Seriously, folks. This is beyond outrageous. This is beyond tragedy. It has long gone beyond farce. I think it is even beyond demented and straight into the fifth dimension known as the Twilight Zone.
How long are we, the working class, going to take this shit?
For centuries we have been the victims of a Class War. We have won a few battles but in the Big Picture we are getting our asses kicked.
Are we so demoralized and defeated that we just don’t care anymore?
Are we a dead horse being continually beaten?
Is there not any life left in us?
I want to be optimistic but it’s really hard to be. But we have to be. Or at least, we have to stay committed even in the face of defeat because, most importantly, we do the right thing – resist – because it’s the right thing to do. Not because we think we will succeed. Also, because as slim as our chances are, there is at least a chance we can finish this war as victors. What we should keep in mind is that apathy and inaction have never broken a chain or liberated a people.
This country, like all others, was founded on Class War. The American historian, Charles Beard, recognized this a century ago when he interpreted the US Constitution with an economic lens.
From Day One the game was rigged in favor of the "well-born," the "propertied class." I suspect that most of those who may be reading this are well acquainted with the works of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky and how they have pointed to our Founding Father’s own admissions that reveal their class interests and intentions.
In the late 1800s a labor movement began to rise up and by the 1930s it had taken a militant and somewhat revolutionary approach but due to several factors I won’t address here, outside of one, it was defeated. It’s as John Dewey said a long time ago: "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business." It hasn’t just been here but everywhere. Our government has always sided with the ruling class against the working class. In fact, it has acted as a gendarme for them, the Lords of Capital.
The anti-labor sentiment continues to this very day and it is easy to infect even the working class thanks to the hierarchy within Big Labor which has resulted in an exploitative and corrupt leadership that has more in common with the Capitalist ruling classes than the workers themselves. When Big Labor bosses make as much as a CEO and do none of the grunt work you know there is something wrong. (A good book on this is Solidarity for Sale; How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promiseby Robert Fitch.)
True, we won minimum wage, 8 hour work days, overtime, health and safety laws. We won disability and retirement benefits and all have been under assault before the ink dried.
When the banks and the foreign wars break our economy who does the government and the Lords of Capital, look to for "austerity measures"? Us, the working class. Notice President Obama’s "spending freeze" excluded the warmongering. Bankers continue to get paid nicely while living wages have continued to drop and homes foreclosed upon and jobs lost. Chomsky often likes to quote Thucydides, an ancient Greek historian, who said "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." Or as the Queen ant in A Bug’s Life put it: "That’s our lot in life. It’s not a lot, but it’s our life!"
Remember when we bailed out the auto companies? Go back and look at the reporting again (items like this). Notice all the demands on the workers to take losses. Notice the lecturing, dismissive tones saying these workers are pampered and need to take one for the team. Now go back to the bank bailouts and see if you see the same attitude towards the bankers. When Obama displayed some minor criticisms of the CEO salaries and bonuses the bankers came out and basically said, "Shut it up or we will take our campaign funding elsewhere." Obama quickly silenced himself and said they were fine guys and there’s nothing wrong with exploiting the working class.
Even now the First Lady is pushing for an obesity bill that may result in cuts to food stamp benefits. She wants a "child nutrition" bill that will starve kids. I guess starvation is an effective way to remedy obesity.
When President Bush "won" his second term (thanks to vote rigging in Ohio) he bragged about having "political capital" and that he intended to spend it. One of the things on his agenda was privatizing Social Security. But where Bush was unable to spend his political capital Obama just may be able to. People, it’s in the works. From ideas about cutting benefits to investing in the market to increasing the retirement age it should be noted that every single proposal involves the poor working class to pay for adjustments that really don’t address the issue.
You see, for years now we have had to deal with these fearmongering stories about how the program is going to bankrupt our government down and that the program just isn’t solvent. These rich bastards tell us, as if they are some Vietnam War soldier, we have to destroy the program in order to save it. If we put it in the market then it will be safe . . . for their buddies to profit off but we know that the market is a volatile system and putting our eggs in its basket is a very risky venture.
Social Security is taking in more than it is giving out and this will continue until the late 2030s even if there are no changes.
Now we could do like we did in the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s and slightly raise the tax and that would extend it beyond the 2030s but there is another problem with the program: its benefits are not enough to sustain its recipients who, over half of, rely on it as their main source of income.
The obvious solution, the one the Peter Peterson’s and the Barack Obama’s of the world will not dare mention is: remove the cap. As it stands less than $110,000 of a workers income is taxed for the program. This means if you make $220,000 a year then only half of your income will be taxed for the program. If you are a CEO who makes $5 million a year than 2% of your annual earned income will go to fund the program. This doesn’t include your investment income or stocks and bonuses, etc. So while a single-mom working double-shifts at IHOP sees 100% of her income taxed for Social Security, Mr. CEO sees less than 2% of his income taxed.
That is the problem.
Removing the cap would free up a lot of revenue and making it possible to increase the benefits so that those who rely on it actually have enough to live on.
It would also greatly help if we didn’t have a private health care system that is costly and ineffective. Hundreds of Americans die each day due to lack of care. Over half of all bankruptcies in the US are due to medical bills and over half of those unfortunate souls have insurance! When you are an elderly person living off of Social Security the burden of the health care system only adds insult to injury.
Our private health care system is just a gift to the private industry and President Obama’s bill just solidifies it further. It mandates it. He has even stated so openly by saying, "As I said when I met with the insurance executives, it’s not meant to punish insurance companies. […] once this reform is fully implemented a few years from now, America’s private insurance companies have the opportunity to prosper from the opportunity to compete for tens of millions of new customers." You got that? Based on his meetings "with the insurance executives," not singlepayer advocates, he came up with a "reform" that will allow "America’s private insurance companies […] to prosper." From his own mouth. In August 2009 Businessweek ran this article: The Health Insurers Have Already Won. The writing was on the wall for all to see.
States and local governments are going bankrupt due to lack of tax revenue. The first things on the chopping blocks are not corporate welfare but jobs and social welfare – things like education and food stamps. Even as $26.1 billion was allocated to save teachers jobs it was offset by cutting social programs! Proving once again that even when we address working class issues it is a given that it will be paid for by the working poor themselves.
If we put the tax income rate for the rich back to 91% like it was during the Golden Age of Capitalism and if we taxed investment income as earned income and if we taxed derivatives in an open exchange system and if the government negotiated drug prices with Big Pharma and if we had a singlepayer healthcare system and if we reduced our military spending by a factor of ten (we are 5% of the world yet we account for 50% of the annual global military expenditures) then there would be no recession.
But of course this would mean the ruling class would have to tighten its belt (which doesn’t mean much really when you think about it – I mean, the difference between making $1 million a year and $100,000 a year is not as threatening as the difference between making $30,000 a year and $20,000) and that is not going to happen unless the working class organizes and revolts.
Back to the Golden Age of Capitalism: There is another thing about this I want to bring up in context of the Class War. We are 360% more productive than we were during that era. This means we could work 3.5x less and still be just as productive. Yet living wages are declining and income inequality is increasing. Where is the wealth generated by this increased productivity going? It’s not going to the working class. I can tell you that.
We also need to protect our manufacturing base and this has a lot to do with our trading deficit. When we lay off our workers to exploit the cheap labor of foreign countries then that means we begin importing more than we are exporting.
Some of you may bring up the ecological impact of our manufacturing and that is a great point. We can’t separate our effect on the ecology from our class struggles (or our gender, political and cultural struggles for that matter). They are intertwined in a complementary holistic way. No doubt that if we shift the burden of funding government programs to those who have income to spare (i.e. the Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’) and not those who are the most vulnerable (i.e. most likely you), that we could make considerable improvement in developing more sustainable technology. MIT has been working on ground breaking solar technology that is coming along and doing so with only a fraction of the money the US spends each month in its wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we divested our money and resources and manpower from war and invested them into building a sustainable economy we would have every reason to believe we could put it to much better use than aggression. If we were to get a binding international cap and trade treaty that has no grand fathering clauses in it and that auctions off 100% of permits, like what the political economist Robin Hahnel has been advocating (see Why Cap and Trade and Not a Carbon Tax?), then we could also reduce our carbon footprint while getting more funding to rebate the poor and sustainable technology development.
The economic problems we face in this country are the result of how the ruling class has ensured its interests are catered to. They want low taxes and government subsidies and laws that accommodate them. They want to privatize the gains and socialize the losses. When their rackets drain the economy and destroy our ecosystems they expect the working class to tighten their belts and do as their told. And for a long time we have done just that but dammit, enough is enough. I really hope things don’t have to get worse before they get better. Are we really going to wait for another Great Depression to regain our consciousness and confidence and organize amongst ourselves to do something about it? Aren’t we long overdue for some radical vision and strategy; to conceive of a new world and begin building it? What will it take? Do we need the Apocalypse? Do we have to see the Four Horsemen galloping over the hill before we come to our senses?