Archive for November, 2011

Who Are These Rich Guys?

Monday, November 28th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

The rich and powerful don’t want to pay any more taxes. In fact they think they should  pay less. And if it means that the streets fill with even more pain and suffering…and protesters… too bad. They’ll just build a bigger moat.

Do you believe that? I don’t. At least I don’t want to. Yet that’s what their lackeys in Washington would have us think. That all rich people are Scrooge McDuck or like mean Mr. Potter beating up on Jimmy Stewart.

But it’s hard to know who they are. The super rich don’t show themselves much. We only know that the likes of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell would throw the 99 percent under a limo to protect the one percent. And that the Newt Gingrich/Mitt Romney chorus line likes the rich better than the rest of us.

There have been a few who dared to come out and say they’d be willing to donate a few more bucks to the common good. Investor Warren Buffet took a heroic stand this summer when he wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times urging lawmakers to raise taxes on millionaires so that they pay the same or higher rate as middle class people.

Microsoft king Bill Gates has said he’s “generally in favor of the idea that the rich pay somewhat more than everyone else.” Earlier this month a small group calling themselves Patriotic Millionaires went to Capitol Hill not with their hands out, but, amazingly, with their wallets open, offering to pay more taxes. And while we don’t hear much about it, they are apparently not alone. In fact, 68 percent of millionaires say they support a tax increase for those earning $1 million or more, according to a survey by the Spectrum Group.

But the Republican leadership says no, no, no, we must spare the rich. When the non-rich complain about the rich the Republicans say we’re all simply jealous. They insist the rich need even more tax loopholes. They make it sound like the rich are the downtrodden Americans.

Yet, by their silence we can only assume that the very richest of the rich are fine with their fat-cat image. And with the desperation of all the stray dogs.

That’s a nasty picture.  But if the rich don’t like their portrait why aren’t they standing up to change it? They don’t even have to do the Warren Buffet thing. Maybe they have a good explanation for why they can’t make it on their bazillions alone. I don’t hate the rich, but I would feel a lot kinder toward them if I knew they were willing to help balance this grotesque inequality so many of their brethren have exploited. They behave like they own this country. When in fact they owe this country.

As the wise Elizabeth Warren points out, “There is no one in this country who got rich on his own.”

Michael Moore is plenty rich. He made his personal fortune pointing out the inequities in our system and was recently called on by Piers Morgan to defend his wealth and his sympathies for Occupy Wall Street. Moore told Morgan that having money and caring about poor people is not mutually exclusive. No more than being white and marching with Martin Luther King or being straight and voting for gay marriage. It’d be nice to see a few more super rich celebrities show us who they’re marching with.

Can you imagine this? Rich people declaring, “I am wealthy and I do not approve of this image.” Rich people standing up to Republicans. Republicans standing up to Republicans. Heck, Obama could sell tickets to that and pay off the deficit.

Pass the Heartburn

Sunday, November 20th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

I think about this every Thanksgiving. Somewhere a woman is crying. Some of you understand her suffering. It is gravy time.

The turkey is out of the oven and waiting to be sculpted by some proud swashbuckler. The mashed potatoes are fluffed and sitting patiently. Aunt Stephanie’s creative broccoli and a Cranberry Something are lined up and ready to go.

It is time to create that unholy mixture of meat fat and flour that will suffocate all those subtle tastes labored on by the contributors to this feast. Even if it’s the only time of the year that anyone even makes or eats gravy people expect perfection. In the end, all the guests will taste is the gravy. All they will remember is the gravy. The dinner will collapse or succeed on the perfect, silken, salty beauty of this chemical mix.

They will make little puddles of it in their crater of potatoes. They will sluice it into the moist stuffing. They will let it flood their crisp veggies and make the turkey slippery with it.

Gravy is the glue that holds the dinner together. But it is not supposed to taste or look like glue. Neither is it supposed to look like an oil slick, nor pour out in chunks. It should not be mistaken for tiny dumplings.

Thanksgiving and its allegiance to tradition – for why else do we continue to eat this stuff? – demands that the hostess or the mother or the grandmother be the gravy maker.

But not everyone knows how, nor will they ever. I have been gravy challenged since the days when cooks slid marshmallows and cream cheese inside green jello and called it a salad.  My cooking and my tastes have progressed since then.  But then comes Thanksgiving and that means turkey and the trimmings which include gravy. And while I have fond memories of my grandmother’s and my mother’s and my mother-in-law’s gravy, it now represents nothing but heartburn to me.

So there you are with everything ready and you have to take time out to have a breakdown over this brown goop which tradition dictates cannot come out of a can or a bag. Not only are you expected to do it well, you are to do it effortlessly and in those last three minutes when the kitchen fills with starving guests, swilling wine, having a great old time as you dump flour into a pool of gurgling grease. You stir. You pray. It clots. You weep, more salt for the gravy.


Funny, I Don’t Feel Wealthy

Saturday, November 12th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

The wealth gap between younger and older Americans is reported to be wider than ever. According to census bureau numbers young working families are worse off than older people. This would be expected if you consider that the longer you work the more your income goes up and the more you save for retirement. And when you’re starting out, you’re not making as much.

But funny thing about this is I don’t feel wealthy. And I sure don’t want young people thinking their elders are all sipping Glenlivet and perusing the cruise catalog.

I recognize the horrible squeeze on young people. I’m related to some. But older people have taken some of the same hits.

The numbers show the typical American household headed by a person 65 and older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35. That is, a median net worth of $3,662 for young families opposed to $170,494 for older ones.

The Pew Research Center analyzed the discrepancy this way. Young families are hurting because they’ve got mortgages on houses that aren’t worth as much as they paid for them and carry a load of student loans and credit card debt. The old are presumably doing better because we are thought to have paid off our houses and have investments. And on top of that we get Social Security.

And that’s when I thought uh-oh, this sounds like ammunition for generation warfare. And there it was.

Responding to the report, economist Harry Holzer from Georgetown University said, “It makes us wonder whether the extraordinary amount of resources we spend on retirees and their health care should be at least partially reallocated to those who are hurting worse than them.”

Oh Harry, I do agree. In part.  If you are eligible for Social Security and don’t need it or you can tell Medicare no thanks it would be a grand gesture to pass it on to a young family, maybe your own children and grandchildren.

But while I know some retirees who are living quite well, I doubt the majority of  oldsters are feeling fat on Social Security.  According to the Social Security Administration most retirees count on those monthly checks for a major  chunk of their income. And people over 65 represent the fastest growth in bankruptcy filings.

As for sharing the wealth that’s pretty much the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But the occupiers’ beef is not with greedy grannies. It’s with the one percent with all the dough. That’s why you see signs that say “Education is a Right” next to ones insisting “Save Medicare not Billionaires.”

I don’t know many older people who are leading a madcap life – okay, a few – but I do worry the image handily serves those wanting to gut retirement programs . We old ones are pretty mad at the system, too. Older people can remember when they were in their 30s and struggling and hoping that by the time they were in their 60s they would be feeling a lot more secure.

Older people are part of the dwindling middle class., too. We’ve seen our savings and investments shredded. We too have been hit by the housing bubble.  If we have any extra we may be paying for our adult kids’ health insurance or paying on those students loans and even caring for elderly parents.

I know plenty in their 60s and early 70s who say,  “I’m going to be working until I die.”

In fact the wage gap study noted that older Americans are holding onto to their jobs longer than ever while young people are facing the highest unemployment since World War II.

So, if we’re so wealthy why are we still working?