The NRA’s, Wayne LaPierre, finally fronted up to a shocked global society by offering their nightmarish solution to gun-shootings in American schools; more guns. Specifically, armed guards in every school in the United States. (See: NRA chief breaks post-Newtown silence to call for armed guards at schools)
Aside from the bizarreness of this proposal, the sheer cost would be astronomical.
According to one source, in 2009-10 there are 138,925 educational institutions ranging from “Elementrary” (our primary schools) through to Universities. (Source: National Centre for Education Statistics: Educational Institutions)
If a minimum of one private, full time, guard was placed in every institution, at a median cost of US$28,834 per person, (see: Salary.com: security guards) the full would be an astronomical US$4,005, 763,450 per annum. Many institutions because of their size would need two, or more guards.
Considering Republican’s (who are allied to the NRA) lack of appetite for increasing taxes, it is hard to see where the money would come from.
No wonder that there was protest at Wayne LaPierre’s speech yesterday,
It is highly doubtful that arming teachers or hiring security guards would achieve anything. Being the United States, how long would it be before the first mentally disturbed security guard or teacher pulled out his/her legally-sanctioned gun and started blasting away at the people they were mandated to protect?
Or, the guard was simply in another part of the school grounds?
Or, more likely, was the first victim of any deranged shooter?
Only in the US would one countenance the totally lunatic proposal that more guns equates to more safety. This is the United States; a culture where guns are revered in their entertainment value as the solution to complex problems. Mass murder can even be made to look cool, with cool clothing, cool sunnies, and cool background music. Killing becomes a fashion-statement – in the US, anyway,
Is that how mass-murderers see themselves?
Meanwhile, Wayne LaPierre’s suggestion fall flat on it’s distorted face when it is pointed out that Columbine High School did indeed have an armed guard on duty; Sheriff’s deputy, Neil Gardner.
On 20 April 1999, despite Mr Gardner’s presence, twelve students and one teacher were gunned down by two deranged students.
The NRA are not the solution – they are intrinsically part of the problem.
And unfortunately we have our own gun nuts here in New Zealand. See: Firearms – Libertarianz
Wikipedia: Columbine High School massacre
= fs =
How many more?
How many more people must die in the United States before the body count becomes too much, even for the most obsessive, hardened, gun-”fans”?!
Twenty children plus six adults. Is that the price of American’s “right” to own lethal weapons?
God help your nation.
Because it sure seems that you people are incapable of it.
= fs =
See: Twitter account
Anonymous has hacked Israel’s Vice Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Whilst the Face book page has been closed to public view, as at 1.50pm today (21 Nov), Anonymous still has control over Shalom’s Twitter account.
It’s little comfort to the oppressed Palestinian people, but it’s a global in-your-face to one of the war mongers within the Israeli government.
The first Anonymous message seems to have been posted an hour ago,
MY HEART GOES OUT TO ALL THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING IN PALESTINE. STOP THIS WAR NOW!!! END THE OCCUPATION. #GAZA
Excellent work, Anonymous. You are on the right side of history and justice.
S Woo Satya Yuga
= fs =
US President Obama stated today,
“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”
I wonder how Pakistan feels about US drone missiles raining down on it’s citizens, from outside it’s borders?
Obama – you are no better than Mitt Romney or John Key.
= fs =
A debate on a Facebook page last night reminded me why the struggle to support oppressed people is the responsibility of all of us – not just those people facing oppression at the hands of nations that happen to be well-armed; well-financed; and looked upon faviourably by mainstream media.
On this Facebook debate, I offered two examples of how the Palestinian people were facing illegal and unjust repressive acts at the hands of the Israeli government,
- the illegal blockade of Gaza by Israel,
- the illegal building of Israeli settlements on the West Bank
My post vanished within minutes, and the page authors expressed “lack of knowledge” at my missing post.
It struck me as curious that the two administrators of that Facebook page felt so threatened by my fairly innocuous comments that they felt the need to remove it. Apparently my support for the persecuted Palestinian people challenged their somewhat one-eyed pro-Israeli convictions.
1. The blockage of Gaza by Israeli naval and other forces is illegal – and anywhere else in the world would be tantamount to war,
The above article states,
“Israel says its Gaza blockade is a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea.”
And at the same time reports,
“About one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures, said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, another of the five.
At least two-thirds of Gazan households lack secure access to food, he said. “People are forced to make unacceptable trade-offs, often having to choose between food or medicine or water for their families”.”
In a special U.N. report in 2007, it was determined that,
“Israel remains an occupying Power in respect of Gaza. Arguments that Israel ceased its occupation of Gaza in 2005 following the evacuation of its settlements and the withdrawal of its troops take no account of the fact that Israel retains effective control over Gaza by means of its control over Gaza’s external borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, tax revenues and governmental functions. The effectiveness of this control is emphasized by regular military incursions and rocket attacks.”
Source: UN Special Rapporteur, Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
What pro-Israeli individuals forget is that if you brutalise a people in the worst possible way – do not be surprised when they react brutally toward to their oppressor. This is simple, human nature.
Do pro-Israeli individuals feel the need to put that truism to the test?
2. Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
It defies belief that sycophants to Israeli imperialism can even begin to justify Israel’s gradual colonisation of the West Bank.
In fact, the entire area of the West Bank is dotted with illegal Israeli settlements encroaching bit by bit into the Palestinian territory,
It’s fairly clear to anyone in possession of their full faculties that Israel is engaged in a slow, methodical land-grab on the West Bank, as it slowly pushes local Palestinian inhabitants into a smaller and smaller territory,
“A number of international bodies, including the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the European Union, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and many legal scholars have characterized the settlements as a violation of international law, but other legal scholars, Israel, and the Anti-Defamation League disagree with this assessment. (See Legal background)“
See: Israeli settlement
After the assassination of Hamas military leader, Ahmed al-Jaabari, on 14 November, the response of Palestinians was predictable; the launching of rockets at the Israeli state.
Which, when you think about it, is no less than any other nation on Earth would do in response to an unprovoked attack.
God knows how many drone missiles the United States has launched into areas of Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries.
It is fairly clear that decades of military aggression and suppression has brutalised Palestinians in a manner that we can barely begin to imagine or comprehend.
I wonder how we, as a nation would respond, if an aggressor forced us out of our cities into an area a little over 4% of the size of the South Island; blockaded vital imports; and then set up settlements within that small zone, protected by the invader’s military forces. Imagine if we resisted in any manner, resulting in a rain of bombs falling upon us for daring to resist the occupiers.
And imagine our indignity of the world media depicting us as the terrorists for daring to fight back?
I don’t think we’d be too happy, eh?
This blogger supports the right of Palestine to exist as a state.
This blogger supports the right of Israel to exist as a state.
But at the same time, Israel must support the same right for Palestine to be a fully independent State; the blockade to be lifted; political prisoners to be released; and Israeli settlers to be withdrawn from the illegal occupation of the West Bank.
And while they’re at it – Israel needs to be rid of this abomination,
The Wall did not work for East Germany, it most certainly will not work for Israel.
There can be no peace whilst Israel plays the role of the aggressor and imperialist coloniser. One thing history teaches us is that the human spirit is indomitable. And Palestinians have that spirit by the truckload.
As for those individuals here in New Zealand who support Israel – you are doing them no favours. Postponing the inevitable is not what a friend does for another friend.
It is an inevitability that Palestine will be free one day. That day cannot be averted unless Israel slaughters every Palestinian man, woman, and child in Gaza and the West Bank.
And we know what that’s called, don’t we?
= fs =
= fs =
Announced in July 2010,
So let’s see if this blogger has sussed this correctly…
Postponing an election in Fiji is a bad thing, with Dear Leader demanding that the Fijians tow the line,
“Nothing I’ve seen would mean that Mr Bainimarama would have any reason other than to hold elections in 2014 if he’s a man of his word.”
“Man of his word”! Good! Well said, Dear Leader, well said. Coup leaders who over-turn democratically-elected institutions need to be held to account.
Announced today (7 September),
But… but… Prime Minister John Key said that pledges to hold an election should be honoured!?
What’s going on here?
Surely, Dear Leader is not having one standard for our Fijian cuzzies, and one for himself? That would be… hypocritical.
Let me say one last thing – Nothing I’ve seen would mean that Mr Key would have any reason other than to hold elections in 2013 if he’s a man of his word.
= fs =
Last week, a Syrian blogger and citizen journalist, by the name of Rami al-Said paid the ultimate price; he was killed by the military forces of despotic dictator, war criminal, and disgusting excuse for a human being, Bashar Assad.
Rami al-Said was reporting from the Syrian city of Homs – which as most of us know by now – is being pounded to rubble by a mad dictator’s army. Rami al-Said refused to leave, and instead chose to report on the genocide that was taking place.
One of Rami al-Said’s last posts on his Facebook page stated,
“”Baba Amro [a suburb of Homs] is being wiped out now, complete genocide, I don’t want you to tell us our hearts are with you because I know that, I want projects everywhere inside and outside I want everyone to go out in front of the embassies in al…l countries everywhere because we are soon to be nothing, there will be no more Baba Amr – I expect this is a final letter to you and we will not forgive you.”"
People have an instinctive fear of harm, injury, violence, and death. It’s part of our sense of self-preservation – that intrinsic, evolutionary urge to stay alive and stay out of harm’s way.
But every so often, human beings set aside that sense of self-preservation; their anger and indignation at an injustice overcomes their most basic fears (or at least pushes it to one side); and individuals and groups refuse to run away. They stand, and by the gods, they fight back.
History is full of such deeply heroic people. Whether they be poorly armed resistance fighters in various occupied countries during Europe’s darkest days under the tyranny of Nazism; or young Hungarian teenagers facing tanks from the Soviet Red Army in 1956; or unarmed citizens in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 – there is an indomitable spirit that refuses to bow down and surrender.
I don’t know what it must feel like to experience such a sense of self that confronts bombs, bullets, torture, and death. Living in a comfortable, peaceful, existence here in New Zealand, it is an utterly alien concept to me. I can’t even begin to guess at how and why such ordinary, heroic, people can set aside their fear of death to stand up to bullies who can bomb a city into dust.
But I can – and do - feel a deep abiding respect and admiration for people like Rami al-Said, who died when he could have escaped Homs; and whose only “fault” was being there, and reporting to the outside world what crimes were being committed against ordinary men, women, and children.
1986 – 2012
Blogger & Citizen Journalist
Husband & Father
- One of the good guys -
Rest assured, Rami – one day Syria will be free. Your death – and those of your fellow Syrians – will not have been in vain.
The U.S. economic recovery – based on what amounts to a trade in death,
Aside from the morality of selling weapons of destruction to other nations, is the seemingly crazy notion of providing more arms to the planet’s “tinder box” – the Middle East. Just what the world needs; more destructive fire power in one of the most unstable regions of the world.
With several of these nations at war with their own people, one has to wonder if the governments of arms-exporting nations are not, themselves, a little bit crazy. (Or a helluva lot crazy.)
The major arms exporters,
Who in turn sell to the biggest clients,
So many of the weapons from the West end up being used against ordinary citizens, by repressive regimes in the growing Arab Spring,
The tear-gas cannister above contains first-aid instructions. How very “civilised“.
I cannot convey to you the disgust I feel, knowing that our allies in America and Britain are selling deadly weapons to repressive regimes, who in turn, feel no qualms at turning them against their own people,
“Global spending on arms in 2010 were an estimated 1.6 trillion dollars, with governments in the Middle East dishing out more than 111 billion for weapons – raising questions as to whether Western arms suppliers circumvented international treaties by exporting to repressive regimes.
Last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt accounted for over 75 percent of U.S. arms sales – with Saudi Arabia ordering more than 60 billion dollars in weaponry, making it the leading buyer.” – Ibid
At the same time, poverty continues to blight our entire Human civilisation – including what should be the richest, most prosperous nation on Earth.
This is a trillion-dollar business. Those involved are politicians; arms manufacturers; military leaders; arms exporters; and the good people of America, Britain, France, Germany, etc, who permit it to happen.
I’m under no illusion that there would also be a number of New Zealanders who would gladly support a domestic arms-industry, if it meant turning a profit. For some people, money is more important than anything else – including lives.
Perhaps the great irony, though, is that the USA is supposedly a Christian nation. They pride themselves on their “special relationship” with their god.
They swear allegiance to their Constitution, invoking their god,
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
It’s on their currency,
“In God We Trust“
And it is part of their patriotic fervour,
Yet, in 2010 the United States exported US$8.6 Billion worth of deadly weapons to various clients around the world. Much of this firepower is often levelled against innocent people.
And just as obscene – $8.6 billion could have been used to alleviate drought, famine, and poverty in many parts of the world. How many lives could have been saved and made better with $8.6 billion?
Which leads me to the obvious question that begs to be asked,
“What would Jesus do? “
Because this is an apparent contradiction that I fail to understand…
This is perhaps the clearest example of neo-liberalism forcing itself on nations that cannot resist the influence of western corporatism – even when it places people at risk from unsafe products,
Whilst WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said that Samoa’s enytry into the WTO would “enable Samoa to participate more fully in the global economy and will provide the country with a predictable and stable basis for growth and development” - Otago Medical School Associate Professor, Nick Wilson, was less than enthusiastic,
“From a public health perspective the decision to allow turkey tails … will fuel the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease that are hitting Pacific Island nations.“
Mean, a spokesperson for our Trade Minister, Tim Groser, supported lifting the ban.
“Trade bans on selected items are unlikely to be effective in addressing obesity and health issues.”
Really?! So if a government allows an unhealthy product to be put on their supermarket shelves; and is then consumed by members of the public – Tim Groser is saying that’s ok?
That sounds like a fairly good rationale for legalising and selling heroin.
After all, it could easily be said that banning heroin is “unlikely to be effective in addressing …health issues.”
Just what the South Pacific needs: more unhealthy food by-products distributed and sold cheaply, and which will ultimately result in yet more Pacifica peoples dying from obesity-related diseases.
Are we in the West proud of ourselves, yet?
The greatest irony is that, in the 1970s, New Zealand fought a diplomatic war against the French to stop atomic weapons-testing in the South Pacific, because of fears that radiation would harm the environment and ourselves.
What is even more obscene is that US corporate interests are quite open in their campaign to market unhealthy, destructive foods to low-income, under-developed societies,
“The USA Poultry and Egg Export Council welcomed the end on the ban, telling Bloomberg that it was the “consumers’ right to determine what foods they wish to consume, not the government’s.“
Under the guise of “free choice”, corporate interests will peddle their cheap, toxic, foodstuffs to Pacifican people – and will reap profits, whilst local governments pick up the social costs of dealing with diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related diseases.
Surely by now, we in the West must be revelling in pride at this accomplishment.
This is the raw, naked face of unfettered free market capitalism that is not bound by morality, nor concerns for human welfare. This is profit-making without due regard to consequences.
And this time, the blood of Pacificans are on our hands as well; “Fiji banned mutton flap imports in 2000 and New Zealand responded by threatening to refer the issue to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). New Zealand later withdrew plans to approach the WTO and the ban still stands (as of March 2009)”,
I wonder how we might feel if another nation exported unhealthy products into our country – perhaps targetted at our young people – and we were powerless to stop it?
How would we feel, for example, if all restrictions on alcohol and tobacco products had to be removed at WTO insistence – because companies that manufactured those products were unhappy that their profits were being undermined?
We’d be pretty pissed, I’d guess.
But it’s ok if we do it to another country; to our neighbours in the Pacific?
“WTO critics claim the Washington based International Food and Beverage Alliance, formed by Kraft, Coca-Cola and General Mills, is behind the pressure to end food type bans.
“This is not true,” spokeswoman Jane Reid said.
“(The Alliance) has had no involvement whatsoever in this issue.”“
It is high time that New Zealand led by example and halted the sale of unhealthy meat by-products to our Pacific neighbours. Otherwise we are practically conducting war-by-poor-nutrition against the peoples of the Pacific.
It is time that New Zealand led an international campaign in the WTO against rules that allow toxic foods to be sold without restraint.
International trade rules that favour corporate “rights” and unfettered trade are anathema to the values that we hold dear. In the final analysis, governments are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of their peoples – not to corporations and their profits.
Perhaps Tim Grosser; the National Government; the WTO; the International Food and Beverage Alliance; the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council; et al; would care to dine out on mutton flaps and turkey tails for a few years?
I guess not.
After all, they can all afford proper, nutritious food.
From the Home for the Terminally Happy and Drooling, this just in,
“Thursday, 6 October 2011, 1:30 pm
Press Release: Sarah Palin
Statement on 2012 Decision
October 5, 2011
After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for President of the United States. As always, my family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision. When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country. My decision maintains this order.” Source
I was hoping Palin would run for the Republicans. It would’ve been the funnist thing ever, to watch… She epitomises the right wing perfectly.
Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult
- Mike Lofgren
Barbara Stanwyck: “We’re both rotten!”
Fred MacMurray: “Yeah – only you’re a little more rotten.” -”Double Indemnity” (1944)
Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten – how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats’ health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats’ rank capitulation to corporate interests – no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.
But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.
It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.
The debt ceiling extension is not the only example of this sort of political terrorism. Republicans were willing to lay off 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, 70,000 private construction workers and let FAA safety inspectors work without pay, in fact, forcing them to pay for their own work-related travel – how prudent is that? – in order to strong arm some union-busting provisions into the FAA reauthorization.
Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might – the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was “bring it on!”
It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.
In his “Manual of Parliamentary Practice,” Thomas Jefferson wrote that it is less important that every rule and custom of a legislature be absolutely justifiable in a theoretical sense, than that they should be generally acknowledged and honored by all parties. These include unwritten rules, customs and courtesies that lubricate the legislative machinery and keep governance a relatively civilized procedure. The US Senate has more complex procedural rules than any other legislative body in the world; many of these rules are contradictory, and on any given day, the Senate parliamentarian may issue a ruling that contradicts earlier rulings on analogous cases.
The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a “high functioning” institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.
Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
John P. Judis sums up the modern GOP this way:
“Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.”
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’”
Inside-the-Beltway wise guy Chris Cillizza merely proves Krugman right in his Washington Post analysis of “winners and losers” in the debt ceiling impasse. He wrote that the institution of Congress was a big loser in the fracas, which is, of course, correct, but then he opined: “Lawmakers – bless their hearts – seem entirely unaware of just how bad they looked during this fight and will almost certainly spend the next few weeks (or months) congratulating themselves on their tremendous magnanimity.” Note how the pundit’s ironic deprecation falls like the rain on the just and unjust alike, on those who precipitated the needless crisis and those who despaired of it. He seems oblivious that one side – or a sizable faction of one side – has deliberately attempted to damage the reputation of Congress to achieve its political objectives.
This constant drizzle of “there the two parties go again!” stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions – if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.
This tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document. This is not to say that there is not some theoretical limit to the size or intrusiveness of government; I would be the first to say there are such limits, both fiscal and Constitutional. But most Republican officeholders seem strangely uninterested in the effective repeal of Fourth Amendment protections by the Patriot Act, the weakening of habeas corpus and self-incrimination protections in the public hysteria following 9/11 or the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. If anything, they would probably opt for more incarcerated persons, as imprisonment is a profit center for the prison privatization industry, which is itself a growth center for political contributions to these same politicians. Instead, they prefer to rail against those government programs that actually help people. And when a program is too popular to attack directly, like Medicare or Social Security, they prefer to undermine it by feigning an agonized concern about the deficit. That concern, as we shall see, is largely fictitious.
Undermining Americans’ belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy. But if this technique falls short of producing Karl Rove’s dream of 30 years of unchallengeable one-party rule (as all such techniques always fall short of achieving the angry and embittered true believer’s New Jerusalem), there are other even less savory techniques upon which to fall back. Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students.
This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.
You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama’s policy of being black. Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.
It is not clear to me how many GOP officeholders believe this reactionary and paranoid claptrap. I would bet that most do not. But they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base with a nod and a wink. During the disgraceful circus of the “birther” issue, Republican politicians subtly stoked the fires of paranoia by being suggestively equivocal – “I take the president at his word” – while never unambiguously slapping down the myth. John Huntsman was the first major GOP figure forthrightly to refute the birther calumny – albeit after release of the birth certificate.
I do not mean to place too much emphasis on racial animus in the GOP. While it surely exists, it is also a fact that Republicans think that no Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate. Republicans also regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that Republicans traded among themselves). Had it been Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, who had been elected in 2008, I am certain we would now be hearing, in lieu of the birther myths, conspiracy theories about Vince Foster’s alleged murder.
The reader may think that I am attributing Svengali-like powers to GOP operatives able to manipulate a zombie base to do their bidding. It is more complicated than that. Historical circumstances produced the raw material: the deindustrialization and financialization of America since about 1970 has spawned an increasingly downscale white middle class – without job security (or even without jobs), with pensions and health benefits evaporating and with their principal asset deflating in the collapse of the housing bubble. Their fears are not imaginary; their standard of living is shrinking.
What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style “centrist” Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.
While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations’ bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it’s evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.
How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?
You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. “Entitlement” has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is “entitled” selfishly claims something he doesn’t really deserve. Why not call them “earned benefits,” which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don’t make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the “estate tax,” it is the “death tax.” Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.
It was not always thus. It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him. An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. But that is not the case in the present economic crisis. After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors’ looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media? At “Washington spending” – which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade’s corporate saturnalia. Or the popular rage is harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: death panels, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest.
Thus far, I have concentrated on Republican tactics, rather than Republican beliefs, but the tactics themselves are important indicators of an absolutist, authoritarian mindset that is increasingly hostile to the democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation. Rather, this mindset seeks polarizing division (Karl Rove has been very explicit that this is his principal campaign strategy), conflict and the crushing of opposition.
As for what they really believe, the Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets I have laid out below. The rest of their platform one may safely dismiss as window dressing:
1. The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.
Republicans have attempted to camouflage their amorous solicitude for billionaires with a fog of misleading rhetoric. John Boehner is fond of saying, “we won’t raise anyone’s taxes,” as if the take-home pay of an Olive Garden waitress were inextricably bound up with whether Warren Buffett pays his capital gains as ordinary income or at a lower rate. Another chestnut is that millionaires and billionaires are “job creators.” US corporations have just had their most profitable quarters in history; Apple, for one, is sitting on $76 billion in cash, more than the GDP of most countries. So, where are the jobs?
Another smokescreen is the “small business” meme, since standing up for Mom’s and Pop’s corner store is politically more attractive than to be seen shilling for a megacorporation. Raising taxes on the wealthy will kill small business’ ability to hire; that is the GOP dirge every time Bernie Sanders or some Democrat offers an amendment to increase taxes on incomes above $1 million. But the number of small businesses that have a net annual income over a million dollars is de minimis, if not by definition impossible (as they would no longer be small businesses). And as data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research have shown, small businesses account for only 7.2 percent of total US employment, a significantly smaller share of total employment than in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Likewise, Republicans have assiduously spread the myth that Americans are conspicuously overtaxed. But compared to other OECD countries, the effective rates of US taxation are among the lowest. In particular, they point to the top corporate income rate of 35 percent as being confiscatory Bolshevism. But again, the effective rate is much lower. Did GE pay 35 percent on 2010 profits of $14 billion? No, it paid zero.
When pressed, Republicans make up misleading statistics to “prove” that the America’s fiscal burden is being borne by the rich and the rest of us are just freeloaders who don’t appreciate that fact. “Half of Americans don’t pay taxes” is a perennial meme. But what they leave out is that that statement refers to federal income taxes. There are millions of people who don’t pay income taxes, but do contribute payroll taxes – among the most regressive forms of taxation. But according to GOP fiscal theology, payroll taxes don’t count. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that since payroll taxes go into trust funds, they’re not real taxes. Likewise, state and local sales taxes apparently don’t count, although their effect on a poor person buying necessities like foodstuffs is far more regressive than on a millionaire.
All of these half truths and outright lies have seeped into popular culture via the corporate-owned business press. Just listen to CNBC for a few hours and you will hear most of them in one form or another. More important politically, Republicans’ myths about taxation have been internalized by millions of economically downscale “values voters,” who may have been attracted to the GOP for other reasons (which I will explain later), but who now accept this misinformation as dogma.
And when misinformation isn’t enough to sustain popular support for the GOP’s agenda, concealment is needed. One fairly innocuous provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill requires public companies to make a more transparent disclosure of CEO compensation, including bonuses. Note that it would not limit the compensation, only require full disclosure. Republicans are hell-bent on repealing this provision. Of course; it would not serve Wall Street interests if the public took an unhealthy interest in the disparity of their own incomes as against that of a bank CEO. As Spencer Bachus, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says, “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”
2. They worship at the altar of Mars. While the me-too Democrats have set a horrible example of keeping up with the Joneses with respect to waging wars, they can never match GOP stalwarts such as John McCain or Lindsey Graham in their sheer, libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries. McCain wanted to mix it up with Russia – a nuclear-armed state – during the latter’s conflict with Georgia in 2008 (remember? – “we are all Georgians now,” a slogan that did not, fortunately, catch on), while Graham has been persistently agitating for attacks on Iran and intervention in Syria. And these are not fringe elements of the party; they are the leading “defense experts,” who always get tapped for the Sunday talk shows. About a month before Republicans began holding a gun to the head of the credit markets to get trillions of dollars of cuts, these same Republicans passed a defense appropriations bill that increased spending by $17 billion over the prior year’s defense appropriation. To borrow Chris Hedges’ formulation, war is the force that gives meaning to their lives.
A cynic might conclude that this militaristic enthusiasm is no more complicated than the fact that Pentagon contractors spread a lot of bribery money around Capitol Hill. That is true, but there is more to it than that. It is not necessarily even the fact that members of Congress feel they are protecting constituents’ jobs. The wildly uneven concentration of defense contracts and military bases nationally means that some areas, like Washington, DC, and San Diego, are heavily dependent on Department of Defense (DOD) spending. But there are many more areas of the country whose net balance is negative: the citizenry pays more in taxes to support the Pentagon than it receives back in local contracts.
And the economic justification for Pentagon spending is even more fallacious when one considers that the $700 billion annual DOD budget creates comparatively few jobs. The days of Rosie the Riveter are long gone; most weapons projects now require very little touch labor. Instead, a disproportionate share is siphoned off into high-cost research and development (from which the civilian economy benefits little); exorbitant management expenditures, overhead and out-and-out padding; and, of course, the money that flows back into the coffers of political campaigns. A million dollars appropriated for highway construction would create two to three times as many jobs as a million dollars appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement, so the jobs argument is ultimately specious.
Take away the cash nexus and there still remains a psychological predisposition toward war and militarism on the part of the GOP. This undoubtedly arises from a neurotic need to demonstrate toughness and dovetails perfectly with the belligerent tough-guy pose one constantly hears on right-wing talk radio. Militarism springs from the same psychological deficit that requires an endless series of enemies, both foreign and domestic.
The results of the last decade of unbridled militarism and the Democrats’ cowardly refusal to reverse it, have been disastrous both strategically and fiscally. It has made the United States less prosperous, less secure and less free. Unfortunately, the militarism and the promiscuous intervention it gives rise to are only likely to abate when the Treasury is exhausted, just as it happened to the Dutch Republic and the British Empire.
3. Give me that old time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines “low-information voter” – or, perhaps, “misinformation voter.”
The Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to “share their feelings” about their “faith” in a revelatory speech; or, some televangelist like Rick Warren dragoons the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, with Warren himself, of course, as the arbiter. Politicized religion is also the sheet anchor of the culture wars. But how did the whole toxic stew of GOP beliefs – economic royalism, militarism and culture wars cum fundamentalism – come completely to displace an erstwhile civilized Eisenhower Republicanism?
It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.
Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.
The GOP’s fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter – God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass – and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.
It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.
Some liberal writers have opined that the different socio-economic perspectives separating the “business” wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no fundamental disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far in that direction they want to take it. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age, the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. In any case, those consummate plutocrats, the Koch brothers, are pumping large sums of money into Michele Bachman’s presidential campaign, so one ought not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.
Thus, the modern GOP; it hardly seems conceivable that a Republican could have written the following:
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” (That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.)
It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill. It is not in my pragmatic nature to make a heroic gesture of self-immolation, or to make lurid revelations of personal martyrdom in the manner of David Brock. And I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett.
I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them. And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest. Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and “shareholder value,” the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP’s decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.
If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.
During the week that this piece was written, the debt ceiling fiasco reached its conclusion. The economy was already weak, but the GOP’s disgraceful game of chicken roiled the markets even further. Foreigners could hardly believe it: Americans’ own crazy political actions were destabilizing the safe-haven status of the dollar. Accordingly, during that same week, over one trillion dollars worth of assets evaporated on financial markets. Russia and China have stepped up their advocating that the dollar be replaced as the global reserve currency – a move as consequential and disastrous for US interests as any that can be imagined.
If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time that it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight both for the democratic process and America’s status as the world’s leading power.
 I am not exaggerating for effect. A law passed in 2010 by the Arizona legislature mandating arrest and incarceration of suspected illegal aliens was actually drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business front group that drafts “model” legislation on behalf of its corporate sponsors. The draft legislation in question was written for the private prison lobby, which sensed a growth opportunity in imprisoning more people.
 I am not a supporter of Obama and object to a number of his foreign and domestic policies. But when he took office amid the greatest financial collapse in 80 years, I wanted him to succeed, so that the country I served did not fail. But already in 2009, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, declared that his greatest legislative priority was – jobs for Americans? Rescuing the financial system? Solving the housing collapse? – no, none of those things. His top priority was to ensure that Obama should be a one-term president. Evidently Senator McConnell hates Obama more than he loves his country. Note that the mainstream media have lately been hailing McConnell as “the adult in the room,” presumably because he is less visibly unstable than the Tea Party freshmen
 This is not a venue for immigrant bashing. It remains a fact that outsourcing jobs overseas, while insourcing sub-minimum wage immigrant labor, will exert downward pressure on US wages. The consequence will be popular anger, and failure to address that anger will result in a downward wage spiral and a breech of the social compact, not to mention a rise in nativism and other reactionary impulses. It does no good to claim that these economic consequences are an inevitable result of globalization; Germany has somehow managed to maintain a high-wage economy and a vigorous industrial base.
 The cowardice is not merely political. During the past ten years, I have observed that Democrats are actually growing afraid of Republicans. In a quirky and flawed, but insightful, little book, “Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred,” John Lukacs concludes that the left fears, the right hates.
 The GOP cult of Ayn Rand is both revealing and mystifying. On the one hand, Rand’s tough guy, every-man-for-himself posturing is a natural fit because it puts a philosophical gloss on the latent sociopathy so prevalent among the hard right. On the other, Rand exclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity. Apparently, the ignorance of most fundamentalist “values voters” means that GOP candidates who enthuse over Rand at the same time they thump their Bibles never have to explain this stark contradiction. And I imagine a Democratic officeholder would have a harder time explaining why he named his offspring “Marx” than a GOP incumbent would in rationalizing naming his kid “Rand.”
This article was re-printed, verbatim, from Truthout. Whilst it deals primarily with U.S. politics, which is vastly more feral than anything we presently have here, in New Zealand, it is still worthwhile exploring how right wing politics can undermine democratic institutions and processes, to pursue and promote a partisan agenda.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Acknowledgement to Tumeke blog.
This article, published in the American “National Journal”, is a must-read as to where the US has gone wrong – and by implication – has sucked New Zealand into their mistakes.
Pay close attention to the writers’ commenys on tax cuts and spending, as it applies to us, as well. This is possibly one of the most important and insightful commentaries yet to be written. It will grip you…
“The events of Sept. 11 have ultimately left us, 10 years later, with an economy and a strategic stature that no longer seem terribly awesome. America is still the sole superpower, but our invincible military is bogged down in two wasting wars, and poorly armed insurgents seem not to fear us. The rest of the world, beginning with China and Japan, now underwrites our vast indebtedness with barely concealed impatience. We are a nation downgraded by Wall Street, disrespected abroad, and defied even now by al-Qaida, whose leader was killed only recently after spending most of the decade taunting Washington. How did this happen?” – Read further…
(Acknowledgement to whoar.co.nz for bringing this excellent article to my attention.)
Warren Buffet is regarded as one of the most successful investors in the world. He is ranked among the world’s wealthiest people and was ranked as the world’s wealthiest person in 2008. He is the third wealthiest person in the world as of 2011.
He is not a disaffected socialist, nor “random leftie” – he has serious money in his bank account(s). So when this guy warns us that the wealthy are not paying their way, and have been “coddled by billionaire-friendly governments” – you know he’s saying something important.
And that we should take note…
Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.
If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.
To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.
I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.
Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.
The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)
I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.
Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.
Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.
But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.
My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
(Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.)
Buffet’s analysis holds true for New Zealand as much as it does for his own country, the USA.
In April 2009 and October 2010, this government awarded the highest income earners and the wealthiest the most in tax-cuts.
At the same time, the top ten wealthiest people in NZ (and probably others throughout the world also increased their wealth by 20 percent) – whilst the rest of the global economy was wracked by the worst recession since the 1930s, and millions lost their jobs.
The old excuse that the “wealthy work hard and should be rewarded for their labours” no longer deserves to be taken seriously. Most of us work hard, and long hours.
It is time that governments stopped coddling the rich. It’s not like they can take their wealth off-planet to Mars or elsewhere. The rich will still invest their vast wealth.
But it’s time they paid their fair share as the price of living in societies that gave them the opportunities to create their wealth.
It’s high time National looked at a fairer taxation system, and paid for the social services and job creation-friendly policies, rather than the top 10% of the population and middle-class rich-wannabees.
Otherwise, prepare yourselves for a society of growing inequality.
So far, the indicators are not good…
Well, I think the ‘message’ is reasonably clear for all but the most ideologically-blind. Question is – what are we going to do about it?
(Hint: more of the same will probably not work.)
This is must-read stuff…
It is worth noting that, here in New Zealand, recent tax cuts gave $2.5 billion a year to the top 10 per cent of earners and “practically nothing to the bottom 20 per cent of earners, who got 3 per cent of those cuts”.
It is also worth noting that, as a country, we are having to borrow $380 million per week to – in part – fund those tax cuts. That’s $17.6 billion this year alone.
Far from being a “prudent fiscal manager”, National is being highly irresponsible as it continues to woo the Middle Class for their votes.
Only thing is: eventually it all has to be paid back. Even selling all out SOEs won’t cover that debt mountain, as we simply don’t have enough state assets left after the 1980s and 1990s.
The question that many are asking is “why?”.
Ms Penny’s opinion piece is the clearest attempt at understanding why these riots happened (and are still happening, as I write this) in a supposedly peaceful, civilised society.
I would add a further point: it is no coincidence that these riots are happening at a time when the “Arab Spring” has unleashed a human wave of rebellion in middle eastern countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. The common element is a deep disaffection with the status quo. Ms Penny explains it all in a simple, coherent, meaningful way…
The BBC is showing footage of blazing cars and running street battles in Hackney, of police horses lining up in Lewisham, of infernos that once were shops and houses in Croydon and Peckham.
There have been hundreds of arrests and dozens of serious injuries. A 26-year-old man shot in a car in Croydon is reportedly the first fatality, but police have not said whether he had been participating in the rioting or was a bystander.
This is the third consecutive night of rioting in London, and the disorder has now spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police officers who only hours ago were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain’s cities to go home. Britain is a tinderbox and, on Friday, somebody lit a match. How the hell did this happen? And what are we going to do now?
In the scramble to comprehend the riots, every commentator has opened with a ritual condemnation of the violence. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, called the disorder ”mindless, mindless”.
Speaking from his Tuscan holiday villa, the Prime Minister, David Cameron – who has finally decided to return home to take charge – declared simply that the social unrest searing through the poorest boroughs in the country was ”utterly unacceptable”. The violence on the streets is being dismissed as ”pure criminality”, as the work of a ”violent minority”, as ”opportunism”. This is madly insufficient.
Angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.
Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there.
A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost 10 times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.
The truth is that few people know why this is happening. They don’t know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the TV cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985.
Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping and searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure knowledge that after decades of being marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news.
In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything.
”Yes,” said the young man. ”You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you? Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”
There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they’re paying attention now.
Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night.
No one expected this. The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that after 30 years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong.
And now my city is burning, and it will continue to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain. Let me give you a hint: it ain’t Twitter.
After reading Laurie Penny’s analysis in the Sydney Morning Herald – perhaps we should be asking, “where next“?
Because the disaffection, anger, and resentment shown by the young folk of Britain exists in other countries as well. Governments seem to have forgotten that nations are first and foremost societies – communities of people. Economies are built on societies, not the other way around.
Something to reflect on here in supposedly peaceful, civilised New Zealand.
What really angers me is that Baby boomers and neo-liberals castigate the young for their irresponsibility and selfishness.
Is this the same Baby Boomer Neo-Lib generation that enjoyed free tertiary education, free medical prescriptions, etc, etc – paid for by our parents and grandparents?
And when it came time for Baby Boomers to pass these same social services onto our children, we held up our hands and said, “Nah. You kids pay for what you want.” And then we introduced User Pays and gave ourselves hefty tax cuts, whilst privatising many of those state assets that used to provide us with good services.
And we expect the younger generation not to be selfish?!?!
Maybe I’m turning into a Grumpy Old Bugger, but I say “a pox on my generation” – my sympthathies are with the younger people who were well and truly shafted by my lot.
As for the neo-liberals and middle classes; you got what you wanted; a society of individuals out to get what they wanted; screw society; and devil take the hindmost.
And it was all utterly predictable, 20, 30 years ago.
We have seen the warning signs.
… by wealthier, more fiscally prudent Communist China?!
This has to be the greatest irony since… since… oh, it simply is! America – the home of capitalism, free enterprise, and republicanism – being counselled by another sovereign nation that is nominally a one-party, communist, centrally-planned state to pull it’s socks up and sort out it’s economic affairs?!?!
I bet our American cuzzies never saw that coming when the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, and the West declared victory over communism soon after?!
Next thing you know, and Russia will be criticising America over their use of water-boarding torture-techniques against detainees at Guantanamo Bay…
God, I love the human race.
It’s not just the “markets” that are breathing a sigh of relief – the rest of the world was probably holding it’s collective breath as well. The US economy is simply “to big to fail” (to borrow a term from recent government bail-outs of troubled corporations) and de-faulting on its debt would have impacted on every economy on this planet.
Interesting that the US$1 trillion debt that equates to the cost of America’s involvement in two current wars in the Middle East…
Cutting US$1 trillion from the US economy… I wonder how many poor buggers will end up losing their jobs, as the American government reigns in spending. When governments cut spending, that inevitably entails people losing their jobs.
US$1 trillion spent on two wars. And it’s American workers that will pay the price. Democracy, eh? Ya gotta love it.
They never, ever, strike at, for example, a “gun fair” such as the type they have in the US.
And if Breivik was so concerned about muslims, he had not one – but TWO wars where he could have enlisted amnd joined armies that are currently fighting a muslim enemy.
And if it’s marxists he wanted to target – there are heaps of them in North Korea and Cuba.
But instead, he picked an island filled with young, unarmed people. No marxists and no muslim extremists. Just young men and women of his own society.
So why do these nuts target the innocent and unarmed?
Because I suspect that these psychopaths are actually, deep down, cowards. They are afraid of a world they cannot understand, nor cope with, and where phantom ‘enemies’ are hiding around every corner.
I admire the Norwegians. They have declared that they will maintain an open, democratic society.
Could you imagine if a similar (gods forbid) situation occurred here in New Zealand? The government would be passing new laws at warp speed; increasing police powers; and making every effort to look like “they are doing something”.
I guess this is another example of Europe being more mature, as a society, than New Zealand…
If the US government defaults on it’s loan obligations, the entire world economy will feel the consequences. In a manner of speaking, like several US corporations, America is “too big to fail” – the consequences would affect every person on this planet.
I’ve always believed that – because US policies impact on all our lives – that all citizens of Earth should be allowed to vote in their elections.
Who knows – maybe we can help our American cuzzies to elect better representatives for their government?