A speech to be reckoned with

July 06, 2011|By Allan Powell

Given the notoriety of the splendid film, "The King's Speech," relating the impediment of King George VI, Americans may not be aware of another "Speech" which attracted much less attention.

A newly published book "The Speech" tells the story made on the Senate floor on Dec. 10, 2010, by Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders. Just longer than eight hours in length, this diatribe was a filibuster designed to make the whole country aware of an agreement made between President Obama and the Republican congressional leaders.

For over eight hours, the senator read and ad-libbed on the same subject: Why the president was wrong in making an agreement with the Republicans that gave huge tax cuts and other undesirable benefits to the opposition. By this plan, the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans would get tax cuts extended for two more years.

Many had hoped that these gifts to the rich had come to an end.

Sanders used relevant statistics to reveal the greed of many leaders of American corporations and how this agreement would be the cause of the serious decline of America's middle class. Because this has been a concern of long standing, there was good reason to share bits of the support data used by the senator.

 Sanders' noble battle was for naught. The agreement became law and the unwarranted tax cuts were extended. Another unfortunate result was the provision for a voucher plan to funnel public funds to private and religious schools in the District of Columbia — a provision that was not desired by many.

Following are just a few of the examples of the evidence that the gap between America's middle class citizens and the very wealthy is widening at an alarming pace. This agreement called for a continuation of the Bush-era 15 percent tax rate on capital gains and dividends. This means that those who made their living off investments pay a lower tax rate than middle class citizens such as teachers, nurses, firefighters and electricians.

Senator Sanders was very irate at the assault on Social Security — a favorite punching bag of Republican politicians. Their lives would be empty if they did not have this very successful (75 years) middle-class program to belittle.  They pretend to want to "save" Social Security "by privatizing the system." He points out that their gloomy predictions of its impending demise are greatly exaggerated. At present it has a surplus of $2.6 trillion and can pay out benefits for 27 years. We are warned to be wary of Republican "reforms."

According to the senator, the median family income during the eight years of the Bush administration dropped by $2,200 and there was a loss of 600,000 jobs in the private sector. He then asserted that the U.S. had one of the most unequal distribution of incomes on record. In 2007, the top 1 percent earned 23.5 percent of all incomes in America — more than the bottom 50 percent.

There are many other features presented that show evidence of this growing disparity in incomes. The senator reported that, "The fact is, 80 percent" of all new income earned from 1980 to 2005 has gone to the top 1 percent of our citizens. What is even more remarkable, "The top 1 percent now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent." This is not a good trend for those who suppose that a healthy, vibrant middle class is a requirement for a successful democracy.

Senator Sanders devotes considerable time to the very personal (and delicate) issue of corporate executive compensation. One case is enough to show the problem. James Dimon, CEO for JP Morgan Chase, received over a five-year period, $110 million. The firm received hundreds of billions of dollars in low-interest loans and other financial assistance from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.

That bank was bailed out by taxpayers. In addition, under the agreement at issue, CEO Dimon will get $1.1 million in tax breaks. All of this was happening at the same time Republicans were frantically refusing to extend unemployment insurance to thousands upon thousands of unemployed unfortunates. It is difficult to imagine such twisted values.

"The Speech" is abundantly supplied with evidence of the decline of America's middle class. We had better become concerned and involved in helping to manage the store if we want it to continue as a viable democratic society.

Allan Powell is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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