Friday, November 30, 2007

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Watch Baseball...and Oprah

I suppose it was inevitable. I’m now officially a socialist.

As we descend into heavy-duty holiday mania and parse our way through Charlie Brown’s depressing Christmas commercialism, I’m feeling the residual effects of being too sensitive, and knowing too much about too many things.

For example, sports media’s (and especially ESPN’s) obsession with Alex Rodriguez’ new $275 million contract made me want to puke about as much as the size of A-Rod’s annual payout on his lengthy deal. Then we heard about Mariano Rivera signing a three-year, $45 million contract. That’s $15 million a year for a relief pitcher who works about 50 days in a season that lasts from April to October. Rodriguez and Rivera’s New York Yankees teammate, catcher Jorge Posada, also recently signed a four-year contract worth $52 million. You can’t say the Hispanics aren’t cashing in on Americano lucre.

Happy holidays. Feliz Navidad. Screw these guys.

While the hot air rises from Hillary, Barack, Rudy, Mitt—can anyone actually envision us having a prez named “Mitt”? Or “Rudy”? Or “Hillary”? Or “Barack”?—the War in Iraq is running at a cost now of $470 billion, according to the National Priorities Project ( Then I heard some ghastly figure on the news the other day about American financial aid to Afghanistan (exact amount escapes me, but I want to say $10 billion).

Then I did some checking. According to the 2007 Statistical Abstract/The National Data Book, we gave Afghanistan $2.03 billion in economic and military aid in 2004, up from a mere $88 million in 2001. That’s my money. And yours. And YOURS. (Yeah, you, over there.)

As my brother likes to say: “The terrorists won.” And guess what? He’s absolutely right. And I don’t like to fly anymore, either.

Here are the aggregate figures for American foreign economic and military aid in the recent term:

2001—$16.7 B
2002—$20.7 B
2003—$27.3 B
2004—$33.4 B

Apparently, it takes a while for the statistical folks to catch up to all of this. So doing a little logical projecting, we can put the 2007 figure at close to $50 billion. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE THE WAR.

What the f**k??? The money is there to resolve all our major issues, but we’re in the business of giving a huge chunk of it away to other countries.

Meanwhile, someone is doing nicely with the war, but it ain’t me. Most likely, it’s not you, either.

We’ve got baseball players and other athletes earning millions—BIG millions. It’s gross how cushy they have it. In a nutshell: it’s unfair. They don’t DESERVE what they get. So here’s a plan: Tax the f*** out of ‘em. Stop taxing cigarettes and grocery items. Tax the f*** out of high-paid athletes—and anyone else earning a million dollars a year—and don’t bat an eye about the threat that poses to free enterprise.

We send $50 billion a year overseas. We’re halfway to a trillion dollars on the war. Yet we’re locked in an endless national debate on funding health care for our citizens, we’re wringing our hands about the fate of Social Security, bridges collapse in Minnesota because the infrastructure needs tending, foreclosures are up, and there are actually people in this country who think it’s okay to issue driver’s licenses to illegals who are already sucking our tax system dry simply by being here in the first place.

It’s all bull****.

I generally consider myself a free-market guy. That would be ideal. But sometimes things get out of hand, and to just stand by and watch all the crap happen, in the name of capitalism, is just stupid.

Frankly, I don’t care about the theoretical purity of the free-market system when guys who throw little white baseballs for a living earn $25 million a year, while average Joes lose their homes, can’t afford to go to the doctor, and can’t even afford cigarettes (which admittedly are unhealthy, but for some poor slobs are the only pleasure they have in their humdrum, unfortunate lives). Irony upon irony: Those Marlboros are also taxed these days at an ungodly rate, to help swell the public coffers and to pay the salaries for public officials who pass legislation outlawing smoking in restaurants. I mean, really, if it’s such a reprehensible drug, why not simply outlaw tobacco altogether in the sincere interests of public health? Because it’s a cash cow, that’s why. Hypocrisy, hypocrisy.

Memo to all the windy, cowardly politicians running for president: Stop futzing around and solve the problems. Tax the f*** out of the grossly overpaid jocks and sports executives and media millionaires and Silicon Valley geeks and hedge-fund managers, and yes, even yourselves if you qualify. And Oprah. Go get her money too. I don’t care if these folks are already paying out at a high tax rate. They’re also starting “foundations” with which they can hide their money and dodge taxes. They all live in America where they’ve been able to rape the land. Now let’s go get some of that money back to solve our problems. I don’t care if Bill Gates has been generous with his millions. (Thanks, Bill.) Now go take more of his money. Levy a one-time luxury tax on all these lucky bastards, put it all into a pot, and redistribute our way into solvency and sound fiscal footing on the national scale. And throw in health care for all, while you’re at it.

And, oh yeah, all you windbag posturing politicos who refuse to offer any substantial and tangible remedies for America, for fear that you’ll offend various voting blocs: Suck it up or get out of the race. Don’t agonize that we’ll be penalizing the rich. You can call it a penalty. I call it fairness. I call it balancing the scales. I call it making it right for the majority of people forced to live in this country where a 9% sales tax on food robs them of their earning power, while the same 9% tax means nothing to the SUV-driving, gas-guzzling fatcats. A loaf of bread isn’t available on a sliding scale. It costs the same for Oprah as it does for me and you. Yet she can afford to pay 100% tax on her food. So make her. The war, after all, is being fought to preserve her way of life, and she’s got a bigger way of life to protect. Give her a bigger bill. A MUCH bigger bill.

Of all people, Jimmy Carter said it best a few years ago: The single potentially most destructive reality in modern America is the widening gap between rich and poor. Why? Because the escalating cost of food and health care and gasoline are killing middle-class aspirants while affecting the Oprahs and the A-Rods not a bit. What incentive do the rich have to care about how tax money is collected via higher sales taxes, or the everyday impact of rising gas prices, when it doesn’t mean squat to them? They are immune. Besides, if you harvested 50% of their net worth, they’d still be fatcats. They still wouldn’t have to care about the things we hoi-polloi care about, yet we’d have the chance to improve the lives of the majority. Which is not too much to ask. Who can forget George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life:

“Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

(These are also the people who, like so many lemmings, watch Oprah. And A-Rod.)

According to, Barry Bonds has earned $188 million during his baseball career. That is just his salary. It does not include any outside endorsements or media appearances, both of which have surely paid him handsomely on top of his grotesque annual paychecks. It was this same rabble who paid him. For playing baseball. And he cheated in the end with steroids. F*** him.

Yep, it all sounds socialistic. And it is. But at least it’s not communistic. It’s not fascistic, either. Just think of the plan as yet another American entitlement program, of which there have been many. Like Homeland Security. Only this way, the money gathered from the grossly rich gets targeted to address big-ticket items that will benefit the majority.

Of course, there are other ways to approach it, while allowing Oprah to keep all her ill-gotten gains: Cut all war funding and withdraw all foreign aid.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it can’t be done. That we can’t fix what ails us. We can. The money is there to do it. What we really lack is courage, of the kind we are not getting from the majority of the political candidates.

We are not in a time suited to wimps who refuse to make commitments to ideas or are afraid of ruffling voters’ feathers. Yet that’s what we’re getting in the so-called frontrunners. F*** them, too.

If the pursuit of happiness is a mandate of the framers, then what’s wrong with taking steps to assure that a majority of Americans get a little closer to that?

The means are there to achieve it. But the cahones, so far, are not.

Oh yeah. Season’s Greetings.

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