October 2nd, 2010 18:46 EST
Never Mind Washington, You're Being Overtaxed and Betrayed At Home
Scapegoating Washington to hide local corruption
So let me get this straight. Voters seem to resent Washington spending. Yes? But they seem to want to keep the Bush tax cuts to make the rich richer. Yes? And they don`t want the government messing with their Medicare or Social Security or unemployment insurance, so they`re prepared to vote for politicians whose real agenda is to dismantle Medicare and Social Security.
What a bracing picture! Vote the big spenders out of Washington and vote in the venom-drinkers and wreckers. Sounds simple. But it`s bogus, because the Republicans, who are riding this fetid tide of inchoate resentment, are the biggest spenders of them all, but they`ve managed to pin it all on the Democrats because the Democrats have a lot of trouble getting words out of their mouths sensibly.
Can anyone make sense of this? Surely not the press. All the polls and pundits do is muddy the water. If they were trying to get the story straight they would present us with this Gordian Knot every night. Then at least the voters would know what they have to untie. The press would target the contradictions instead of just pouring oil on the fire. But pouring oil on the fire is what the press does best, because it costs so much less than inquiring into the facts. You just set the table for liar`s poker night after night and play let`s him and you fight.
About the voters " would that be the 58% of eligible voters who bothered to vote in 2008? They`re all het up, the press says, but not enough to vote. They want jobs, low taxes, welfare for the rich, Medicare, Social Security, good roads, good schools, good police and fire protection, a less diverse and more ethnocentric society, and as little government as possible. Have I got that right? Has the press got it right? Have the voters got it right? They want to turn the clock back to 1928. Or, better yet, 1885. Civil rights? Who needs them? Medicare? Not on our dime. Unemployment insurance? Hell no "the jobless are slackers. Immigrants? Anglo-Saxons preferred, Irish, Italians and Germans tolerated.
Oh, and one other thing, most voters believe that the rich out of the goodness of their hearts and in their own economic interest will share enough of the wealth with the rest of us that we`ll get back that middle class and that American Dream that we lost around the time we swallowed Ronald Reagan`s cynical trickle-down economics. So all we have to do in November is throw out the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society, and everything will be as it was in 1929 when the rich were jumping out of windows without golden parachutes.
Where does this venom-drinking, wrecker psychology come from? Is it American exceptionalism, the idea that we`re not only different from other human beings, some of whom we regard as barely human, but we`re better? Hence, even though we pay fewer taxes than any other industrialized nation, we think we`re entitled to pay even fewer and that somehow, because we`re Americans, the good life we deserve will be bestowed upon us by our grateful elite. Well, that`s one theory "the eat-French-fries and smoke-cigarettes theory of health care.
But it doesn`t really account for our extraordinary preference for lies and half-truths. Or does it? Perhaps if the lies and half-truths nurture our exceptionalism we fondle them like a rabbit`s foot. For example, the right-wing venom-drinkers have sold us on the idea that everything bad originates in Washington. They have good reason to sell this snake oil to us "they`re feeding at the public trough in Washington while taking care of their profiteering cronies. But bad government originates at home, and hometown America is still largely presided over by Republicans. The hometown is where they could give us real tax relief in the form of more efficient, less redundant government, and therefore lower property taxes. But they want us to think that all our troubles come from Washington.
Washington is a macrocosm of local government. If the Republicans wanted to create jobs and lower taxes they would do it all over America in our hometowns, where they still hold sway and always have. So why are we so vulnerable to this ploy? I think it`s partly a nostalgia kick. We like to think everything is sweet and hunky-dory in our hometowns, simply because the hometown mystique is as rooted in the American psyche as misgivings about the far away, whether London or Washington.
But hometown America is often where trouble starts. It may be as simple as make-work patronage jobs or sending town crews to pave a politician`s driveway, or it may be embezzlement and unfair tax evaluations. Look at Florida. Overbuilding in collusion with bribed or otherwise influenced officials has resulted in pervasive over-taxation, environmental abuses, predatory lending and spiraling infrastructure costs, including new strains on police, fire, water and sewer services. What has happened there has happened in almost every state. Where were all these low-tax, less-government blabbermouths when this happened? They were pretty close to home, conspiring with developers and predatory lenders, and selling out the environment. But now they want you to think it all began in Washington. It began right where they had the power to do something about it.
Florida is a perfect example of how corrupt local government drives up taxes. Florida, like many other states and communities, has allowed and even encouraged overbuilding. As usual, the developers argued that they were creating jobs and broadening the tax base, and as usual it resulted in higher taxes and damage to the environment that communities will be paying to repair for decades. Constitutional amendment 4 is up for a vote in November to give local Florida voters a chance to stop overdevelopment.
Nearly half a million foreclosures are in the Florida courts, overwhelming the system. Four major law firms doing foreclosures for lenders, including the giant GMAC, are under investigation by the Florida attorney general.
Across the nation more than two million homes stand empty, and many homeowners can no longer afford to live in their homes. The trees necessary to protect aquifers and watersheds have been cut down. In many areas the land can`t absorb sewage because of helter-skelter building. Services are required that communities can`t pay for. Where were all the know-it-all politicians who blame Washington for everything when this orgy of shortsighted and improvident government was going on? They were in the developers` pockets. But now they want to blame Obamacare " and Nancy Pelosi "anything and anyone but themselves. And in this fit of blame there is nary a mention of the three-trillion dollar war in Iraq incurred at the same time the rich were handed huge tax breaks that caused our scary deficit, the deficit the Republicans are now trying to pin on the Democrats. The Republicans were in charge when the deficit went through the roof, but now they`re playing who-me games with us. They were, for the most part, in charge when local governments drove property taxes through the roof. But now they claim they can fix everything with less government and lower taxes. If they`re that smart and that honest, why haven`t they fixed government at home where taxes are destroying families? They`re putting your money where their mouth is.
What other head-spinners do the polls reveal? Well, Americans like good roads and bridges, reliable public transportation, public lighting, good schools, cheaper higher education and making war on bad guys. They just don`t like paying for these things. Maybe they don`t mind paying for war, but those other things "? And don`t bother them with any pesky questions. For example, when all that building and lending was going on how did the politicians think Americans were going to pay for those McMansions with their stagnant wages, their iffy jobs, and their lost job security? It didn`t matter, did it, as long as the developers and the lenders were stuffing their pockets and those of their political cronies. Did they really think those reckless developers, moving from one environmental rape to another, would create enough jobs and stability to pay for it all? Did they really think the American economy could be measured in housing starts? How about measuring it in foreclosures? And guess what, the press is still measuring the economy in housing starts. What is wrong with this picture? For starters, the press derives a hell of a lot of advertising money from developers and lenders "and that`s why it was none too eager to examine the nature of a national economy that seemed to depend on building homes for people who couldn`t afford them.
Do we really think the rich are extraordinarily generous and if made just a little richer at taxpayer expense they will share their riches with the rest of us? Or is it a French-fried lie "it tastes so good going down? Do we really believe this in spite of ample evidence to the contrary? Americans just want the facts "the ones that suit their prejudices. They agree with the Bauhaus dictum that less is more. Give them less government and fewer taxes and everything will be swell "for the richest one percent. They hate Washington. Don`t bother them with evidence that much local government is corrupt as hell. Don`t bother to argue with them that corruption starts at home.
Nobody loves this contradiction and confusion as much as the press. They`re addicted to conflict and polarization, not resolution and consensus. They`re high on the nonsense of things and in the name of sense they`re happy to blanket the issues with blab when they know perfectly well that there are paper and money trails to follow. They have no more responsibility to the commonweal than the banks or the politicians.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com