The Inequality Dividend: The Rich Against the World

budget-2013-fm-announces-extra-tax-for-super-richLittle Rock   Among the unforeseen consequences of the perversion of tax rates and the massive shifting of wealth to the one-tenth of one percent, is that now rather than the superrich just building hospitals, buying sports teams, getting university lecture halls named after them, and supporting the local symphony and arts museum, which most of us might have easily ignored or at least adopted a form of causal, “live and let live” indifference, their new newfound passions and playthings are too often in the area of public policy and politics.  Too many of them have twisted the old sayings into a new perversion.  It’s no longer a case that, “hey, if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”  Now, tragically, too many of them think that because they are rich, that also means they are smart.   I find this worrisome whether I agree with their new concerns are not, simply because they have created a cynical marketplace based on their ability to disrupt public life and attempt to define the agenda of citizen concern, simply because they are able to buy the time.

            Take Michael Bloomberg, the multi-billionaire, recent Mayor of New York, who is both the best and worst example of the breed.  Unlike so many, he was at least committed enough in the political process to stand for election, win, lose or draw, rather than being the puppet master, Koch Brothers style.  But reading how flippantly he throws around a commitment of $50 million to mobilize voters around gun control issues is scary even if I agree that guns are out of control.  His notion that he’s buying his way into heaven “without an interview,” as he argued, I also found every bit as creepy as the way the Koch Brothers manipulate religion to polarize opposition to the Affordable Care Act. 

            Applauding Tom Steyer, the Bay Area hedge fund billionaire, and his willingness to leverage his fortune to try and raise $100 million to force climate change front and center, would logically also force me to say that John and Laura Anderson are dandy folks for trying to dilute public employee pensions and push workers into 401k’s or look the other way at David Welch’s big bucks financing of unlimited lawsuits trying to end teacher tenure around the country, supposedly in the name of lower income and minority children in public schools.  I can’t do it.

            All of this just seems like elite attempts to purchase personal billboards in the public space, and none of that advances democracy, no matter whether the cause is worthy or warped.  Equally disturbing is the way that these mega-million money drops might also further monetize social change, and tilt the work towards the paymasters and away from the people.

            Not that this problem is new or that the Rockefellers were somehow better than the Facebook and Googlers.  Elite efforts to divert and coopt social change or to create client constituencies fill up whole book shelves in the libraries of political scientists and social movement theorists. 

            Old or new, the sheer enormity of the sums involved now, $50 million here, $100 there, and money is no object, are quickly creating a climate though where everything has a price and all issues are on offer and listed for sale with people just pawns to be manipulated every election day.


Tragic, Crushing, Head Scratching Over Massacre of Connecticut Children

New Orleans   We were in Boston and the videographer kept looking at his phone while filming and even leaving the room.  At the early afternoon break I told him we were going off the record for a couple of hours.  “Good,” he said, “I need to leave for Connecticut, have you heard what has happened there.”  The full details of that morning have been flooding all of us ever since.

In the wake of the Connecticut tragedy there has been a hue and cry for more gun control and tougher gun control restrictions at both the state and federal level.  National Rifle Association (NRA) apologists and Congressional advocates have even called for better “screens” for people who might be mentally unbalanced.

Connecticut is not Wyoming though.  I had to believe that they had some kind of decent gun laws.  Searching around it turns out that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks the state #5 in the country.  Unfortunately being in the top 10% of the United States still only scored 58% of 100%, which is a failing grade in this and most schools around the country.   Ryan Beckwith of Digital First Media, ran this quote:

“We have some of the strongest gun laws in the United States, but if you don’t have strong federal gun laws, that makes it that much more difficult,” said Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.

As for the points about being mentally imbalanced, I’m not sure how that would have been a preventive.   Reports in all of the morning newspapers indicate that the guns were owned and registered by the killer’s mother, who was the first victim in this horror.  No one can hide behind that thin reed to a rationalization or pretend that some law aimed at the whacky among us would be preventive in any way, shape, or form.

New York City’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been calling loudly for action in Congress since the tragedy.   Beckwith also quoted his man on gun control:

Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun control group started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, noted that the vast majority of guns found in New York City crime scenes come from other states.  “We have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, but guns don’t respect boundaries any more than criminals do,” he said. “When one state has weak gun laws, that opens the floodgate of guns into the stream of commerce and they end up in communities in other states. That’s a federal problem and it needs a federal solution,” he added.

Like it or not, President Obama is going to have to step in and make something happen.  The “buck stops here” with him in the White House, and there are spent casings on the ground all around all of us that have no place anywhere near here.