Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Teabagging Day!

I apologize for the hiatus; it will probably continue for a while. Things have been hectic since the spate of internet trouble a while back; I'm tired and don't have the spirit for this much—even for Flickr blogging. I'm sorry if this disappoints the handful of people who bother reading this thing (I appreciate the custom); maybe I'll get back into the swing of it soon. Maybe.

But today is a special day, and as we prepare for a day of ridiculous "tea party protests" for which corporate lobbyists provide the grass and Fox News provides the roots, I thought I'd recommend a couple of pieces of good reading.

First, William Rivers Pitt notes the astoundingly convenient timing of this sudden wave of right-wing outrage (which, alas, has included actual murders of both ordinary people and dutiful cops on the beat):

Consider the curious historical synchronicity of all this: after the inauguration of a new Democratic president, there has been a sudden upsurge of right-wing polemicists agitating right-wing citizens into right-wing-motivated acts of violence. The last time things came together like this was back in 1993, after the Waco and Ruby Ridge debacles, combined with the passage of NAFTA and the Brady Bill, detonated into a militia movement that was wildly active, and exceedingly violent, throughout the entirety of President Bill Clinton's two terms.

Dozens of militia-related incidents, including the Oklahoma City bombing, took place during those years. In 2001, however, these incidents stopped almost completely, and for the entirety of George W. Bush's two terms as president, hardly a peep was heard from the militia movement that had been so robustly vigorous during the administration of Bush's predecessor.

A Democratic president takes office in 1993 and the militia movement explodes, egged on by a whole host of right-wing media voices.

A Republican president takes office in 2001 and the militia movement, along with those media voices who sponsored it, all but disappear from the American political landscape.

A Democratic president takes office in 2009, and once again, right-wing media voices begin their clarion call for armed revolution, and once again, a portion of their listeners erupt into violence.

"In Politics," President Franklin Roosevelt once said, "nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."


Double indeed. I must say that when news broke last week that the tea party nonsense was being orchestrated by a corporate-funded astroturf org, it was easily the least surprising revelation since "Well, whattaya know, Liberace was gay." I was reminded of an interview David Barsamian did with media critic Stuart Ewen. At the end, Ewen recalls the work of PR genius Edward Bernays (a cousin of Sigmund Freud) and how Bernays invented the great PR art of making puppetry look like freedom (emphasis mine):
Edward Bernays was considered by many to be the godfather of public relations in the United States, and although he wasn't the first, I would say he probably was the most important figure in the development of PR. One of the most famous of his promotions was for the American Tobacco Company. One of the problems at the time was that women were not smoking enough outside. They had started smoking inside, but they weren't smoking in public enough. Why? You have to realize that this is a period of time when the health problems surrounding tobacco are considered relatively minuscule and where even doctors are giving testimonials in cigarette advertising and women are being encouraged to reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet, that this is a good diet aid. But still, there is this idea that a cigarette, this kind of miniature phallic symbol, is a symbol of masculine rights within a society, precisely because men can smoke in public and women can't. So he goes to a group of feminists, and I should add that his wife, Doris Fleishman, was a feminist and very actively involved in these issues and pushed him in many of his campaigns. He goes to this group of former suffragettes and convinces them that they should have a march down Fifth Avenue carrying cigarettes in the air as torches of freedom. So he takes the symbol of masculine power, puts it in the hands of women, has them march, and all of a sudden the cigarette is not about tobacco, not about taste, not about smoke, it's about freedom. This is something that happens all the time now in propaganda and public relations and advertising, that is, the attaching of something which has absolutely nothing to do with human freedom, to all kinds of aspirations for freedom.
The tea partiers have not come a long way, baby.

Second, if you run across anyone griping about taxes today, point them toward this magnificent defense of progressive taxation by George Lakoff and Bruce Budner:

An important point often lost in this debate is an appreciation that the common wealth, which our taxes create and sustain, empowers the wealthy in myriad ways to create their wealth. We call this compound empowerment—the compounded use of the common wealth by corporations, their investors and other wealthy individuals.

Consider Bill Gates. He started Microsoft as a college dropout and has become the world's richest person. Though he has undoubtedly benefited from his unusual intelligence and business acumen, he could not have created or sustained his personal wealth without the common wealth. The legal system protected Microsoft's intellectual property and contracts. The tax-supported financial infrastructure enabled him to access capital markets and trade his stock in a market in which investors have confidence. He built his company with many employees educated in public schools and universities. Tax-funded research helped to develop computer science and the internet. Trade laws negotiated and enforced by the government protect his ability to sell his products abroad. These are but a few of the ways in which Mr. Gates's accumulation of wealth was empowered by the common wealth and by taxation.

As Warren Buffet famously observed, he likely couldn't have achieved his financial success had he been born in Bangladesh instead of the United States, because Bangladesh had no banking system and no stock market.

Ordinary people just drive on the highways; corporations send fleets of trucks. Ordinary people may get a bank loan for their mortgage; corporations borrow money to buy whole companies. Ordinary people rarely use the courts; most of the courts are used for corporate law and contract disputes. Corporations and their investors—those who have accumulated enough money beyond basic needs so they can invest—make much more use, compound use, of the empowering infrastructure provided by everybody's tax money.

The wealthy have made greater use of the common good—they have been empowered by it in creating their wealth—and thus they have a greater moral obligation to sustain it. They are merely paying their debt to society in arrears and investing in future empowerment.

This is the fundamental truth that motivates progressive taxation.

It is a truth that undercuts conservative arguments about taxation. Taxes provide and maintain the protecting and empowering infrastructure that makes our income possible.

These truths are simply and easy to grasp, which I guess is why you have to get people yelling and screaming and flinging tea bags around if you want to keep them from being widely acknowledged. It's just sad that so many yellers and screamers and flingers mistake gullibility for freedom.

Update: Wow. My good friend jules pops right in with a comment—and with a really interesting piece of information:

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds 48% of Americans saying the amount of federal income taxes they pay is "about right," with 46% saying "too high" -- one of the most positive assessments Gallup has measured since 1956. Typically, a majority of Americans say their taxes are too high, and relatively few say their taxes are too low.
It appears that that teabaggers have their dirty work cut out for them.

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