Today's New York Times presents an interesting juxtaposition of numbers.
Tom Friedman's column starts off with this:
A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”
Welcome to the lean years.
Farther into the paper - yes, I still read the actual paper - is this item, under the heading "Prime Number."
345: The average amount, in millions of dollars, earned by the 400 highest-earning households in the United States in 2007, according to Internal Revenue Service data reported by Tax.com. The number is up from $263 million in the previous year, an increase of 31 percent. Each of the top-earning 400 households paid an average tax rate of 16.6 percent, the lowest since the I.R.S. began tracking the data in 1992. The top 400 earned a total of $138 billion in 2007, up from $105.3 billion a year earlier.
Clearly, these years are not lean for everybody. 400 households earned $138 billion in 2007? That is a staggering amount of money. That these households earned these billions while millions of other Americans are out of work, without health insurance and in danger of losing their homes is an appalling indictment of where our country stands at this moment in its history.
Is it any wonder that there is a wave of populist anger sweeping through the country?
Even more sickening is that the party chiefly responsible for creating this shameful and ever-expanding gap between the very rich and everyone else - the Republican Party - has successfully positioned itself as the party on the side of the "people."
Has no one learned anything?
In his column, Friedman goes on to quote Johns Hopkins professor Michael Mandelbaum:
...it feels as if we are entering a new era, “where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people."
Well, not from all the people. Just from those who already don't have much. Those who already have a lot get to keep even more of it.
That, my friends, is the definition of the Republican Party.
Are you really going to believe that they are on your side?
For months, economists from across the political spectrum have been saying that the key to achieving a full economic recovery is to put more money into the hands of consumers, because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of GDP. According to Minnesota Public Radio:
More than two-thirds of the nation's Gross Domestic Product derives from everyday stuff like dining out, buying a new shirt or visiting the dentist. About 14 percent stems from private investment, for instance companies purchasing new machinery or building new factories. And the rest comes from government spending on things like bridge building, schools, and defense.
How, then, do Republicans justify the continuation of economic policies, chiefly in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy, that concentrate so much money in the hands of so few? This is the "supply-side economics" experiment we've all been living with for so many years.
The results are in: it doesn't work. It cannot overcome its own internal contradictions. Cutting taxes for the wealthy does NOT increase government revenue. It concentrates too much wealth in the hands of a very few. The theoretical increased investment by these very few is not enough to make up for the lack of consumer activity that results from stagnant wages and a depressed economy, and the disinvestment by the government due to the large deficits created by the tax cuts.
It doesn't work.
I don't count myself among those who have judged Obama's first year in office a failure. Far from it. I believe he has done some remarkable things in the face of incredible odds.
But even some of us who still very much believe in Barack Obama have a nagging sense that, as we enter his second year in office, some essential ingredient has been missing. Friedman expresses it this way:
...instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists.
I'm not sure he's entirely accurate. It seems to me that President Obama has expressed his agenda in broad terms on many occasions. Nevertheless, if perception is reality, then Friedman is right.
It's hard to know whether anything President Obama does in the next few months will be sufficient to appease the large numbers of voters, democrats and independents, who are already poised to abandon him in the fall elections.
The new sense of urgency emerging from the White House seems to indicate that Obama has chosen a "full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes" path for his agenda. I, for one, believe that, in the face of irresponsible Republican opposition, it is the only viable path.
I wish him good luck and Godspeed.