Friday, December 17, 2010

On Julian Assange and the Tax Cuts

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

"We were better off at 28 percent under Reagan than we’ve been since. And we are going to be at 39 percent come January." - Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the wealthiest member of Congress, on Fox

What connection does Julian Assange have to the nearly $900 billion tax cut/UI extension bill that Obama signed into law today? Absolutely none... at first glance. But look more closely.

Both issues, the saga of the inexplicably crusading founder of Wikileaks and the third billionaire bailout, as I call it, are admittedly more dissimilar than similar until you see the subterranean commonality. And the one similarity is as telling as it is striking: The wealthy, in some ironically perverse socialist mindset, are caring for the wealthy while virtually ignoring the not so wealthy.

Multimillionaire Michael Moore and at least nine other celebrities rushed to Assange, the mere conduit of Bradley Manning's massive theft of intelligence, to post his bail between $310,000 and $316,000 USD (depending on fluctuating currency exchange rates). Even now, Assange is staying at a posh resort in the English countryside, Ellingham Hall. In fact, he's already given his first interview with Matt Lauer, with Ellingham's stately castle in the background, whining about being made a victim. Who's paying for his indefinite stay in the lap of luxury is anyone's guess. The way it looks, the only inconvenience and concession Assange will have to make is the electronic bracelet around his ankle preventing him from going on Fox hunts. Let's just hope the martinis are dry enough.

Meanwhile, we've conveniently consigned Pfc. Bradley Manning to the ash heap of history even as it's still in flux. He sits in a tiny jail cell in solitary 23 hours a day and even Wikileaks, by far the biggest beneficiary of his largesse, an organization that has gotten at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in sympathetic donations, had balked on its promise to kick in $20,000 toward Manning's legal defense fund. It's true that Wikileaks had been under attack in both cyberspace and the real world and have had their cash flow interrupted no thanks to Paypal, Visa and Mastercard. But somehow I don't equate having one's cash flow interrupted with another getting thrown in jail for seven months, starting in Kuwait, and with Uncle Sam throwing away the cell.

Meanwhile across the pond, Congress, spearheaded by wealthy Republican Congressmen and Senators who stood to make a big windfall with it, rammed this down the majority party's throat with the industry of Harry Reems. They'd shamelessly held piddling and even reduced unemployment benefits hostage so they and their wealthy country club buddies could get a massive tax cut on two fronts while beginning the undermining of Social Security that's indispensable for the actual working class by lowering the payroll tax by 2% for a year.

Obviously, the Republicans are already gearing up to make the tax cuts permanent across the board, especially the payroll tax upon which Social Security's solvency completely depends.

A study came out not too long ago that members of Congress' personal net worth, in spite of the economy they largely wrecked, had risen by 16% since 2008. This starts with Rep. Darrel Issa, the presumptive next House Judiciary Chairman, whose own net worth is estimated to be over $303,000,000, making him the wealthiest man in Congress.

All the same, even while Congressmen and senators have been kicked in their tender portfolios, the average net worth of a member of Congress is almost $3,000,000 each, which boasts 261 millionaires and multimillionaires (Democrats occupy seven of the top 10 spots in terms of Congressional wealth).

And in return for the $1.7 trillion in lost tax revenue over the next decade (and these tax cuts will last at least that long, if not forever), they gave the chronically jobless table scraps, the only evidence we've ever seen in 30 years that Reaganomics, or Trickle Down Economics, actually works. And hardly a soul on Capitol Hill ever had the guts to stand up before the well of either chamber to point out that if one half of the bill (tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%) resulted in job growth, there wouldn't have been any need for the other, forgotten half of the bill (the third federal UI extension since last spring).

We've been hoodwinked yet again. Wall Street billionaires and their tennis partners got bailed out yet again, only this time they didn't need it (Gates and Buffett even said not to give it to them, marking the first time in decades that our government did not listen to the wealthiest 1%).

The Unbearable Heaviness of Being Julian Assange

"Suffering the aftereffects from his spell in solitary confinement" is how the British reporter in the video above reminded us. There are people in this country who haven't eaten since Assange first saw the inside of a jail cell in Great Britain yet we're expected to be reminded that Assange is suffering from some PTSD that could only be cured by being rushed to a stately mansion and a dry martini screwed into his pathetically shaking fist.

It would interesting to hear Pfc Bradley Manning's expert take on Assange's own horrendous treatment but we have to remind ourselves of two things: Manning doesn't have access to television any more than he does to those who regularly appear on it.

What we're seeing in the ongoing Assange saga is what we saw with O. J. Simpson both times, Robert Blake, Klaus von Bulow, Patty Hearst, Phil Specter and every other tawdry mystery that featured celebrities: It becomes only fully relevant and compelling when wealthy white people are involved. For every Paris Hilton and Lady Di, there are a million indigent or middle class folks like Bradley Manning whose suffering remains more debatable rumor than incontrovertible fact.

This is vividly delineated in the other big news item, the ratification and signing of the tax bill. Virtually every journalist in print and TV had forgotten the other half of the bill, which is extending unemployment benefits to those out of work for more than six months. If you aren't on unemployment or jobless and had no vested interest in it, you'd swear that the two year, $858 billion bill, the first one Mitch McConnell bothered showing up to see signed out of 29, concerned itself just with tax cuts for everyone (over 10 years, the price tag will actually be about twice that).

Incredibly, there were Republican members of Congress who were philosophically (if greed can be said to be a philosophy outside of Wall Street) opposed to the bill because it contained scraps with particles of meat on them to the hobos (hereafter referred to as the unemployed). Even more audaciously, Republicans wanted to know how this third bailout of the unemployed would be paid for without once asking how $1.7 trillion of tax breaks for the most undeserving would be paid for.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media, earning its Palin-esque moniker of the "lamestream media", is marching with the Obama administration in lockstep in parroting the line that the jobless recovery is underway, that the stimulus did everything it was supposed to do, that we'd somehow crawled out of the recession without knowing it in June of 2009.

Really, now? Then why was a third bailout of the unemployed necessary and why was this third bailout contingent on a third bailout of Wall Street billionaires like Lloyd Blankfein passing in Congress? How, if the Reagan-era mantra of tax cuts for the wealthy translates to jobs, was an unemployment extension really necessary? Why has the unemployment rate risen to 9.8% and hovered at or around double digits for well over a year after tax cuts for the wealthiest reached its tenth consecutive year?

If the pity party surrounding Julian Assange and the wealthy prove one thing, it's that tragedy and perceived persecution of the wealthy always count for more even among the proletariat than the real tragedy we face. After all, who wants to see The Housewives of Watts or The Housewives of the Bronx? For every Mark Madoff who hangs himself, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who kill themselves and their families because they cannot support them.

And Assange's unusual persecution from Sweden, selectively scummy though it is, is always a sexier headline than Manning facing actual cruel and unusual punishment before he's even been charged with a single crime. So is Nigeria's bribery charges against Dick Cheney getting dropped. Between being bailed out by Halliburton to the sweet tune of $250,000,000 and getting his fat tax break early next year, it will be a very good year for Cheney and many of his ilk.

But somehow, if we could see or hear them, I think Bradley Manning and the unprotected whistleblowers and unemployed and homeless of the world would cry foul and for good reason.


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