For People Who Think

January 31, 2012

The Rich Guys…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 11:23 pm

When Jack Kennedy was murdered I was a school kid just outside New York City. I ran right home after the closing bell to flip on the TV. That’s where I watched a bunch of reporters pounce on Richard Nixon as he got off a plane at Idlewild. He’d been in the air from the West Coast when he’d gotten word of the Kennedy assassination. Reporters wanted his reaction.

Nixon then said something like this, “President Kennedy and I had political differences, but his assassination is a tragedy beyond words. This was a bright, gifted man with great inherited wealth who could have spent his life lolling on the beach on the Riviera with a blonde on each arm. Nobody would have found fault with him for doing that. Instead, he served his country in war, in Congress and in the White House and ended up losing his life at an early age in the performance of that service.”

Nixon went on for a minute or so more. He said that he’d been born into a middle-class family, had gone into politics to make a living and took pride in his own public service, but he admired people like Kennedy who hadn’t had to do what he’d done but had done it anyway.

Jack Kennedy never made much money on his own. Before he got into politics, he’d been a reporter and author for a while. Let me assure you, few people get rich that way. Kennedy’s old man had made the money, making John F. Kennedy one of the 80 per cent of American Presidents who were millionaires, just like half the people in Congress today are millionaires.

The vast majority of rich people, in politics and out, inherited their money from some ferocious forbear who worked hard, played all the angles, cut corners when it came to the law and died exhausted. Some, like George Washington, married their money. Others, like Mitt Romney, inherited a bundle and made it grow.

So, now there’s a big fuss brewing because Mitt Romney has 250 million bucks and pays a lower tax rate than people who live on salary or hourly wages. If this troubles you, then you should know that everybody in this 2012 race now or earlier is rich, and my guess is that none of them pays as much as you do in taxes in percentage terms.

Newt Gingrich is worth around $20 million, which he earned on his own. Rick Perry is worth $3 million, mostly from his family’s cotton farm. Ron Paul is worth something like $5 million from serving in Congress and practicing medicine. Rick Santorum is worth about $2.5 million from Congress and practicing law. Herman Cain is worth about $3 million from his decades as business executive. Michele Bachmann is worth $3 million.

Oh, and the guy who’s President now? Barack Obama is worth between $5 million and $10 million, mostly from book royalties.

What’s the point? Only that this country, from the very beginning, has been pretty much run by rich guys, most of them just lucky rich guys, and nothing much has changed. The last President we had who wasn’t a millionaire was Harry Truman, and he left office 60 years ago. For what it’s worth, our best President, Abe Lincoln, wasn’t a millionaire, either.

The reality is that Herman Cain was mostly right when he said, “If you’re not rich it’s your own fault.” Cain set out to get rich from the start. It apparently was his mission in life – that and chasing babes. For most people, though, getting rich isn’t the point of life. What most people want is enough income to support themselves and their families in some measure of comfort. They want enough money to provide their kids with all the education the kids want. They want enough to spend a few years of leisure in their old age before they kick off. In other words, they’re not as motivated by greed as Herman Cain was and, apparently, still is.

So what we end up with, whether anybody likes it or not, is a country run by the rich, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats. Do we “envy” them, as Mitt Romney charges with such unspeakably distasteful arrogance? Well, not the ones who go into politics. We watch them called names and lied about and out there with their phony smiles sucking up to voters with a median household net worth of about 90 grand – more like $30,000, actually, if you subtract home equity.

They want to lead; we want to be led and left alone. We just want that done by somebody who has some gut grasp of the hardships we can end up facing because, unlike these wealthy politicians, we didn’t have rich parents and decided not to spend our entire lives scraping, bowing and groveling for every dime.

And, so far in this presidential race, I haven’t seen much empathy on the part of these rich politicians for any problems that they don’t face personally.

January 24, 2012

Beware The Dumbasses…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:46 pm

Ambrose Bierce was a professionally cynical journalist of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. His masterwork was a book he entitled “The Devil’s Dictionary.” In that book he offered what he felt were more accurate definitions of English words – what they really meant in the world in which he lived, as opposed to what Noah Webster had said they meant.

Some examples:

Bierce defined love as “a temporary insanity curable by marriage.” He defined politeness as “acceptable hypocrisy.” He defined success as “the one unpardonable sin.”

It’s still a good book today because many of Bierce’s re-definitions are more valid than ever. Take his definition of “ambition.” Bierce defined the word as meaning, “an overmastering desire to be vilified …”

That’s certainly what’s happening to our most ambitious politicians these days, nearly a century after Bierce presumably died. The real issue is the form that vilification is taking in the Republican presidential primary contest. Rick Perry is being reviled as a jovial Texas dumbass – which, frankly, he seems to be, actually. Ron Paul is being reviled as an isolationist, which also seems to have some validity. Rick Santorum is being reviled as a devout Catholic, which he is. The real issue – the extent to which he might really try to force the rest of the country to abide by his religious beliefs – is never really discussed.

The weirdest vilification, however, is being directed at Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Huntsman is being criticized because he can speak Mandarin, and Romney is attacked in a new Newt Gingrich ad because he can speak French.

Since when is it a shortcoming that an American can speak a foreign language? Well, it has been a shortcoming ever since the Republican party, beginning in the Reagan era, began to attract so many disaffected, blue-collar Democrats who practice a bizarre form of reverse snobbery. If you went to a first-class college, as Barack Obama went to Harvard Law School, then you must be an elite snob who’s out of touch with the real folks. If you can read the menu in a Chinese or French restaurant in the proprietor’s native language then there must be something distinctly wrong with you.

What’s next – name-calling because you can do long division? Revulsion because you know what H2O is? When will a high score on the college boards become a disqualification for office for Republican politicians? Not too far into the future, if this stuff keeps up. The Democrats have a good many of their own weird proclivities, but this GOP reverse snobbery is just strange and demeaning to the entire party membership. It’s also dangerous. Stupidity may have gotten us into this economic mess we’re in, but there’s no reason to believe that it’ll get us out.

I suppose that a certain amount of this is to be expected from Republican voters who reject the validity of evolution. Even Newt Gingrich, who holds a doctoral degree, panders to this point of view. Here’s Gingrich on evolution: “I always tell my friends who don’t believe in this stuff, fine, how do you think — we’re randomly gathered protoplasm? We could have been rhinoceroses, but we got lucky this week?”

It’s too easy to dismiss all this stuff as mere anti-intellectualism – to view it simply as unease with the process of gaining knowledge and engaging in rational thought. What it seems to be instead is overt, outright hostility to thought and the accumulation of knowledge. It’s millions of people — many of whom just HAVE to be smarter than Rick Perry — essentially saying, “If you revere knowledge and logic, then you’re obviously not the kind of person that I want to see hold public office.”

The other aspect of the Republican primary process that seems profoundly weird is the sight of people who profess to be conservatives who love the U. S. Constitution clamoring to change that document – and then missing entirely the breathtaking degree of contradiction in those competing values. It’s like ordering a pizza with sausage and chocolate sauce. If you’re a conservative, then you’re supposed to be reluctant to change anything. That should go double for the document that serves as the very foundation of our republic. So, if you want to change the Constitution to ban abortion and force a balanced budget, then go for it, but don’t call yourself a conservative as you do it.

Ambrose Bierce vanished in Mexico nearly a century ago, while he was covering the Pancho Villa revolution there. Too bad. Quite clearly, his book needs a sweeping update.

January 13, 2012

The Land of Opportunity…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:23 pm

The sticker was right there in front of me, on the left side of the bumper on a Korean sedan. It read: “Republican: Because some of us have to work.” At the other end of the bumper was another sticker: “Work harder! Millions on welfare depend on you.”

I thought to myself, “If you want to see more Americans go to work, then buy an American car.” Also, I’m sure that the driver has no idea that the vast bulk of welfare recipients are kids. The fact is, though, that these are old sentiments in American thought. They’re based on the premise that people who take government help are lazy – that they’re poor because they deserve poverty, that they brought on their poverty through self-indulgence and bad behavior and that the poor are unworthy of public support.

In some cases, by the way, that’s true. Having out-of-wedlock babies is almost always a ticket to poverty for everybody involved. Generally, though, it’s not true. Those old sentiments have their roots in Protestantism. John Calvin, one of the early Protestant thinkers and writers, revered work as the best path to a virtuous life and, therefore, to Heaven. The American Revolution was designed to replace the rule of nobility with the rule of the people. The revolutionaries thought they were creating a classless society. From the beginning, however, people with money – most of it inherited money — assumed power and held onto it until Andrew Jackson, a truly self-made man, came along decades later.

Since then, this country has seen an endless stream of self-made rich people – the big ranchers of the old west, the merchants and the money men of the east, industrialists and investors, the technical geniuses of the last 50 years. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet – self-made skillionaires all. If they can make it, then others can make it, right? Isn’t that the American dream?

This really was, until fairly recently, a country where the pathway to success was clear and open. The problem is that’s no longer true – or, at least, it’s nowhere as true as it once was. Today, the lands of true opportunity lay on other continents. More surprising yet, they also lay in the ossified, semi-socialist nations of Western Europe.

At least five large studies in recent years have found Americans to be less likely to climb economically than citizens of other industrialized nations. A study led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised on the lowest rung of the economic ladder never leave there as adults. In Denmark, 25 per cent of men get out of poverty. In Britain, a country with an iron-clad social class system, 30 per cent fight their way out as adults.

In this country, only 8 per cent of American men raised in poverty climb to the top fifth of incomes. In Britain, 12 percent of poor kids reach the top 20 per cent of incomes. In Denmark, it’s 14 per cent.

Well, that must be because the poverty-stricken Americans don’t do the right thing. They reject the chance to get good educations, for example. The problem with that logic is that most new American college graduates are either unemployed or work in jobs that don’t require a degree. They carry an average college debt of about 28 grand. The overall youth unemployment rate tops 18 per cent. Most of these kids will be a long, long time climbing into the middle class, if ever. That’s why about 85 per cent of them are still living with Mom and Dad.

That’s not true of the rich kids, though. About 62 percent of Americans raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in that group, according to the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. A slightly larger percentage of people born in poverty stay there, too. What it boils down to is that if your daddy is rich, the odds are 2-1 in favor of you being rich, too. If your daddy is poor, well, the odds are 2-1 that you’ll be poor as well.

Meanwhile, whenever anybody talks about higher taxes on the rich, who have more money than they ever did and pay lower taxes than they ever have, politicians howl about the evils of class warfare, as though class doesn’t exist in this country. It’s time to put that fiction to bed. Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, et al, saw to it that we have no kings, dukes or earls, but some Americans are born with money they never earned while statistics demonstrate that many, many others are born with no realistic chance to earn any.

This is why so many Americans complain about the stacked deck, about the ingrained unfairness of the system, about the people with money enough to elect the politician of their choice controlling every public policy decision our government makes. And, meanwhile, people who need help from their fellow citizens are reviled on bumper stickers by the hapless working stiffs who believe, against all the available evidence, that the country is held tightly in the grip of some imaginary, all-powerful liberal tyranny bent on impoverishing those lucky enough to still have jobs in this rotten economy we’re now living through.

As this brutal presidential campaign grinds on, I hope that some of these clowns running for office start to deal with issues like this.

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