by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
January 5, 2003
THE REAL 'LUCKY DUCKIES'
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's hard to say what's more absurd - that The Wall Street Journal's editorial page would call someone who earns under $12,000 a year a "lucky ducky," or that the Journal would use the phrase "lucky duckies" in an editorial.
But it's not a joke. A few weeks ago, the Journal actually came out in favor of raising taxes on low-income Americans. In the paper's view, someone that earns $12,000 a year "pays a little less than 4 percent of income in taxes;" so little that it is not "enough to get his or her blood boiling with rage."
Never mind that the 4 percent figure that the Journal threw out is false, because that is only reflects the federal income tax. If you add in what that low income worker pays in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, as well as in state and local taxes, the real percentage is closer to about 20 percent.
No, the Journal believes the working poor are taxed too little and these folks "can hardly be expected to care about tax relief for everybody else," such as the clientele that reads the Journal.
Sounds absurd, doesn't it? Not to the Bush administration. They're actively considering raising taxes on the working poor, while cutting taxes even more for the wealthy. Their latest scheme is a proposal to cut taxes on corporate dividends in half - something that would cost the Treasury more than $100 billion over the next 10 years and would overwhelmingly benefit the rich.
These, and other tax cuts, are being proposed in the name of economic stimulus. Meanwhile, proposals that would provide real economic benefits for working Americans are being ignored. But seeing working Americans getting screwed at the expense of the rich isn't exactly news.
When you here people talk about the need to give more tax relief to the rich, remember these facts:
The lucky ducky who makes $12,000 is someone who's earning about $6 an hour if they are working a 40-hour week. Trying to pay for food, rent, transportation and other necessities on that kind of income is next to impossible for a single person. It's even more so if you have a family. And it goes without saying that this person likely doesn't have health insurance, as is the case with one in six Americans.
Compare this life with that of the real lucky duckies, the less than 1 percent of the U.S. population that owns 40 percent of the total wealth. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the average annual income of the top 400 richest individual taxpayers rose from $50 million in 1995 to $110 million in 1998 (the latest figures available) - an increase of 117 percent. But those top 400 saw their average tax rate decline from 30 percent to 22 percent during that period. You can expect that figure to go down further with the reduction of the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent by 2006. Those top 400 taxpayers will see an average tax cut of $1 million a year, thanks to President Bush.
Today, the gap between rich and poor is as great as it was during the era of the Robber Barons - the so-called Gilded Age of the late 19th century. It was this age of excess and greed that prompted the creation of the federal income tax in 1913.
Unfortunately, excess and greed are back and is worse than ever. The corporate scandals of the past year bring a new meaning to the contemptuous response of rail magnate William H. Vanderbilt in 1883 when he was asked by a reporter whether he was working for the public or his shareholders. "The public be damned!" roared Vanderbilt.
And damned we still are. In this new Gilded Age, the official public policy is to shower more and more wealth on the folks who already have too much, while bleeding the average person dry. This is not sustainable, and the Bush administration find this out soon enough.
An Addendum: I recently received a couple of emails regarding my column on war racketeering that provided some additional information.
One reader wondered why I didn't mention Prescott Bush, the founding father of what some commentators have called the "Bush Crime Family."
Prescott Bush, along with the Rockefellers and Joseph P. Kennedy, all made money off of Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II. In the case of Bush, he and his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, financed Hitler before and during the war through their Union Banking Corporation. John Loftus, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice's Nazi War Crimes Unit, documented the Bush-Nazi connection in his book, "Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, The Nazis and the Swiss Banks."
Another reader asked about Lyndon Johnson and his profiteering during the Vietnam War. It turns out that Vice President Cheney isn't the first politician to benefit from government contracts given to Brown & Root, the construction subsidiary of Haliburton.
Johnson had an equally close relationship with Brown & Root, steering all sorts of federal projects to the firm in exchange for millions of dollars in political contributions. Brown & Root would become LBJ's greatest political benefactor and played a key role throughout his political career. Political activist Ronnie Dugger documented all this in his book, "The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson." And even more details can be found in Robert Caro's massive LBJ biography, "The Path to Power."
And as for present-day profiteering, you may have missed this. On Dec. 27, the leaders of Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan signed an agreement to build the 910-mile Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline.
This is the pipeline that Unocal first proposed building in 1997, back when the U.S. and Pakistani governments were funding the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of Unocal's proposed pipeline. While the Taliban was more than willing to take the money in exchange for its willingness to cut a deal on the pipeline, the arrangement was ultimately unworkable.
Now that the Taliban are out of power and a Unocal alum, Hamid Karzai, is the U.S.-anointed president of Afghanistan, the pipeline deal can go forward. While Unocal has officially stated it has no interest in getting back involved in the project, you can bet that they and other Western oil companies will be happy to get involved for the chance of gaining access to Central Asia's huge oil and gas reserves.
Back at the start of the "War on Terrorism," people scoffed at those who pointed out that gaining U.S. access to this oil - and not defeating al-Qaida - was the Bush administration's prime motivation. Who's scoffing now?
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).