Just Because You’re Rich Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Have Problems

On May 17, 2017, Giselle Bündchen, wife of superstar NFL quarterback Tom Brady, revealed in an interview with Charlie Rose that “he [Brady] has concussions but we don’t talk about it.”  Brady dodged the question when ESPN came calling preferring to hedge his bet by a non-answer answer— “she’s a very concerned wife and very loving.”  The cavalcade of denials ramped up as the story went viral. NFL was the first to jump in “There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion.” As the denial train was pulling out of the station, Brady’s agent, Don Yee, jumped abroad “Tom was not diagnosed with a concussion last year…” Mhmm…does the “lady” protest too much?

 

Brady’s concussions may be of the “now you see it, now you don’t” variety, but sexual harassment is a bone you can keep on chewing. As Hollywood’s A-listers (mostly women but a few intrepid men) line up at the microphone to denounce the creepy and demeaning behavior of a Hollywood mogul who in a former life had provided many of them with the star turns that led to their golden goodies (Oscars) and the golden life they now enjoy, the board of directors of the company he founded ordered him and his $160 million dollar fortune to leave the building. “In light of new information about misconduct by Harvey Weinstein…the directors of the Weinstein Company [100% male, methinks that may be part of the problem] …have… informed Harvey Weinstein that his employment with the Weinstein Company is terminated, effective immediately.”

 

Example three just goes to show that it isn’t all orchids and champagne when you’re net worth is one-half billion dollars. Take the lamentable fix Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his lovely bride (the third one) found themselves in when his department’s IG (Inspector General) nixed his plan to use a government jet to whoop it up in Scotland, France, and Italy on a gala
wedding trip. Not to be deterred, the unflappable Mnuchin, eschewing permission, hopped on a government jet (with his wife, the same one we presume he squired around Europe) this time to finagle a front row seat for the Eclipse (which he later claimed couldn’t hold a candle to his exciting life in NYC).

 

His own private excesses aside, Secretary Mnuchin is determined to put the U.S. on a diet. Let’s be clear about who will be expected to shed pounds — not high-flying government officials who will continue to enjoy luxury travel and other extravagant perks, not U.S. oligarchs whose munificent tax breaks and subsidies will continue into perpetuity, no indeed, Secretary Mnuchin is wielding the austerity axe at the diminishing pot of gold most folks rely on to get by in this dog-eat-dog, to the winner-go-the-goodies financialized economy. Of course, he doesn’t come right out and say that preferring instead to blather about cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15% (although the yowls from Congress make cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20-25% more doable). Here’s why (in Mnuchin-speak). To Mnuchin and his bros, U.S. corporations are victims of a corporate tax scam that winds up extorting a disproportionate share of federal taxes from them, which is why they haven’t been the “job creators” they would have been if their taxes weren’t so damn high. Not so fast. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that In 2016, the federal government spent $3.9 trillion. Federal revenues (taxes) financed a little over $3.3 trillion. Guess who coughed up 81% ($2.67 trillion) of that? Not corporations but individual tax payers, whose income taxes covered almost half (47%) of the total while individual payroll taxes accounted for 34%. (despite the law requiring employers to pick up one-half of each employee’s withholding, it is generally agreed that virtually all employers pass on their half to employees). Now about those sky-high taxes that are driving corporations to set up shop in lower tax countries —when push comes to shove, they wind up paying 9% ($297 billion) of the total $3.3 trillion.

 

The tax reform President Trump and his minions have proposed is a continuation of the collusion between government leaders and their paymasters (corporate chieftains). With the proposed reduction in the already paltry $2.97 billion corporations chip in to run the government plus the disappearance of another $297 billion if Trump’s tax plan manages to eliminate the estate tax (or as Trump calls it the “death tax” even though he knows that under the present tax system only the top .2% of rich Americans have to pay it, including Donald J. Trump himself.) The disappearance of almost $600 billion from federal coffers has to be paid for by someone and there’s no mystery about who’s being targeted for that role— unless, of course you believe the “truth-tellers” (aka job creators). Here’s James Dimon, the financial equivalent of a snake oil pitchman, lecturing us on why corporations not paying their fair share is the solution only an exceptional nation could dream up: “I’m as optimistic as ever about the future of America…We have a limited window to get reform done, and this is an opportunity that America can’t afford to miss.” Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

 

There you have it, a snapshot of the anxieties that haunt the lives of the wealthy and powerful. An aging football player worth a cool half billion who’s having trouble exiting stage left despite the risk to body and mind, a big-time Hollywood producer using his power and wealth to humiliate young women in a grisly pantomime of the economic repression and degradation our most vulnerable citizens have been subject to at the hands of both democrat and republican administrations, and finally a swamp creature that Trump didn’t drain gorging at the public trough while millions of Americans are having trouble paying the rent and feeding the kids.

 

How’s everybody else doing? The 99% of us who don’t have the travails of the rich and powerful. Here’s a quick snapshot. Let’s start with the 41.2 Americans the U.S. Department of Agriculture labels “food insecure — bureaucrat-speak for just plain hungry. From the hungry to those destined to be perennially poor —people (mostly youngish) who owe $1.4 trillion in student loans to a booming college industry that has doubled the debt load on our children and grandchildren in a decade. It’s not just the young caught in the debt spiral. $18 billion of that debt is on the backs of seniors 65+. Their golden years are tarnished by the burden of a mostly unaffordable debt and a remorseless government that reduces their already measly social security as punishment for the sin of wanting an education for themselves and their children. In a country that equates it exceptionalism with the educational achievement of its people, the sad fact is that in a recent poll, over one-third (36%) of student debtors would not have gone to college if they had realized they were in for a lifetime of indebtedness.

 

Moving on to the horror screaming out of our TV sets on October 1, 2017 from Las Vegas or for that matter the unspeakable that happened in Orlando on June 12, 2016. On both occasions, all over the mainstream media images of political leaders and law enforcement officials shaking their heads in bewilderment and wondering “what happened?” The answers are all around for anyone who cares to look, which excludes political leaders and law enforcement officials who refuse connect the dots. The U.S. has the highest murder rate among developed countries, using some of the 310 million guns Americans are estimated to own. That’s nearly one per person. Although less than 5% of the world’s population, 30% of the world’s mass shootings take place in “the homeland.”  Stats like these make the carnage playing out in America almost inevitable.

 

To live in America today is to live in a mean-spirited, vengeful society with leaders from both parties ratcheting up the fear quotient. Like the symbols of the flag and the national anthem, “blind” justice joins the queue of symbols without substance. Particularly true when our system of locking up Americans is mislabeled criminal “justice.”  How’s this for a country forever blathering about equal justice and freedom? The U.S. at 5% of the population somehow manages to lock up 25% of the world’s prisoners. It gets worse for people of color who are 32% of the US population, but an eye-popping 56% of those in jail (2015 figures). For African Americans, the injustice and double dealing are on steroids— Black Americans are 5 times more likely than whites to be incarcerated in state prisons.

 

Here’s how the “worry meter” shakes out.  While the rich and powerful worry about disclosure of their sexual depravity or of their use of our tax money to fund their excesses, and other privileged Americans worry about their decision to soldier on in a sport that is demonstrably inimical to life, the rest of us have more “mundane” worries. How to pay our student debts, afford the mounting cost of prescription drugs, keep our kids from dying at the hands of a  militarized police force (a major worry of people of color), survive in the face of mounting signals that a climate catastrophe is around the corner, keep plugging away despite major assaults on our social safety net… You know, little people’s worries.

 

In the U.S. where “pay to play” defines the political process, where identity politics is used to divide us, where Congress has left the building when it comes to standing up to an executive branch, besotted with arrogance and threatening mayhem, where the ‘will of the people” has become a vacuous slogan trotted out in state of the union speeches and turned into a campaign promise at election time, the divide between rich and poor widens as one side reaps the benefits of an unequal and unjust economic system and the other side treads water to keep from drowning… Whose worries are going to rise to the top of the heap as the American dream slowly morphs into the American nightmare?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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