It's become the vogue thing for politicians and the mainstream media to endlessly repeat the mantra "America is broke."
I hear it every day from some blow-dried congressional blowhard or highly paid media pundit: "America is broke."
In the South we have an old expression: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
In this case, America ain't really broke -- but we've still got to fix it.
Actually, the pundits and politicians are half right. The middle class and the working poor -- these days never more than a couple of paychecks away from foreclosure or homelessness or both -- are definitely going broke.
The affluent and the corporations? Not so much. They are awash in money as never before.
They bathe in money to the tune of two trillion dollars in cash, currently sitting idle in banks that the middle class bailed out to the tune of even more trillions, as teachers and firefighters and cops and scientists and medical professionals are laid off all over the nation.
Because "America is broke."
Here's how broke America is:
• In the last quarter, U.S. corporations showed their fastest growth rate in 60 years.
• Wall Street investment banks had their most profitable year in U.S. history in 2010, courtesy of your bailouts.
• The CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, got a raise; now he makes $20 million a year. That's $57,000 per day.
• The most affluent one percent of Americans now owns 40 percent of the wealth.
• The top one percent have also seen their income -- not the same thing as wealth -- rise 20 percent over the past decade, while that of the middle class has plummeted during that time.
But they're still not hiring. And it's the middle class that is being told they must sacrifice to cut the deficit, by giving up programs they've already paid into and paying higher prices for everything from gas to food to health care.
Meanwhile, it's taboo in the mainstream media to even bring up the subject of asking the rich to sacrifice. That's "class warfare," you see, and it's a non-starter on every level, from the White House on down to Johnson Square.
Go ahead, ask a bank, even one of the "nice" local banks, to work with you to reduce your mortgage. Ask them to sacrifice on your behalf -- you, who provided generous bailouts to them when they needed your help -- to the tune of one thin dime. Ain't gonna happen.
So "class warfare" is a no-no. Except when it's waged on you and me, and then it's "fiscal austerity" and it's all the rage.
So even more tax cuts are in the pipeline for corporations and the wealthy. They can never get enough.
Speaking of taxes, your deadline for paying income tax is this week. As you click "submit" on TurboTax, remember that General Electric -- owner of NBC and MSNBC, by the way -- won't be paying any taxes for 2010.
Nor will Bank of America, or Verizon, or Citigroup.
But corporations like these want more tax cuts on top of the ten years of tax cuts they've already received. They want money back from the government. From you.
Do you have it to give? Because they're coming for it regardless.
The mainstream media told us all last week that Rep. Paul Ryan is a bold, courageous visionary. The word "genius" was bandied about.
What did this Republican from Wisconsin do to earn these rhapsodic odes to his wisdom?
Ryan proposed a federal budget for 2012 that would give corporations and the very rich even more tax breaks -- on top of the Bush/Obama tax cuts they've enjoyed for a decade -- and replace Medicare with a voucher system.
Under his plan, seniors would have to purchase private health care insurance on the open market. Because, needless to say, "America is broke" and the deficit must be cut.
The Medicare voucher amount in Ryan's bold, brave new plan? $15,000 per year.
Now, some of our readers are younger and don't have experience dealing with our wonderful health care system -- you know, the one you're always told is the "best in the world."
But here's the deal: If an 80-year-old with health conditions -- and that's all 80-year-olds, by the way -- could even find an insurance company that will offer them a policy, it would cost way more than $15,000 a year.
Try $15,000 a month. If you're lucky.
Remember those "death panels" Sarah Palin warned about with the coming of the nefarious Obamacare? Any plan which tells seniors they must take 15 grand and do the best they can on the private market -- which remember, doesn't want to insure seniors at all, hence the need for Medicare in the first place -- is quite literally sentencing millions of them to premature death through lack of health care.
But Ryan's fair about it. He apparently doesn't like young people that much either.
He wants to exempt everyone already paying into Medicare from any cuts, all those 55 or older. That's a third of all Americans who won't be asked to sacrifice to keep America from going "broke."
So in order to cut the deficit "for the children," it's the children who will be asked to do with less. Got that?
Of course Paul Ryan's sadistic, unfair and medieval farce of a plan is unlikely to become reality. But if you're waiting on President Obama to save the day, you'll be waiting a long, long time.
His new chief of staff, William Daley, used to work at JPMorgan Chase -- the ones paying their CEO $57,000 a day. His new jobs advisor is none other than Jeffrey Immelt, former CEO of GE, which doesn't pay any taxes.
Meanwhile, wealth disparity in America has never been worse. Not even in the days of the infamous Robber Barons during the Gilded Age was inequality this extreme. America now boasts more wealth inequality than so-called banana republics like Venezuela and Guyana.
In the classic banana republic scenario, the rich keep getting richer at the expense of first the poor, and then the middle class -- who quickly become the new poor.
There's no logical argument that this has been good for any nation at any time in history, yet we continue marching toward disaster.
So what to do? Well, in a banana republic, there's only one way things ever change.
I'll give you a hint: It doesn't involve voting every two or four years for one of the same political parties that sold you out a long time ago.
Let's take a lesson from the Dutch, who used social media to force their banks to take civic and moral responsibility more seriously.
On Facebook and Twitter they threatened a mass pullout of funds from Dutch banks. In response to public pressure, politicians proposed a law to tax 100 percent of any executive bonus at a bank that got a taxpayer bailout.
Could such a thing happen here? Are Americans capable of similar citizen action, which would amount to about the same amount of effort that goes into lobbying for our favorite American Idol contestant?
It depends how much abuse we're willing to take. Have you had enough yet?
Or are you going to wait until you have literally nothing left to lose?
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.