It's a perfect storm. And I'm not talking about
the impending dangers facing Democrats. I'm talking about the dangers
facing our democracy.
First, income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than
it's been in 80 years. Almost a quarter of total income generated in
the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans.
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The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.
are these people? With the exception of a few entrepreneurs like Bill
Gates, they're top executives of big corporations and Wall Street,
hedge-fund managers, and private equity managers. They include the Koch
brothers, whose wealth increased by billions last year, and who are now
funding tea party candidates across the nation.
Which gets us to
the second part of the perfect storm. A relatively few Americans are
buying our democracy as never before. And they're doing it completely in
Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into
advertisements for and against candidates -- without a trace of where
the dollars are coming from. They're laundered through a handful of
groups. Fred Maleck, whom you may remember as deputy director of Richard
Nixon's notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed Creep in
the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative
Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a third.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission
made it possible. The Federal Election Commission says only 32 percent
of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their
donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in
2008, almost half disclosed.
We're back to the late 19th century
when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on
the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing
Just before it recessed the House passed a bill that would
require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed. But it
couldn't get through the Senate. Every Republican voted against it. (To
see how far the GOP has come, nearly ten years ago campaign disclosure
was supported by 48 of 54 Republican senators.)
Here's the third
part of the perfect storm. Most Americans are in trouble. Their jobs,
incomes, savings, and even homes are on the line. They need a government
that's working for them, not for the privileged and the powerful.
their state and local taxes are rising. And their services are being
cut. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges
they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are
dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.
jobs bill to speak of. No WPA to hire those who can't find jobs in the
private sector. Unemployment insurance doesn't reach half of the
Washington says nothing can be done. There's no money left.
money? The marginal income tax rate on the very rich is the lowest it's
been in more than 80 years. Under President Dwight Eisenhower (who no
one would have accused of being a radical) it was 91 percent. Now it's
36 percent. Congress is even fighting over whether to end the temporary
Bush tax cut for the rich and return them to the Clinton top tax of 39
Much of the income of the highest earners is treated as
capital gains, anyway -- subject to a 15 percent tax. The typical
hedge-fund and private-equity manager paid only 17 percent last year.
Their earnings were not exactly modest. The top 15 hedge-fund managers
earned an average of $1 billion.
Congress won't even return to
the estate tax in place during the Clinton administration which
applied only to those in the top 2 percent of incomes.