It's kind of ironic that it was us poor folk who spent the last 8 years trying to tell the middle class what Bush and the Republicans were doing to them, only to be told to butt out because they weren't going to be hurt, they were going to be rich. Hasn't quite worked out that way, though, has it?
Mark Cooper started his work day on a recent morning cleaning the door handles of an office building with a rag, vigorously shaking out a rug at a back entrance and pushing a dust mop down a long hallway.
Nine months ago he lost his job as the security manager for the western United States for a Fortune 500 company, overseeing a budget of $1.2 million and earning about $70,000 a year. Now he is grateful for the $12 an hour he makes in what is known in unemployment circles as a “survival job” at a friend’s janitorial services company. But that does not make the work any easier.
“You’re fighting despair, discouragement, depression every day,” Mr. Cooper said.
You know, Mr Cooper, some of us have been fighting those things a whole lot longer than you. Vote for Bush, did you, by any chance?
The NYT, which with the exception (occasionally) of the editorial board didn't give a hoot what BushCo was doing to the economy as long as he was hiding behiond 9/11, has discovered a sudden deep concern for the middle class. For two Bush terms the NYT wasn't interested in informing its middle and upper-middle class audience (again, with notable exceptions, most of them on the Business page instead of the news page) that they were being hosed. Now that said audience is in the crapper, they can't seem to think of anything else.
The reason for this about-face becomes clearer when you start looking around. On Friday I had marked a Politico article by one Jeanne Cummings, "Class warfare returns to D.C.", to write about, mostly because this chunk of Drudge-inspired bile was reprinted in the WaPo as if it deserved wide circulation.
President Barack Obama has spent months recasting Democratic goals on climate change and health care reform from liberal-leaning moral imperatives to hard-core economic necessities.
But when it comes to paying for them, Obama’s creative juices seemed to run dry as he turned Thursday to his party’s most predictable revenue enhancer: taxing the wealthy.
The result: an instant revival of an old and predictable Washington debate.
Of which Jamison Foser of Media Matters remarks, "It's too bad this bores Cummings so badly, but somehow I doubt that either Barack Obama or the American people consider "keeping Jeanne Cummings on the edge of her seat" among their top priorities."
Cummings' article actually got worse from there. Take, for example, this passage:
Some economists argue that the anticipation of a return to higher tax rates may be enough to thwart critical investments and purchases.
For instance, the White House has been working for months to get the nation's banks to begin lending again and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently announced a new government program aimed at getting loans to small business and to car and house buyers.
And who are the people out there today with the cash -- and confidence -- to spend? Most often they are people and families with earnings ranked in the top echelons and who will be subject to the Obama tax hike.
It may be true that "some economists" argue that taxing people who make more than $200,000 at the rate at which they were taxed during the 1990s boom "may" thwart investments and spending. But Cummings doesn't tell us who these economists are or quote their arguments in any way. Nor does she tell us if this is a mainstream view among economists, or a fringe view. Nor does she offer the counterargument.
Fortune magazine chimed in with an attack on Obama's suggestion that maybe the wealthy, who've been paying very little of the tax freight since the Reagan years, ought to cough up a little more of their obscenely large incomes for the sake of, you know, the country. For Fortune this was clearly class war on the semi-rich.
The group that's hit hardest are the taxpayers I call the HENRYs, for "High Earners Not Rich Yet." The HENRYs are families who make between $250,000 and $500,000 a year. I wrote about the HENRYs in a Nov. 17 Fortune cover story, "Who Pays for the Bailout?" They're among America's most productive, hard-working citizens: our doctors, attorneys, architects, and entrepreneurs, the owners and builders of cleaning companies, delis and security franchises. (Read the original HENRY story here.)
Though President Obama brands them as rich, they're usually far from it. "Rich" means personal wealth, or net worth, not income. These HENRYs are already strapped by a combination of high income taxes, soaring property tax levies, and college savings for the kids. Their chance of accumulating the couple of million dollars needed to qualify as rich were virtually nil even before Obama took the stage.
Now, their prospects are dimmer than ever, courtesy of a new, laser-like proposal specially designed to zap the HENRYs. Most of the 5 million or so HENRYs are trapped in the notorious parallel tax system, the AMT, or Alternative Minimum Tax. In fact, the AMT might be dubbed "the HENRYs' tax," since it's targeted to skip the middle class, but aimed straight at the $250,000-to $500,000 crowd. All taxpayers are required to calculate their liability two ways, under the regular tax system and under the AMT, and pay the higher amount.
The 'hammering' the article points to is in the amount of $4000. I would guess just about anybody earning, say, $75,000 a year, could look at the way just about anybody earning $250k lives, and effortlessly point out discretionary spending far greater than that.
Which brings us back to Michael Luo's snarky NYT piece in which we are expected to feel sorry for these one-time up-and-comers because they have descended to "survival jobs" (that's what they call them) like janitoring. I mean, pushing a broom? Jeez, how low can you get?
Interviews with more than two dozen laid-off professionals across the country, including architects, former sales managers and executives who have taken on lower-paying, stop-gap jobs to help make ends meet, found that they were working for places like U.P.S., a Verizon Wireless call center and a liquor store. For many of the workers, the psychological adjustment was just as difficult as the financial one, with their sense of identity and self-worth upended.
“It has been like peeling back the layers of a bad onion,” said Ame Arlt, 53, who recently accepted a position as a customer-service representative at an online insurance-leads referral service in Franklin, Tenn., after 20 years of working in executive jobs. “With every layer you peel back, you discover something else about yourself. You have to make an adjustment.”
Some people had exhausted their jobless benefits, or were ineligible; others said it was impossible for them to live on their unemployment checks alone, or said it was a matter of pride, or sanity, that drove them to find a job, any job.
In just one illustration of the demand for low-wage work, a spokesman for U.P.S. said the company saw the number of applicants this last holiday season for jobs sorting and delivering packages almost triple to 1.4 million from the 500,000 it normally receives.
Horrors, Mr Arlt! Thou, an angel of the Heavens no doubt, hast been thrown into a sea of garbage! Lost among the hoi-polloi, mouth breathers who *ugh* work for a living and don't even have a stock portfolio! Truly, thou art drowning in a pool of human sewage! What did you do to deserve this, Arne?
To make sure we know that Arne knows just how low he's sunk, the NYT includes a picture of him and his wife praying that he'll get through yet another dastardly day.
Praying they don't fall any further and become *gasp* common?
This sort of thing is actually offensive. The whole thrust of this article is that while we were supposed to denigrate the homeless because after all it's their own fault if they don't live up to their "personal responsibilities", we're now supposed to feel sorry for these bloated, self-satisfied wankers because they got caught in the machinery of the Bush economy through no fault of their own. There is not even the usual quote from a conservative whacko about "personal responsibility". Yet, as the Professor points out in his critique of the Fortune article, they had a lot more to work with from the gitgo.
So the working poor at the bottom of the pool who have few resources and even less power are expected to somehow beat the incredible odds against them but the spoiled working rich who've been forced to lower themselves to menial "survival" jobs deserve pity? Moser again:
Warren Buffett, who knows a thing or two about wealth, has noted that because of the way the tax code is structured, he effectively pays taxes at a lower rate than the secretaries who work for him, concluding: "There's class warfare, all right. But it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
One reason they're winning is that the news media do not use the loaded phrases "class warfare" and "redistribution of wealth" to describe things like the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, or the home mortgage deduction (which favors those who are wealthy enough to buy homes over those who are not) or countless other policies that benefit wealthier Americans at the expense of those who are less fortunate. Instead, the media pretend this is a one-sided war -- as though the wealthy are being unfairly assaulted by an army of bullying waitresses and janitors and farmers and teachers.
Hey, Arne? Have you enlisted yet? It's all your fault, you know.
UPDATE: (2pm) Joan Walsh has also done a piece on the same subject in Salon. GB her, she names names.
I found 470 mentions of Obama and "class warfare" in Google news just since Feb. 3. The L.A. Times may have been the most alarmist of mainstream sites: "Obama's budget: Taxing for fairness or class warfare?" on Friday. The same day David Horowitz's right-wing Front Page Magazine framed the question as a statement: "The Budget as Class Warfare." Personally I've heard the claim out of the mouths of MSNBC's Michelle Bernard and former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich on "Hardball" this past week. But they're Republicans paid to spout talking points. Why are mainstream reporters pushing this story line?
Media Matters captured the AP's Jennifer Loven asking White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, "Are you all worried at all that that kind of argument, that 'class warfare' argument could sink the ability to get some of these big priorities through?" Maybe the worst offender Media Matters found was Politico's Jeanne Cummings, whose "Class warfare returns to D.C." dripped with elitism as well as poor economic fundamentals.
Apparently the corporate media is under orders to spread this trash as fast and as comprehensively as possible and like good little grey-flannel men, that's just what they're doing.