There's a lot going on politically, economically and socially these days with some happenings likely candidates for Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" Here are a few items you may have missed, along with my commentary:
-Consider all of the police officers, fire department personnel, school teachers and other state government workers nationwide who have lost their jobs, as well as the thousands of school and social programs cut back or eliminated, as 46 of 50 state governments face deficits that totaled $103 billion in 2011. According to Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost American tax payers between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion, the latter figure almost 40 times greater than that of current state deficits. It's mind-boggling to think how those wasted war dollars could have been used for the betterment of the entire nation, from hiring more teachers (and reducing class sizes) and repairing our crumbling highways and bridges, to funding medical research on every disease that afflicts humankind.
-See if you can identify the speakers of the following quotes. Discussing tax loopholes, this individual stated that "in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary, and that's crazy." Here's the second: "Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed. Labor is superior of capital, and deserves much more consideration."
The first is from a speech by Ronald Reagan delivered in Atlanta, Ga., on June 6, 1986. And what of the second quote regarding the primacy of labor? Was it Marx? Lenin? Chairman Mao? Nope, none of the above. These strong sentiments of workers' rights came from Abraham Lincoln in his annual message to Congress in 1861. Neither of these two former Republican presidents would get very far in today's GOP, the party of the super-rich and ultra-conservative. To the contrary, both would be vilified for their socialist tendencies, especially Lincoln. I'm surprised some Republican right-wing ideologue hasn't advocated removing his likeness from the penny and $5 bill.
-In a recent column, syndicated writer Charles Krauthammer stated, "The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world." Apparently Mr. Krauthammer does not understand the difference between corporate tax law and corporate tax reality - that is, what these giant companies actually pay in taxes when the many tax loopholes afforded them are utilized. Citizens for Tax Justice reported that more than two dozen corporations - including General Electric, Verizon and Mattel - paid no federal taxes, not a dime, between 2008 and 2011. These tax waivers are courtesy of our "1 percent"-friendly politicians, Republicans and Democrats.
-The Wall Street Journal notes that "big U.S. companies have emerged from the deepest recession since World War II more productive, more profitable, flush with cash, and less burdened by debt." Not satisfied with this level of prosperity, Republicans want to cut taxes on corporations even further (currently at their lowest rate in 40 years), arguing this money is needed to stimulate employment growth. Truth be told, these companies have more money than they know what to do with. (In its last earnings statement Apple reported cash reserves of $97 billion.) Rather than create work in this country with the hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of dollars they are holding, many corporations are buying back their own stock. Regarding the relatively few employment opportunities corporations have created, the WSJ stated, "Many of the 1.1 million jobs the big companies added since 2007 were outside the U.S."
-Economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty report that, as in other industrial nations, the tremendous income inequality that existed in the U.S. prior to World War II began to fall dramatically after the fighting ended, and it remained stable for 25 years, a period economists call the "Great Compression." However, starting in the 1970s, income inequality began to rise, with this disparity now just as great as it was prior to the Great Depression. Saez and Picketty found that between 2000 and 2007, the incomes of the bottom 90 percent of wage earners increased 4 percent when adjusted for inflation. During that same period, the incomes of the top 0.1 percent increased about 94 percent. Under President Franklin Roosevelt, the income tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was as high as 91 percent. Today the richest among us pay (in theory) one-third that rate, "and inequality is greater than in the time of Roosevelt." We are witnessing nothing less than the rise of a new class of super-rich robber barons.
-Here's a great idea from New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman: "U.S. congressmen should have to dress like NASCAR drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they're taking money from. The public needs to know." All 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 U.S. senators standing together in their logo outfits would be a telling sight about how this country really works.
-In mid March of this year, Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah signed a bill into law requiring women seeking an abortion to wait three days before undergoing that procedure. These women must also submit to a face-to-face consultation with a medical professional who will outline the gestation process of the fetus. A spokesperson for the governor stated this law "appropriately allows women facing such a decision time to fully weigh her options as well as the implications of her decision."
I propose a three-day waiting period for individuals who want to join the military, as well as a mandatory face-to-face meeting with a combat veteran who would help prospective recruits understand the implications of their decision, make them aware that war is not a Rambo movie or a video game. These young men and women would learn that striving to "be all that you can be" could result in a gruesome death or permanent disfigurement with a lifetime of physical and/or emotional pain. Options to military service, such as the AmeriCorps or Peace Corps, would be explored.
-Republican candidates in Lauren County, South Carolina, are being asked to sign a 28-point "purity pledge." Candidates must state that they were virgins before marriage, are not gay and will not watch pornography. A few more items should be added to this pledge list. For example: "I have never listened to National Public Radio or read the New York Times. I have never taken an American history, economics, sociology, philosophy or logic class. I believe Barack Obama was born on the socialist planet Gonnagetcha and secretly transported to earth on a Muslim spacecraft (the Starship Al Qaeda) to destroy Western civilization. I solemnly swear to never, under any circumstances, think too much or too deeply."
George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale, retired after 24 years of teaching sociology as a professor at the University of San Diego.
"Cost of war at least $3.7 trillion and counting" (June 26, 2011) Reuters, www.reuters.com
"Economy" (July 25, 2012) Time, p. 20
Collins, J. (March 6, 2012) "Laurens County South Carolina Republican Party: Candidates Expected to Sign Purity Pledge," The Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com
Dionne, E. (Sept. 4, 2011) "The Last Labor Day?" Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com
Friedman, T. (Oct. 30, 2011) "Did you hear the one about the bankers? New York Times, www.nytimes.com
Garofalo, P. (Oct. 3, 2011) "Reagan called for an end to 'crazy' tax loopholes that let millionaires pay less than bus drivers," Think Progress, www.thinkprogress.com
Gehrke, R. (March 21, 2012) "Guv signs bill requiring 72-hour wait for abortions," The Salt Lake Tribune, www.sltrib.com
Grayson, A. (Dec. 3, 2011) "Lincoln: 'Labor is Superior to Capital,'" Reader Supported News, readersupportednews.com
Krauthammer, C. (April 16, 2012) "Free lunch egalitarianism," Adirondack Daily Enterprise, p. 4
Lowrey, A. (April 12, 2012) "French Duo See (Well) Past Tax Rise for the Richest," New York Times, www.nytimes.com
Thurman, S. (April 13, 2012) "For Big Companies, Life is Good," Online Wall Street Journal, online.wsj.com
Winship, M. and B. Moyers (April 13, 2012) "The Rich Are Different From You and Me - They Pay Fewer Taxes," Truthout, www.truth-out.org