In reference to Woody Zimmerman's At Large column Even I am Impress-ed, of April 16, 2011:
To paraphrase Mr. Twain:
No scare quotes will be found in this opinion piece. This is an attempt to pull an opinion piece through without scare quotes. It being the first attempt if the kind in opinion pieces, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood.
Many a reader who wanted to read an opinion piece through was not able to do it because of delays on account of scare quotes. Nothing breaks up a pundit's progress like having to stop every few words to fuss-up and figure out whether he is quoting someone, or just emphasizing a phrase to show that it is so ridiculous that he must enclose it in quotes to show that there's no way in h-e-double-toothpicks he buys that stupid idea. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of scare quotes are bad for both reader and author.
Of course scare quotes are necessary to drive home the depth of passion of the author. That is conceded. But they ought to be put where they will not be in the way; where they will not interrupt the flow of the narrative. The scare quotes will be found at the end of this article, out of the way. The reader is requested to scroll down and help himself from time to time as he goes along. (*)
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Woody, Woody, Woody. Where were you ten years ago? Why weren't you railing against the Bush tax cuts that dissolved the surpluses that we were running and put us so deeply into a hole that we'll never climb out, while we capped off the decade with the worst recession since the Great Depression?
No sooner had Barack Obama lowered his hand from taking the oath of office as President than Republicans began running in circles waving their hands and shrieking that something must be done about the deficit or we're all gonna die! AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!! There was a sense of astonishment when the new President put forth an agenda: He can't spend any money! It's all gone!
In 2001, we were running a surplus. As in, spending less than we took in each year. We were actually having discussions on what it would mean to our economy and to foreign relations to pay off our national debt. Great minds used scores of scare quotes to try to sway the public one way or another. In response, a Republican Congress passed a huge package of tax cuts, slanted mostly toward the very wealthy and large corporations. It was signed by a Republican President.
On September 11, 2001, the planes hit. We made war on Al Quaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. We didn't pay for it.
We then made war on Iraq, toppling a dictator and searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction. We didn't find the WMD. We didn't pay for the war, either. The only ones who paid for the war were the small percentage of the population fighting it, along with their families. A yellow sticker on a bumper was all that was asked from the rest of us. But that's a subject for another piece.
Then, the Republican Congress passed perhaps the greatest pharmaceutical company boondoggle in history: Medicare Part D. The Republican President signed it. Premiums and medication costs have increased by about 10% per year ever since. Medications which should have gone off patent years ago are still under patent because of that legislation. Millions fall screaming into the Donut Hole every year. Again, we did not pay for it.
Since the Reagan administration, we have operated under the principle of trickle-down economics, which says that if you give a whole lot of money to the top through tax cuts and subsidies, it will trickle down to the unwashed masses. It didn't. Wages stagnated. The top kept the money and shipped jobs overseas to cut costs so they could keep more money. We gave them more tax cuts and subsidies to do it. The unwashed public tried to juggle consumer debt and finally used their home equity during the Mother of All Bubbles to maintain the illusion of prosperity. In a final thumbing of its nose at the American public, the wealthiest Americans pulled out their billions while the bottom fell out of the economy. We, the people, bailed out the financial sector and attempted to keep things going with stimulus packages starting under the Republican President. And still, we didn't pay for it.
With the surpluses long gone, the deficit exploding, and more of our debt owned overseas, but especially with Democrats in control of two of the three branches of government, Republicans suddenly got religion on their tax-cut-and-spend policies and the deficit. At least, on the spending part. We haven't heard the end of it. The solution from the Republican side appears to be toothpaste economics: Always squeeze from the bottom. Rail against government spending out of one side of your mouth while your family accepts agricultural subsidies (yes, I'm talking to you, Rep. Bachmann). Rail against wasteful spending on the poor, even as Medicaid supports your aging and disabled mother in a nursing home. Whine about greedy geezers and people below the poverty level who pay little or no Federal income tax, as mulit-billion-dollar corporations legally pay no taxes. Do your best to kill collective bargaining for workers, while you take advantage of it through your company or Congressional health insurance.
On top of that, unearned income is taxed at a lower rate than income that people actually work for. The Capital Gains taxis low, and there is always talk of eliminating it altogether. Paris Hilton probably pays less of a percentage of her income in taxes than does my cleaning lady. There's an ongoing effort to repeal the estate tax, even though it affects only huge estates. Inherited money isn't earned by the recipient. When did we switch to valuing earned income so much less than inherited or unearned income?
The Bush tax cuts were always a bad idea. I thought so when they were passed, and when we went to war in Afghanistan, I remarked that it was the first time that I knew of where we went to war and cut taxes at the same time. By the time Medicare Part D came along, I was about tearing my hair out.
The deal of trickle-down economics was supposed to be that if we gave tax breaks and subsidies to the top, they would invest, create jobs, hire people, and pay them well. The jobs are gone, unemployment is stuck at record levels, job creation is limp, wages have stagnated for over a decade, and we're seeing income inequality that we haven't had since the Roaring 20's - third-world style income inequality. Working conditions certainly haven't improved; in fact, companies are saving even more money on office space, equipment, and power by shifting work to people's homes. Capital has failed this nation. What exactly their interest is in bringing our country down, except to accumulate even more personal wealth, I can't imagine. But they have reneged on their part of the deal.
I have heard about about the Laffer Curve, and how we can't raise taxes on the wealthiest because they might hold back and not invest, and jobs won't be created for the little guys. Guess what? It's already happened! It doesn't matter whether we raise taxes on the wealthiest 400 families or not - they're not creating jobs, at least not here! Tax 'em! Tax 'em all! Revoke the Bush tax cuts! It doesn't matter! They're not spending the money anyway! We need the revenue!
What's the solution? At this point, anything will help, and, as the Republicans are so fond of saying, everyone must sacrifice. That means the top one percent, as well as the bottom 99 percent. Revoking the Bush tax cuts will not solve a deficit of a decade's making, but it's a start. Put everything on the table: defense, tax cuts, subsidies, entitlements, discretionary spending, reform of the tax code. But don't expect to reduce the deficit significantly from the 16% of discretionary spending, especially those programs targeting those hurt most by the recession. Don't expect defense contractors, which provide many people with a very good living, to escape the pinch. Don't expect people subsisting on Social Security to swallow big cuts that the wealthiest are not willing to accept. And we might try paying for things like wars for a change. It may actually spread the financial sacrifice, if nothing else, to someone besides the tiny group actually doing the fighting.
If we look at the various countries where unrest and revolution has occurred this year, we see a common thread: massive income and wealth disparity, and high unemployment. I suggest that we take a good look at what's happening here. As you yourself once said, Woody, long before the personal computer was a gleam in Steve Jobs's eye, watch out when the working man gets really mad.
At a Town Hall Meeting during the Health Care kerfuffle, I heard a rabbi give the opening prayer, in which he read Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream from Genesis 41, where seven fat ears of grain were devoured by seven lean ears, and the dream was interpreted as seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. As you remember from Sunday School, Pharaoh stored up grain from the years of plenty to take Egypt through the seven years of famine, through increased taxes. And darned if Egypt didn't prosper during the famine.
Boy did we blow it.
Scare Quotes available for use as needed:
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(*) with sincere apologies to Mr. Twain, who is doubtless spinning in his grave. Paraphrased from "The Weather in this Book" from "The American Claimant", by Mark Twain
Kathryn L. Zimmerman