what a single mom with 9 kids would get; something like $16,000 per month. Now I’ve heard that places like New Zealand and the UK are quite generous with the dole, but the idea that anyone in their right mind could think that welfare pays that much in the US is hideously, ludicrously out of touch. And further, the idea that anyone with half a brain could think that that happens in Louisiana, probably the stingiest, meanest state in the country regarding welfare, is almost beyond comprehension; nobody could be that stupid or misinformed. Deceitful yes, but not that innocent of reality.
The family-values radical conservatives who pride themselves on their welfare stinginess think staying home and taking care of the babies is only valuable or important for middle class women. The single parents dependent on welfare are supposed to get a job, even though affordable child-care is rare and the jobs they might be qualified for don’t pay enough to live on. Nevertheless, they are the lazy takers sucking on the government’s tits whose only goal is to scam the system so they can live high and drive Cadillacs. $16,000 a month for nine kids, pretty good deal, huh?
A while back another government hater went on about how BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit – paid its drivers $100,000 per year. As it happens, not long ago the BART drivers held a strike action and according to the news reports, drivers earn $60,000 not $100,000. Besides BART is not really a government, at best it’s a quasi-government, charged only with running the trains. At any rate the median house price in the San Francisco Bay Area is now about $550,000. Even the meanest, cheapest run-down shack is likely to cost in excess of $300,000 and with mortgage, taxes and insurance, not to mention upkeep, that ultimate fixer-upper will cost a minimum $3000 per month. Compare that to driver’s pay which is $5000 per month before taxes. $60,000 sounds like a lot of money to me, but in the Bay Area, it’s just barely getting by.
It’s all part of the drive on the part of conservatives to demonize public servants. They have it too easy, they’re living high off the public hog. Even while Wisconsin’s Repug governor was giving a $200m tax break for corporations he insisted it was important to reduce civil workers pay and strip them of any worker rights. Teachers earn about $50,000 in Wisconsin. Doable but hardly luxurious. Back in the 1950s and 60s, teacher pay was so low that only certain people could do that job. It was either those who were so dedicated to teaching they were willing to sacrifice their economic well-being to do something they loved, or the losers, people who couldn’t make it in the commercial world. They were decent enough people, but, for a variety of reasons, they happened to be lousy teachers. They were quirky or nervous or too strange to make in a corporation, but they passed the civil service test and had the qualifications and so got the jobs and besides the schools had no choice, the potentially good people didn’t want to make the personal sacrifice.
At that point the public realized how important is was to raise pay so that quality teachers would be attracted to the profession. One of the most important tasks a society has is to educate its children. Lately, plying the 1% with generous tax benefits, giving the banks $85b per month of free money, letting the corporations create offshore tax havens and other tax dodges so they don’t have to support the US government, leaving stock transactions untaxed so the big banks can play with their lighting fast trading schemes that have no social purpose whatever and are destructive besides, all those are (seemingly) more important than education, health and social welfare in the eyes of conservatives and their Dumbocrat enablers.
A recent study tried to gauge the happiness of the people of different nations. The high-tax welfare states of Scandinavia all came out on top. They are all highly productive, very wealthy countries so, evidently, sky-high taxes don’t necessarily stymie innovation and growth, but they do provide the security and benefits that let people enjoy life. They work fewer hours than Americans and are guaranteed a minimum 4 weeks vacation per year by the EU. I met a Dutch couple high up on a mountain in Nepal some years ago, both of whom worked in a bank. They got 7 weeks of vacation a year and said some of their co-workers thought that wasn’t enough. Americans are lucky to get 3 weeks after working the same job for 10 years.
When the rollout of automation in the 60s started reducing the need for workers many people believed or proposed that it could lead to shorter work hours and greater leisure time for workers. The industrialists hated that idea since it would lead to people earning and consuming less, so instead of working less Americans are now working more (those who have jobs at least). Amongst the benefits of a shorter work week, aside from the obvious spreading the work around, is that it would substantially reduce peak hour traffic. Whether it’s 6 hours 5 days a week or 8 hours 4 days a week traffic would ease up by about 20%. At any rate, that’s not where the US is headed.
Finally, you’ve heard that the US economy is growing, lately about 2.5% annually, and jobs are being created. Unfortunately, 95% of the income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1%, at least partly as a result of the FED printing free money for the banks and partly because most of the new jobs being created offer dismal pay. It wasn’t an accident. Maybe the policymakers who created the current conditions where almost everything goes to the top, didn’t realize that would happen, but nonetheless it was their policies that did it. Just as it was no accident, it’s also not inevitable, not engraved in stone, not dictated by the ‘free market’. In a democracy that truly represented the people rather than the elite that would not be happening. Meanwhile the fact that congress could hit on the bottom rung of Americans who’re getting food stamps for a measly $5b while keeping the position of the privileged sacrosanct, says we are a long way from fairness and decency… Mean-spiritedness Lives.


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