The view from that Gawd-fearing little Village on the Potomac sure isn't the America we see
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It's election time in the Village, in the legendary 1967-68 British TV series The Prisoner. While it didn't surprise me to learn that it was the one and only Digby who coined the usage of "the Village" and "Villagers" to refer to the self-appointed "insider" elite of our nation's capital, what did surprise me is that she wasn't thinking of this Village, the one in which the late Patrick McGoohan awoke to find himself trapped as "No. 6."
"It's that same phony, operatic fervor that leaves the rest of the country wondering what in the hell these people are smoking."
-- Digby, in the June 2007 post where she first used "the villagers" to refer to the huddled mass of overprivileged D.C. insiders, then wailing hysterically at the prospect of prison time for convicted felon Irving "Lewis" Libby
"The elite media have long behaved as though the only part of tax policy that matters is the part that affects the wealthy."
-- Media Matters' Jamison Foser
"Keep taxes as low as reasonably possible but also as high as necessary in order to ensure income inequality does not get out of hand and in order to ensure that money flows throughout the entire economy. Trickle down is nonsense. Trickle up is the way to go. Raise the level of the many at the bottom. As they spend day to day, jobs are created, goods are produced, small businesses and large are strengthened. Profits increase. And as profits increase incomes of the folks at the top increase as well."
-- Andrew C. White, in a blog post yesterday
It's worth remembering the context in which Digby first applied the term "the Village" to the elite of D.C. insiders -- politicos, hangers-on, and especially media enablers. It was in a June 2007 post called "The Deciders," written when the reality of a prison sentence was closing in on convicted felon Irving "Lewis" Libby, and his high-powered "insider" friends were wailing in horror at the injustice of it (before, of course, the Real Decider decided to spare the Scooter Man any time in the pokey).
"Is it just me," Digby began, "or is the DC establishment's circling of the wagons around Scooter just a little bit over the top, even for them?"
After quoting a hysterical (hysterical-gaga, that is, not hysterical-funny) rant from Secretary of State Condi Rice ("who is known for her calm -- some might say somnambulent -- rhetoric," but who "waxes Hallmark when it comes to Scoot"), she wrote (boldface emphasis added):
The entire "village" is beside themselves over this, in much the same way they worked themselves into a frenzy over Clinton's hallway trysts. It's that same phony, operatic fervor that leaves the rest of the country wondering what in the hell these people are smoking. Libby may be a friend, but these bilious paeans to his "goodness" and excusing his behavior from everyone from Joe Klein to Condi Rice is verging on bizarre.
This case is not hard for normal people to understand. Libby was convicted in a court of law for perjury and obstruction of justice. It happens every day. It was not a partisan witch hunt --- the prosecutor and the judge were both appointed by George W. Bush and confirmed by a Republican Senate. And while there was plenty of kibitzing in the blogosphere, there were no leaks or manipulation of the press by the prosecutor and he's continued to be tight lipped since the trial.
Scooter screwed up, pure and simple and whether it was on his own or to cover for his boss, it doesn't matter. To those of us who live out here in the real world, his conviction is not a surprising outcome. If you screw up when you are dealing with the FBI, the DOJ and the CIA and you get caught --- you pay. End of story. Yet, the DC establishment is weeping and wailing and clutching their pearls over this as if Scooter were Emmett Till while the rest of us watch with our jaws agape at their disorienting, inconsistent worldview that seems to operate on some other plane than the rest of us. When we joke about Versailles on the Potomac, this is what we're talking about.
Digby has explained that the concept of the "Village" as a beleaguered garrison of supposed sanity and decency where the hardy "Villagers" -- politicos, permanent government drones, hangers-on, and especially their media cohabitants and enablers -- huddle to defend their own traces back to a still-astonishing November 1998 Washington Post column, the magna carta of Villageocracy, in which Sally Quinn (seen here with her husband, former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee) defended her "town" against that barefoot hillbilly marauder, "Blowjob Bill" Clinton. (No, of course she didn't call him that. Our Miss Sally would never talk about blowjobs in print. She just gives them in print.)
In the matter of Villager Libby, Digby opined:
It seems to me that like provincial elders from the beginning of time, these insiders believe that only they get to decide which witches should be burned and which ones shouldn't. Outsiders like Patrick Fitzgerald, the career federal prosecutor, have no business interfering. Unlike that nice Republican judge, Ken Starr, who they all agreed understood what needed to be done, he's not one of them. Scooter is, and when Fitzgerald held him to the same standard as the little people, he broke their rules.
The problem, of course, is that their "town" isn't really their town and these town elders haven't been elected by anybody. It's the seat of government of the most powerful nation on earth and their little social construct has ramifications for everyone on the planet. When they become screaming gorgons to irrationally protect one of their own (or destroy an outsider) they are telling people that they "are different from you and me," which may have been fine in feudal Europe, but it's a little out of place in 21st century America.
There's no easy way to explain what makes these people imagine that they are so specially principled, so uniquely entitled -- and their imagined entitlement seems to me to go to the heart of the matter. But it was that special of specialdom that I found myself thinking of in the face of two fresh outrages that both Howie and I found ourselves spluttering about yesterday.
There was, first, a demonstration that struck me as striking, even by Village standards, of the seemingly instinctive collusion between the Village's permanently right-of-center political establishment and its faithful media collaborators. It serves, among other things, as yet another reminder -- as if one were needed -- that there really is no rational way of dealing with these people.
When the Party of No pays lip service to dealing with the present economic meltdown, about the only policy initiative the naysayers can come up with is "tax cuts" and "more tax cuts," the present-day "conservative" solution to any problem you can think of. But apparently when you offer a program that includes reasonable tax cuts, the torch-bearing Villagers don't even notice. As our Media Matters pal Jamison Foser noted in a great post called "The media's tax fraud," there was none other than the Washington Post, and most of the rest of the "mainstream" media, "carrying the water" (as Rush would say) for the insider elites:
When is a tax cut for 98 percent of taxpayers portrayed as a tax increase? When some of the small handful of people whose taxes will go up happen to control the nation's news media.
Last week, President Obama unveiled a budget outline that extends the Bush tax cuts for all but the top two percent of taxpayers and makes permanent a tax credit of up to $800 for low- and middle-income workers that was included in the recent stimulus package, among other tax cuts.
On the other hand, individual taxpayers with taxable income above $200,000 ($250,000 for families) per year would pay more in taxes under Obama's plan, under which the tax rates paid on income in the top brackets would revert to their levels under President Clinton in the 1990s -- from 33 and 35 percent to 36 and 39.6 percent. Slate.com's Daniel Gross estimates that for someone with $350,000 in income, this will amount to about $1,500 a year in increased taxes.
So: Obama's plan cuts taxes for the vast majority of Americans, while raising them for the small number of people who make more than $200,000.
But the media, eager to hype their bogus "war on the wealthy" storyline, have portrayed it as a tax increase.
Here's how The Washington Post led its front-page article last Friday, the day after the plan was announced:President Obama delivered to Congress yesterday a $3.6 trillion spending plan that would finance vast new investments in health care, energy independence and education by raising taxes on the oil and gas industry, hedge fund managers, multinational corporations and nearly 3 million of the nation's top earners.The article was chock-full of details about the tax hikes, referring to "nearly $1 trillion in new taxes over the next decade on the nation's highest earners ... $318 billion in new taxes on families in the highest income brackets, who would see new limits on the value of the tax breaks from itemized deductions. ... That proposal is a fraction of the new taxes Obama proposes to heap on the nation's highest earners. ... Hedge fund managers would take an even bigger hit. ... Oil and gas companies would be asked to pay an extra $31 billion over the next 10 years ... Corporations that operate overseas could expect to pay $210 billion more over the next 10 years."
By my count, at least 484 of the article's 1,284 words were about the tax increases in Obama's proposal. Among those 484 words was this quote from House GOP leader John Boehner: "The era of big government is back, and Democrats are asking you to pay for it." That simply isn't true, unless you make more than $200,000 a year -- though the Post simply presented Boehner's claim without rebuttal.
And how did the Post address the tax cuts in Obama's plan? The article devoted just 39 words to them. Among other omissions, the Post completely ignored the fact that the plan makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans.
And by the following Monday, tax cuts had disappeared entirely from the Post's reporting. Under the headline "Aides Defend President's Budget; White House and Fiscal Conservatives Set for Showdown," the Post reported Obama's budget would be "raising taxes on top income earners and oil and gas companies" and again quoted a Republican criticizing the tax increases. But there wasn't so much as a hint that most Americans would see their tax bills go down.
The New York Times' coverage of Obama's proposal was little better -- and cable news was often even worse.
Here's one indication of how hysterical the media went over potential tax increases for very few Americans: both The New York Times and ABC News rushed to produce reports about wealthy taxpayers purportedly seeking to reduce their incomes to avoid paying the higher tax rates.
I'm leaving out lots of good stuff, so don't deprive yourself of the experience of reading the post for yourself. But we have to jump to this bit:
That is certainly not a new phenomenon. The elite media have long behaved as though the only part of tax policy that matters is the part that affects the wealthy.
During last year's Democratic primary debates, ABC's Charlie Gibson asked the candidates about their plans to let some of the Bush tax cuts lapse as scheduled. When Hillary Clinton pointed out that the candidates were planning to let expire only the cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers, Gibson famously claimed that would include public schoolteachers. Gibson's lack of understanding of the typical family's income (and tax) situation was so clear, the debate audience actually laughed at him.
It seems to me an incredibly important observation that our Extended Village coverage of economic and budgetary matters comes essentially from the perch of the above-the-$200K elites. Yesterday a National Review Online blogpost that actually purported to offer a real-world justification for this burned up the Intertubes. In an outburst of raging imbecility bordering on out-and-out psychosis, Corner blogger (and Village idiot) Lisa Schiffren paid tribute to what she calls the "working affluent":
The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians). They are not robber barons, or trust-fund babies, or plutocrats, or even celebrities. They are mostly the meritocrats who worked hard in high school and got into the better colleges and grad schools, where they studied while others partied. They pushed through grueling hours and unpleasant "up or out" policies in their twenties and thirties at top law firms, banks, hospitals, and businesses to earn salaries in the solid six figures (or low seven) today -- in their peak earning years. Their work ethic is prodigious, and, as [her friend] Tigerhawk points out, in their spare time they sit on the boards of most of the complex charities and arts institutions that provide aid and pay for culture in America. No group of people contribute more to their community. And now the president, who followed a path sort of like that, and who claims that his wife's former six-figure income was a result of precisely such qualifications and efforts, is demonizing them. More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity.
Now, to begin with, this business of "demonizing" exists only in the fevered imagination of blogger Schiffren. Notice how conveniently she manages to forget the wholesale rewriting of the tax code in all of the Republican administrations of the last 28 years to lower the tax burden of the rich and super-rich. In what delusional universe is it "demonizing" someone to ask that person to pay his/her fair share? Of course convenient right-wing amnesia-slash-obliviousness kicks in here too, in that these delusionally overprivileged folk always manage not to see the extent to which their economic status yields them wildly disproportionate benefits from their government. After all, they hate government, even as they take every imaginable advantage of it.
It is of course Ms. Schiffren who is demeaning hard work, if only by her rank inability to recognize what it is. None of us who are alarmed, even appalled, by the shocking and near-unprecedented income disparities that have opened up between America's haves and havenots demean the labor of anyone who works hard. It's certainly an encouraging thought that some of the $200K-plus earners in fact earn their dough. But Ms. Schiffren seems to have an exceedingly dim perception of what many people who are paid not much more than minimum wage have to do for their pittance. It might help her to spend some time cleaning toilets or picking up garbage or picking crops or working in mines, for wages that fall, shall we say, well short of the $200K level.
As I indicated, the ignorance of this diatribe has left me spluttering. So I heartily recommend a blistering post by my colleague Andrew C. White, "Sometimes they say stuff that pisses me off." Here's a bit of what Andrew had to say:
It has long been a trite position of the right wing that those at the top of society are morally superior to the rest of us. It is their breeding, higher incomes, etc that prove their superiority. This is of course pure bunk. No matter how many times over the centuries or how many ways it has been thoroughly debunked it remains as a pet delusion of grandeur for them.
Sometimes though they say stuff that just pisses me off..."And why is a president who needs them [the affluent] to keep on producing at the prodigious rates both society and the economy require, treating them as if they -- not the slackers, the entitled, and the net tax consumers -- were the problem?"The prodigious rates evidenced by the plummeting economy, half-sized DOW, and millions of jobs lost? Including many of their own? The net tax consumers are a good target. Perhaps all the corporations and businesses that receive subsidies, government contracts, and tax breaks ought to be charged a fair share of that. Perhaps the upper tax brackets that received the bulk of the disastrous conservative republican tax give aways that were a large part of the cause of our current problems ought to pay all that money back. And perhaps the author ought to provide some proof for the un-sourced slam about unnamed and unknown slackers, entitled, and net tax consumers?
Oh yes, and speaking of tax consumers... perhaps the oil companies should pay for their own foreign wars and return the six trillion the government has spent on their behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Or there's this, in response to Ms. Schiffren's assertion, "No group of people contribute more to their community."
Provide proof for this statement please because there are plenty of working poor and middle class that find time to coach kids sports teams, volunteer for fire departments, train as EMT's, volunteer at hospitals, take meals to shut-in’s, etc. Probably far more working poor and middle class that are the backbones of their communities by doing these things than “working affluent” sitting on charity boards sipping lattes."More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity."No. He is trying to dig the country out of the economic disaster that conservative policy has created. Where else to look then for help then to those that benefited from these disastrous policies? Truly patriotic people would be looking for ways to help out the President in this effort. Similarly, truly productive people don’t need incentives to produce. They do so for the love of it."So, what happens when the heart surgeons, dentists, litigators, and people who employ 10 or 20 other people in their mid-size businesses decide that they don't want to pay for the excessive, pointless spending that the president finds so compelling?"Pointless? Pointless? Learn some economics. He's not just spending money because he likes to spend money. He's spending money to save your jobs, your homes, your economic prospects, your small businesses, your large corporations, your 401k’s and the lives of the rest of us.
Again, there's lots of wonderful stuff I'm leaving out, but here is Andrew's conclusion (I tried like heck to excerpt this but just couldn't find anything I was prepared to lose):
The bottom line is that thanks to conservative republican economic beliefs being dominant since 1980 exemplified by the "drown the country in the bathtub" views of Grover Norquist [right] and the belief in the moral superiority of industry titans, Wall Street financiers... you know... the Ken Lay's and Jack Abramoff's and Bernie Madoff's of the world... those guys and their unrelentingly, hard-working moral superiority... this country is facing the worst economic situation since the Great Depression of the 1930's.
The money flow has stopped. The banking industry is on life support. Loans can't be had and that means homes aren't being bought or sold, businesses aren't growing or starting, workers of all stripes, affluent and non-affluent, are being laid off, unemployment is at a 25 year high with a record 12.5 million unemployed workers. GM & GE are in the tank. Read that again... GM and GE, the centerpieces of the once dominant American economy are both in severe danger. GE's stock price? $6.74. GM's? $1.47. Banking giant Citigroup? $1.01.
Right now is a time for all Americans to ask not what their country can do for them but rather what they can do for their country. Right now is a time when being patriotic is doing whatever is necessary to get this country back on its feet again.
My parents grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during WWII. They have told me stories of rationing, of walking the neighborhood gathering tin cans and other scrap metal for the war effort. Of living in one town after another criss-crossing the Midwest wherever grandfather could find work. They tell stories of sacrifice for the common good. The common good.
The conservative republican mantra is "tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts." I am all in favor of keeping taxes as low as feasibly possible. The fact of the matter is that this country was at its financial, industrial, economic, and productively strongest during the decades following WWII when taxes were sky high, unionization was at its highest, and income inequality was its lowest.
After near 30 years of conservative economic policy income inequality is as high as it was during the gilded age, unionization is at its lowest, the average Americans income growth has stagnated for years, and our financial, industrial and economic strength is down and… taxes are at their lowest in years. America no longer leads due to conservative policy geared towards corporate greed.
Greed is a sin. Economic policy has been run by greed for far too long and we are now reaping the price of allowing it too run unchecked. Making money is a fine thing but it is not the only thing for which humans, society, and governments are made.
The conservative economic agenda has been one of class warfare. During the last couple decades of large increases in American productivity the produce of that increase has gone completely to the very upper class. It has not “trickled down” to the average American. Income growth at the top has been astronomical. The rest of us have experienced no real growth and in many cases loss of real, effective income.
The result? Recession edging towards depression.
High incomes, personal, corporate, wind fall, capital gains, or estate need to be taxed at a high rate in order to sustain a healthy economy. In a healthy economy money flows. Money that flows in only direction stops flowing when it reaches its destination. That is what we are seeing today. Money has flowed only to the top for the last 29 years and now it has stopped flowing.
This does not mean "soaking the rich" or stopping the haves from having enough to invest. It does mean that an extremist view of “tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts” and drowning the government in a bathtub are exactly that. Extremist. Extremist in the same way that terrorists and religious fanatics are extremists. And every bit as destructive.
Keep taxes as low as reasonably possible but also as high as necessary in order to ensure income inequality does not get out of hand and in order to ensure that money flows throughout the entire economy. Trickle down is nonsense. Trickle up is the way to go. Raise the level of the many at the bottom. As they spend day to day, jobs are created, goods are produced, small businesses and large are strengthened. Profits increase. And as profits increase incomes of the folks at the top increase as well. This is not socialism as the screamers like to scream. This is simply sound economics. It is also morally sound.
A free market is one with oversight and accountability. A free market is one with known and fair rules. A free market is one that takes into account all costs of production… including environmental costs to water, air and soil. A free market is one in which favored industries do not receive tax breaks and/or subsidies that allow them to profit from unprofitable ventures or to have an advantage over competing industries and products.
The government should stay out of business as much as possible. Fair and free competition can be very productive. However, there are some places where the government is the best or only vehicle in which to solve or nurture societal needs.
The last couple decades have been decades ruled by the sins of greed and gluttony. Sins come about from excess. Excess leads to disaster. We have witnessed the culmination of excessive disaster these past 8 years. It is now time to reign in the excess. Clean up the mess. Sweep away the wreckage. Restructure the economy on sound, moral and productive grounds that benefit all of society and not just the sinful, greedy few.
Now that's a mouthful, Andrew!