Just Above Sunset Archives

October 19, 2003 Mail

Home | Odds and Ends | Music Notes | Book Notes | Sidebars | Culture Wars Lost | Culture Wars Won | Gay Marriage | Jesus Flogged Repeatedly | Photography | Quotes | Links and Recommendations | Archives | Daily Commentary (weblog)

I do send out some odd email, and receive equally odd email in return.  Here I will print some of it, with, now and then, my responses.  
Class Warfare / Political Warfare
Who's meaner, conservatives or liberals? /  The rich deserve a tax break?


In the October 2003 issue of Reason magazine Cathy Young raises the first question above (URL: http://www.reason.com/0310/co.cy.bipartisan.shtml) and you could read her article for the quips - or pick up a copy of The Triumph of Meanness: America's War Against Its Better Self, Nicolaus Mills, 1997, Houghton Mifflin - for something a little more scholarly.  The Mills book, covering two hundred years of cultural and political and economic history, is a little dry.  Young is not.

A quick look at Young:

Last June the Democratic National Committee sponsored an ad portraying the president as Frankenstein creating a monster for a federal judgeship. This, Fox News host Sean Hannity declared, was a typical example of Democratic demonization. "Theyre obviously being pretty mean-spirited here," he said, "as they usually are."

Confronted with this accusation, Democratic consultant Victor Kamber parried, "Its the Republicans that have been the hate mongers in the past campaigns." Hannity's mild-mannered liberal co-host Alan Colmes inquired of another guest, "You think Democrats are a lot meaner than Republicans?"

Actually, conservatives have been doing quite well in the meanness sweepstakes, thanks largely to the impressive efforts of Ann Coulter. The right-wing pundit's latest book, Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, attempts, among other things, to rehabilitate Sen. Joe McCarthy.

Yes, if you read Coulter you find this: "Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Everyone says liberals love America, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy. This is their essence. ... They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America's self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn't slowed them down."

Coulter elsewhere has "jokingly" wished assassination on Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and serious accused Mineta of "burning with hatred for America" because he opposes racial profiling in airport screening.   And she has been quoted as saying, in regard to the fellow from Marin County who was a foot soldier for the Taliban, "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals by making them realize that they could be killed, too."

Young dissects the Coulter statements and those of others on the "angry right."  But she points out on that the left "has its own nasties such as Michael Moore."  To them the right are "at best uncompassionate and at worst bigots and fascists, that they feel the Republicans want to poison the air, water, kill children and throw children on the streets.  Not to mention abuse the elderly and burn down black churches."'

Well there was the cartoon on the Web site of the Democratic National Committee showing Bush shoving a wheelchair-bound granny down the edge of a Social Security trust fund graph. Or to a cartoon in the New York Daily News that showed Gale Norton, Bush's nominee to be secretary of the interior, declaring, "Leave no child alive."

Young says that such discourse from both sides, if that is what this is, sets off a vicious cycle, in which each side feels justified in hurling vicious slurs because the other camp is even worse.   She suggests that while this "endless shouting match" can be entertaining at times it does drown out serious arguments.
Well, what Young wrote had my ear attuned to insult, and I came across an item by Neil Cavuto: Isn't It Rich, Being Rich? Tuesday, October 14, 2003  Fox News  URL: <

Cavuto was upset that on Monday, Joe Lieberman unveiled a plan to make the rich pay "their fair share" in taxes.  Joe Lieberman was, it seemed about to lead a platoon of Democrats who want to roll back tax cuts for the wealthy.

Cavuto got on his high horse saying the rich deserved a fair shake:

I think politicians need to wake up to the people who are paying up. I mean, when is giving 35 percent of your income to the government not doing enough?

When is a group's forking over more in taxes than all other groups combined not helping enough?

What politician can honestly look at the top one percent in this country, paying more than a third of the taxes in this country, and say they are not being taxed enough? I'll tell you what politicians: the clueless and ungrateful ones!

It's easy to forget the rich pay the more in taxes as a group after the president's tax cut, than before.

It's easy to forget that the rich hire more people, buy more things and do more things. ...

Take a look at the tax tables, you ingrates. Read the charts, you trough-feeding, social-program pushing pimps. The very boondoggles you hold dear are funded by the so-called ingrates you sneer.

Rich people aren't evil people. I've known just as many poor schmucks, as I have wealthy ones. Character has no salaried pedigree. ...

So, let me be clear: They're the people paying up. So first, why don't you shut up!

If you haven't the simple decency to say "thank you," then for once in your smarmy, disingenuous, photo-opportunity lives, refrain from saying "screw you."

That was the gist if it.  It was a bit more detailed.  But you get the idea.  A bit of name-calling, of course.

The reaction from my online discussion group was to hit back.

From Phillip Raines in Atlanta:

The richest 1% pay most of the taxes?  Well if you say so.  They're the ones who create the most jobs?  Well if you say so.  The universe went from the size of a neutron to the size it is now in the time it takes to make a sandwich?  Well, if you say so.  One thing my tax preparer pointed out is the tax cuts for dividends have become so convoluted that the rich will be surprised how they won't get the breaks they anticipate because of the new qualifications on dividends.  Ask any executive on the golf course and they will tell you the rich work harder, but mostly smarter, than the guys who are considered the worker - you know the ditch diggers and the dishwashers.  Not that they could dig a ditch any faster, given a shovel, or wash a dish any cleaner in the same time, but arrogance is an inevitable side effect of success.  It is the guy who has the most money left over who should give up the most money to finance this war without end.

From Stephan in London, Ontario, Canada:

No doubt. 

And anyone making hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars a year who ACTUALLY PAYS 35% in income tax has got to have his head examined and find someone besides Bozo the Clown to do his accounting and tax returns.

Reality is that the more you make, the more ways you have of avoiding or at least reducing the amount you pay in taxes.  I know personally that although I make almost 3 times as much as my first job out of school, I pay hardly any more taxes than I did then, simply by maxing out my retirement plan contributions, writing off the interest on my mortgage, etc, etc.  You can't benefit from tax breaks like that if every last dime goes to rent, food, and keeping an old rustbucket going so you can get to that crappy low-wage job.

Here in Canada, we have the ultimate example of this Cavoto fellow's hypocrisy.  Our Minister of Finance (who looks poised to be the next Prime Minister, btw) only pays taxes on what he actually earns in salary in any given year.  Minus the aforementioned breaks, of course.  Besides a home and cottage here, it is a known fact that all the rest of his assets are growing and earning interest, dividends, etc. in untaxed offshore accounts and business ventures.

Fair share indeed.

My reply to them was this:

Seems you two do not subscribe to the Steve Forbes flat-tax plan - one rate for everyone - or to the "eliminate taxes on the wealthy as incentive" plan one hears from the far right.  That one goes something like this: if the richer you become the less tax you pay, then people will have the incentive to stop being so lazy and defeatist, get off their fat butts, get the proper attitude and get rich.  Then only the poor lazy parasites on the lower end of the ladder will be paying taxes, all of the taxes, as well they should, because they use up all the social services.  Use the tax code as an incentive to force the less than wealthy into productive behaviors. 

This is quite logical, if you accept the premise that anyone at all can become rich with the proper attitude, because poverty and "economic oppression" are entirely the fault of those who choose to remain poor and play the role of victim rather than do something about it.  As you know, I have been hammered with this argument for several years now.  I'm not comfortable with the premise, so I remain unconvinced.  This is no doubt a failing on my part.

It is curious that, if you follow what is said by the administration to those who are troubled by just about ninety percent of the recent giant tax relief package going to only the top two percent of the population, you will find the response to such talk is a stern warning.  We are warned that such criticism is "class warfare" and such pitting of economic class against economic class is bad for the nation - we're all in this together and such talk stirs up pointless resentment.  (Again, quotes, citations and attributions available on request - I don't make this stuff up.)

Out here in Southern California we are in the middle of three major union actions - a strike against the grocery store chains, the bus mechanics out on strike and all public transportation, such as it is out here, stopped, and a job action by the county sheriffs asking for a three percent raise for the last three years of flat wages. 

The first, the grocery store action, is curious.  The locals are actually acting quite French, even Parisian.  People are, generally, not crossing the picket lines.  Even the folks out on Catalina - the island "twenty-six miles across the sea" from Los Angeles harbor, if you remember the song - are not shopping the one grocery store on the island.  For them grocery shopping is a day trip to the mainland to the independent grocers in Long Beach.  Curious.  One local columnist suggests class warfare is really beginning, in spite of the federal government's stance that there is no need for such feelings.  Al Martinez says this - "I have a feeling that there's a people's war brewing against greed and excess, against the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and we'd better start taking it seriously."  See below.

From: Feels like a people's war is brewing  Al Martinez  Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2003  URL: http://www.latimes.com/news/columnists/la-et-martinez17oct17,1,7750750.column?coll=la-news-columns (registration required)

... [I] heard from shoppers who had come by to support those walking the picket lines. I also heard from some who said they were sick of the little man being trod upon by corporate giants. One woman didnt give a rat's kazoo what the issues were. She announced in a tone not intended to encourage debate, "We're at war with CEOs!

The theme has been repeated in radio and television interviews with many of the shoppers who are respecting the picket lines. They aren't all union members or left-leaning sympathizers, but the kinds of people who get property taxes lowered and governors thrown out of office. The little old ladies are at it again.

They're a metaphor for activists who have been making things happen lately, and theyre beginning to lean in favor of those in the lower margins of society. ...

Issues aside, I sense a growing indignation against those who make millions of dollars on the backs of those who make hundreds. Contradictions abound. We see workers asking for a 50-cent hourly raise while the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange walks away with a pay package of $187 million. ...

I became radicalized two years ago when Enron collapsed, but not before it paid an average of $5.3 million to each of its 140 senior officers in bonuses and stock grants. I got even crazier when Global Crossing went down. The company managed to pay $15 million in lump-sum pension payments to its executives, while its rank-and-file employees lost $250 million in their pension plan. And so ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

A bit late, Joseph sent this from France, somewhere east of Paris:

No sooner had my drunken mind percolated the "flat tax" when Alan uttered the words...

I'm certain that what is meant by "the rich paying their fair share" is that the rich should pay the proportion which is prescribed by the law regardless of how fair we think that proportion is (after all, are we not often called upon to honor the law despite its unfairness?)

Unfortunately, the recognition that the more money one makes, the more one is able to engage in "tax avoidance" (read: cheating) creates an environment in which we are obliged to note not only the myriad of ways in which the wealthy, contrary to popular opinion, are able take disproportionate advantage of public services, but in addition the fact that they often owe their wealth to the existence of "public goods" (the freeway system and Department of Defense  for example). It would perhaps be different if they were less grudging about paying for the infrastructure from which they have benefited so generously.

I suspect that if they consulted with their accountants, most of the truly wealthy would be opposed to the so-called "flat tax" because they would pay more under it than they are presently. Furthermore, they would probably oppose it because they would no longer be able to fortify themselves with the kind of claims that Cavuto is making on their behalf.

As for the Forbes / recycled Milton Friedman prescription for a better, more productive America, I find it really amusing that those who are so eager to decry "social engineering" whenever it offends their delicate sensibilities are so eager to engage in a bit of their own the moment is suits them.

Well, I do agree with Joseph.  Having more money means one can find all the little maneuvers that make it possible to avoid much in the way of any real tax burden.  Let the suckers who can't use the tax-dodges-of-the-rich pay for the damned roads, bridges, bombers and schools.  It's been that way for many decades.  My Wall Street attorney friend, Martin, who lives in the world of making sense of Sarbanes-Oxley rules and securities regulations, is, as far as I can tell, the only one of that Wall Street crowd who flat-out says he is glad to pay taxes, because the government does important things in which we all share.  Of course he only says that privately - in the quiet, mahogany-lined offices of Wall Street it is best to be a closet liberal.

My conservative friends, to be blunt, are in a perpetual state of low-level outrage - they devoted their lives to creating businesses and making profits, and folks want to take away their hard-earned dollars and give them to welfare mothers eating pork-rinds and watermelon while watching Jerry Springer all day (or watching Evelyne Thomas in France) and living off the hard work of others.  What's the point of working hard if what you earn is going to be taken away and given to folks who sneer at the idea of working?  I've heard that speech many times, pretty much in those exact words.  Sigh.  So it is.  So it has been.  So it will always be. 

Do we live in a society of shared values, risks, burdens and rewards, in a community?  Or do we live in the elysian fields of freedom, solitary heroes, where we are free to become all we can be, where we are "personally responsible" for our fate, free and not bound by oppressive government or the demands of the poor, unlucky and lazy dragging us, and our children, down?  Community to some is communism to others.  Same root. 

The question was always there.  George Bush and his crew just brought it into dramatic relief.  The middle ground of compromise was eliminated - and the angry rhetoric rising up from both sides is getting more and more intense.  Driving around Los Angeles last month, Rick Brown and I discussed how there might be a middle ground.  Ah, but neither side wants to hear that.

Will it be the "elysian fields of freedom?"   Or will it be the idea of social community - that idea that radiates from the land of the other Champs-Elysées?  Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).  We only do the first one, and not very well.  But we do make a half-hearted stab at the second one, Egalité, now and then.  We don't do the last one, Fraternité, at all - never have.

Well, things may be royally fucked, but at least we're not French.