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Posts Tagged ‘class warfare’



Press Clips: Why Class Warfare is the Next Big Meme

Friday, March 4th, 2011

We suppose it’s just one more sorry sign of the gloomy times for the news biz that the Indianapolis Star didn’t bother to send one of their own political reporters to cover Mitch Daniels, their Republican governor who’s weighing a run for president, make a recent speech-making swing through Cincinnati.

After all, it’s 115 miles away.

Reporter: What do you mean we can’t go with him? Southwest Ohio’s the most important target for Republicans in the biggest battleground state of 2012, and every other GOP wannabe’s already been through there.

Editor: Hey, I already told you – no travel, no overtime. And what do you need a new notebook for – did you write on both sides of that other one? And where’s those three blog posts and Sunday thumbsucker you owe me?

Fortunately for the Star, where Calbuzz once labored, when mastodons roamed the earth, both it and the Cincinnati Enquirer are owned by the Gannett Corp. (you get extra points for being old if you remember when the really big threat to newspapers was chain ownership), so the paper was able to run a little story from its sister publication on Daniels the next day.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a story (we withhold the name of the reporter to avoid embarrassing her family) as she managed to bury the lede 13 paragraphs into an 18-graf feel-good yarn. That’s what you get when you sub out your  wet work:

So when he brought up collective bargaining reform in Ohio – an issue that’s drawn thousands to hearings in Columbus in the last two weeks – people listened.

“There may have been a time when government employees needed protection and needed reform, but that was a long time ago,” Daniels said.

He called the unions “the privileged elite.”

Daniels — whom we actually knew when he was Dick Lugar’s aide — is the Republican flavor of the week for some GOP propeller head pundits, who apparently never got over plucky Steve Forbes falling short of the White House.

With his “privileged elite” comment, he perfectly defined the political war now waging throughout the Midwest, as he and other Republican governors are fiercely fighting to bust public employee unions. The remark didn’t get much attention at the time (perhaps because it was IN THE 13th GRAF!!!) but when Daniels repeated it on Fox over the weekend, it got picked up everywhere, a kind of short hand  signifier in the labor battle.

Apres moi, c’est moi: Daniels’ formulation recalls Anatole France, who famously said that, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

At a time when 1 percent of Americans control nearly one-fourth of the country’s wealth – and as much as the bottom 50 percent of people combined – the union bashers bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “class warfare,” as they channel Monsieur France without seeming to realize he was making a joke.

It’s instructive that labeling teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses and janitors “the privileged elite,” today is considered an important and serious political argument, a marker for how far to the right the center of the economic debate has moved over the last 30 years.

Try as we might to find some insightful MSM illumination of this calculated effort to pit those with little against those with even less, we were left to rely once again on “The Daily Show” to examine the hypocritical absurdity (absurd hypocrisy?) of all the railing about “class warfare” on CNBC and Fox.

Disgusting. The Democrats have pitted the top two percent against the lower 98, when the Republicans know that the real battle should be fought within the middle class, preferably amongst neighbors.

From Punch to Pinch to Punt: Calbuzz is hardly alone in its disappointment in the MSM’s performance in Madison, Wisc. Abe Sauer of the venerable site The Awl filed a splendid press clips report:

If the events in Wisconsin prove one thing, it is that the mainstream media has become journalistically irrelevant when it comes to national issues and coverage. Broadcast media is incapable of explaining anything outside a macropatriotic framework and has proven allergic to anything that puts off even the slightest whiff of the class warfare that scares away big-market advertorial. Meanwhile, the other side is cable news’ partisan echo chamber of regurgitated self-assurance, where no blow is too low and no fact needs sourcing before being leveraged to make a prearranged point. Cable news reporting on Wisconsin is like going to a whorehouse and then bragging to your buddies about this girl you seduced.

Jason Linkins over at Huffpost picked up one of the threads of Sauer’s reporting to churn out a must-read detailing how the mighty New York Times lurched into a major and embarrassing blunder. Deliciously, the story in question was filed by A.G. Sulzberger, one of its newer reporters, who happens to be the son of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

A bit of a shaggy dog, it boils down to Sulzberger the Younger penning a front page piece so favorable to Governor Scott Walker that Walker gushed about it in his now-in famous phone call with a blogger posing as oligarch David Koch. Only problem was that Sulzberger committed what you like to call your glaring factual error. His primary source, on whom he hung his thesis, was “a union guy” who bitterly complained about public employees – privileged elites! – getting too much in benefits and pension; except…he wasn’t…a union guy, and the paper had to run a big correction.

David Brooks takes a dive: The week’s best unraveling of the political-policy-media nexus of the class warfare issue came in a superb takedown of the insufferable David Brooks, the Times’ self-righteous center-right columnist, filed by Slate blogger Tom Scocca:

Crisply titled “The politics of entitlement – David Brooks will decide when it’s time for you to die,” Scocca’s 1800-word piece masterfully exposes the blind-spot reasoning of elitist advocates for austerity like Brooks and other over-paid windbags in pink shirts and purple tie. Brooks never tires of calling for others to “sacrifice” and this week actually wrote, “The country’s runaway debt is the central moral challenge of our time,” a sentence so wrong-headed it made Scocca’s head explode:

The experts—serious, competent, thoughtful, constructive experts—have studied the problem. The solutions are going to be unpleasant. “The sacrifice should be spread widely and fairly,” David Brooks wrote.

Is wide fair? …Everyone, simply everyone—whether they have money or not—will have to make do with less. Peter G. Peterson, the self-appointed chief of the debt fighters and entitlement reformers, includes a “Personal Responsibility Primer” on his foundation’s website (“Teach children the importance of planning, saving, budgeting, investing, and using credit responsibly”).

Peter G. Peterson is a billionaire twice over, so rich he can pledge a billion dollars to charity. All he really understands about Social Security and Medicare is that it is impossible that he, himself, will ever die broke and alone. When his time comes, he can die on a mattress stuffed with gold-plated rose petals, if the whim strikes him.

What happens when there is no money to give to the people who have no money? That is the moral question. It’s fine to say that the old people should have saved more, they should have worked an extra job, they should have done without cable TV, they should have invested more wisely. Saying that doesn’t change the fact that there will be old people who do not have money. These old people will believe that they need food and shelter and medical care.

Will they get it? At the arch-plutocrats’ end of things, the Koch brothers’ end, the end occupied by the most devout worshipers of Ayn Rand, the answer is: no. That’s the goal. It’s long since time for the sloppy, implicit, badly supported social contract to go away. Rich people have been trimming their contribution to the general revenue for decades now. They are not interested in paying the premium that keeps old people and ailing people or just backward people out of the streets. If the day comes that they have to travel to and from their various compounds in armored helicopters, they can afford the helicopters. It’s not their problem.

Great stuff.

Calbuzz: A Charlie-Sheen free zone. All the best late night stuff is here.

Taxes, Class Warfare and eMeg’s Vast Fortune

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Faced with Jerry Brown’s intensifying attacks on her call to end California’s tax on capital gains, Meg Whitman has responded with one of the hoariest political lines in the Republican campaign play book: the Democratic nominee, she says, is engaging in “class warfare.”

Whitman argues that her capital gains proposal, which would eliminate state taxation on sales of stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets, would jump start California’s economy, by keeping the profits from such transactions in the hands of investors, who would channel the money into starting and sustaining businesses, thereby creating jobs.

Brown argues, however, that the tax cut not only would blow a $5 billion hole in a state budget already wracked with huge deficits, but also would prove beneficial only to the very wealthy, including Whitman herself.

In the days since their final debate, when Brown repeatedly charged the big winners with the tax cut would be Whitman and “her billionaire friends,” the “class warfare” meme has been sounded and echoed in quick succession by Whitman spokesmen, by the state party and by the candidate herself, at a Monday appearance in Southern California.

The fact that I would run for governor to enrich myself is ridiculous – all you have to do is to look at how much money I have spent versus how much money I would save. He is so off-base on this. It’s a political stunt. It’s class warfare.

Well and good, but inquiring minds want to know: Why does “class warfare” always only go in one direction?

For Whitman and her allies, taxing profits of investors and the wealthy, in essence, is a wrong-headed, socialist, economic redistributionist notion that strikes at the most fundamental values of American capitalism.

Yet they never portray their own, constant, fierce and unbridled attacks on unions as “class warfare,” no doubt because they are the most selfless of citizens — “I refuse to let California fail” — whose beef with labor represents nothing more than high-minded, good government reform, which they embrace solely for the most civic-minded of motives.

Whitman mocks Brown as “crazy” for even suggesting that economic self- interest might help explain the great personal favor she’s done all of us by deigning to run for governor; after all, Meg notes, she and Griff might only net $15 million a year as a result of her proposed tax cut – a mere bagatelle.

What person in their right mind would spend $140 million to run for governor to save $15 million? I mean it just shows Jerry Brown does not understand math.

How about some Calbuzz math:

According to an in-depth study by our Department of Investment Risk Management Modeling and Abacus Repair, $15 million a year on a one-time investment of $140 million works out to a 10.7% annual rate of return, most likely more than Our Meg could make anywhere outside of those early-peek IPOs she got the inside track on over at Goldman Sachs.

Qui bono capital gains: Despite eMeg’s distaste for “class warfare,” a look at the numbers clearly shows that it is precisely her economic class – the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers – who would reap the outsize benefits of her tax cut proposal. As Michael Hiltzik, the Pulitzer Prize-winning economics columnist for the by-God L.A. Times, has noted:

The real problem with this proposal is that it looks like a pure handout, and a costly one, to the wealthy, a group that includes the billionaire Whitman herself. In 2008, according to figures from the Franchise Tax Board, more than 82% of the $56 billion in capital gains earned by California residents were reported by the top 1% of income earners (those touching about $500,000 or more).

And this, from Hiltzik’s colleague, the redoubtable George Skelton:

Who pays the (capital gains) tax?

–People with adjusted gross incomes exceeding $500,000 pay 82% of the total capital gains tax. For them 38% of their earnings comes from investment profits.

–These $500,000-plus earners amount to only 1% of taxpayers – or about 150,000 returns – but provide 48% of the total personal income tax.

–-People with more than $200,000 in adjusted gross incomes – 4.4% of filers – provide 93% of the capital gains tax.

Whitman says that eliminating the tax would “spur innovation, which we have to own in California.” But, I note, many people realize investment profits merely by buying and selling stock. That hardly induces innovation.

Still, eMeg stands aghast at the shocking suggestion of “class warfare,” though she never hesitates for a second to demonize as “labor bosses” public school teachers who knock down 60 grand, or thinks twice about bashing some poor shlub living on a $25,000 pension after 30 years of mopping floors at the DMV office for “sucking up taxpayer funds.”

How rich is eMeg? Fortune magazine, which just released its annual compilation of the 400 richest individuals in America, pegs Whitman as the 332nd wealthiest person in the nation, with a net worth of $1.2 billion.

Among the 400, there are 84 people who live in California – about 21% of the total – and Whitman sits near the bottom of that list, which makes the wannabe governor only the 74th richest citizen of the oh-so-Golden State.

These 400 people, who represent 0.0000012% of the country’s population,  control about 2.5 percent of its wealth – about $1.5 trillion; thus the Fortune 400 control only slightly less wealth than the $1.6 trillion held by the bottom half of the U.S. population, no doubt most of them avaricious public employees with outrageous salaries and benefits.

Of course, it must be noted that Meg’s cohort of 400 is just the crème de la crème of the upper 1% of taxpayers who have made out like bandits prospered disproportionately over the past decade. Washpost columnist Steven Pearlstein writes:

By 2007, the top 1 percent of households took home 23 percent of the national income after a 15-year run in which they captured more than half – yes, you read that right, more than half – of the country’s economic growth. As Tim Noah noted recently in a wonderful series of articles in Slate, that’s the kind of income distribution you’d associate with a banana republic or a sub-Saharan kleptocracy, not the world’s oldest democracy and wealthiest market economy.

Put another way, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities did in boiling down the same economic trends in a 2009 report:

Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households, and that top 1 percent held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928, according to an analysis of newly released IRS data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

During those years, the Piketty-Saez data also show, the inflation-adjusted income of the top 1 percent of households grew more than ten times faster than the income of the bottom 90 percent of households…

The last time such a large share of the income gain during an expansion went to the top 1 percent of households – and such a small share went to the bottom 90 percent of households – was in the 1920s.

1928 – now that was a helluva’ year.

Why it matters: All this talk of class warfare – the horror, the horror! — would be little more than fodder for Marxist whining sessions or kvetching by petty and jealous-minded souls who lack the innovative imagination, spirit and perseverance needed to make themselves fabulously wealthy in the entrepreneurial manner of, say, Calbuzz, a privately-held partnership, plenty of free parking.

Turns out, however, there are some practical reasons that this wealth concentration business is a real bummer, even for those of us who long ago left behind their obsession with dialectical materialism. Pearlstein again:

There are moral and political reasons for caring about this dramatic skewing of income, which in the real world leads to a similar skewing of opportunity, social standing and political power. But there is also an important economic reason. Too much inequality, just like too little, appears to reduce global competitiveness and long-term growth, at least in developed countries like ours…

The biggest problem with runaway inequality…is that it undermines the unity of purpose necessary for any firm, or any nation to thrive. People don’t work hard, take risks and make sacrifices if they think the rewards will all flow to others. Conservative Republicans use this argument all the time in trying to justify lower tax rates for wealth earners and investors, but they choose to ignore it when it comes to the income of everyone else.

It’s no coincidence that polarization of income distribution in the United States coincides with a polarization of the political process. Just as income inequality has eroded any sense that we are all in this together, it has also eroded the political consensus necessary for effective government…

Political candidates may not be talking about income inequality during this election, but it is the unspoken issue that underlies all the others.

And thank you for that.