A friend of mine, who is generally a reasonable and intelligent person, posted a link to this video on his facebook page today.
In a nutshell, the tool in the video (Bill Whittle) takes a comment made by the filmmaker Michael Moore, twists that comment to suggest it calls for funding the entire $3.7 trillion budget by confiscating money from the rich, goes on to show that this is mathematically impossible, and that therefore, Moore is a fool. In other words, Bill Whittle is a lying sack of shit.
He opens his spiel with this pious pronouncement: “Like many kids my age, I grew up with Mary Poppins and that proper picture of England and Englishness… the well-mannered, prudent, kind-hearted nanny teaching discipline and manners in the heart of London.” Apparently the lessons didn’t take, because he then proceeds to hurl snide personal comments at everyone with whom he disagrees.
In describing American citizens exercising their right to protest -peacefully – at the state capitol in Wisconsin, he refers to the protesters as “mobs disrupting the legislative process because they didn’t like the outcome” – even though, of course, the protests began long before the “outcome” he refers to. (That outcome, by the way, was obtained through an illegally held legislative committee meeting, showing that the Republicans determined to break the back of the public employee unions cared even less about the “legislative process” as they couldn’t be bothered to even follow the law in passing the bill in question.) It’s a sad day when exercising one’s rights to express one’s opinion to one’s legislators comes under attack from the right, but then, I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything else from conservatives, who seem to think the only citizens’ views who count are the rich and the corporations (who, thanks to our most recent ex-President and his packing the Supreme Court with intellectual midgets, now have the same rights as actual people).
His next diatribe is against the “state senators walking out not only on their jobs and oaths because they were going to lose a vote critical to their liege lords and masters, the public employee unions.”
The legislative process in Wisconsin requires 20 senators (out of 33) to be present to pass a spending bill, in order to keep a bare majority from being able to foist its will on the minority. Inherent in that is the concept that it’s legitimate for 14 senators to refuse to participate, in order to block the passage of the bill. In fact, it’s the only reason such a provision would exist – because the bill doesn’t require a super-majority of “yes” votes to pass. The only reason the authors of that constitutional provision would have for requiring the presence of 20 senators would be to provide a way for some number less than a majority to block the passage of the bill. And yet, none of that matters to the “ends-justifies-the-means” Republicans; they wanted the bill passed and so anything blocking it was, by definition, immoral, corrupt, treasonous.
Next, our friend who was so steeped in “discipline and manners” refers to Michael Moore as “the mendacious michigan manatee of malevolence” – clever phrase, frankly (which makes one wonder who thought it up for him), but hardly good manners – and plays a video clip of Moore saying the country isn’t broke, it’s awash in wealth and cash, but that it’s all in the hands of the rich. Again unable to resist personal comments (“put all 450 lbs of that oleaginous quivering hypocrisy off to one side, or at least as far from the center as it will fit”), he then distorts that statement of fact (that rich people have most of the wealth in this country – an indisputable fact) and somehow infers from it that Moore is suggesting the entire budget could be funded by confiscation of wealth from billionaires and corporate profits and such.
Which is, of course, complete and total bullshit. Moore made no such suggestion, so Whittle’s “proof” that this is impossible is irrelevant. Or would be, except that by lying to everyone about Moore’s comment, it becomes relevant. It shows that the Republicans are so desperate to misdirect people from noticing things like:
- thanks to a generation or two of Republican tax policy, United States corporations like General Electric can make $14 billion in profit worldwide, $5.1 billion of that in the United States, and yet not only owe NO U.S. income tax, but actually get a $3.2 billion credit. (The current saint of the Republican party, Ronald Reagan, to whom all Republicans must apparently pledge fealty if they want any chance at party support, pushed his tax simplification legislation in 1986 specifically because GE and corporations like it were manipulating the system to pay zero U.S. taxes even when profitable. His tax reform legislation pushed them into the 32% bracket – yet today’s Republicans, pretending to be Reagan reborn are aghast at the thought of making G.E. pay anything.
- the giant oil companies, consistently among the most profitable corporations in the world, and which also pay little or no U.S. income tax, are still the beneficiaries of numerous special loopholes in the tax code written in the 1920′s designed to stimulate a young oil industry to produce the gasoline needed to fuel the growing fleet of American cars. Somehow despite those breaks having made multinational giants of Exxon, Chevron, BP, et al., those companies still apparently need these “protect the fledgling business” tax breaks, because they’re still on the books exempting billions of income from taxation.
- the rich, who make most of their income in the form of interest, dividends, and capital gains, pay a much smaller percentage of their income in total federal taxes (income + payroll) than anyone in the middle class. Because payroll taxes – the 7.65% taken from workers’ paychecks to fund Social Security and Medicare – are only levied on earned income, or wages and salaries, a well-paid executive assistant to a company owner/president, making $100,000/year, will pay $7,650 in payroll taxes and $15,025 in income tax, or $22,675 in total federal taxes – a rate of 22.675%.
Her boss, who elects a nominal salary of $1 a year, but makes (in addition) $200,000 in dividends, $150,000 in interest, and $1 million in proceeds from selling real estate inherited last year from his father, will pay 8 cents in payroll taxes (rounded up), plus $90,195.50 in income taxes on the interest and dividends. Thanks to the Bush tax cuts, last year’s inheritance was tax-free, and as his basis in the property was the same as what he sold it for, the income from the sale is also tax-free. So on an income of $1,350,001, he pays tax of 90,195.58, or a rate of 6.68%. – slightly more than one-fourth the rate at which his assistant pays federal tax.
(Even better – under the “flat rate” tax that the Republicans tout as “fair” because everyone pays the same rate, the difference in their effective tax rates would grow even wider. A flat tax rate would probably be levied at at least 20% of income after standard deductions, meaning the assistant would pay $7,650 in payroll taxes and $18,130 in income tax, for a total of $25,780 and a federal tax rate of 25.78%. The boss would pay 8 cents in payroll tax again, plus $68,130 in income tax, or a total of 68,130.08 in federal tax on that 1,350,001 in income. His new effective rate (under the flat tax) becomes 5.04%. But that’s fair, as defined by Republicans.)
Anyway, the point is, Bill Whittle completely fabricated his version of what Moore said, and then spouted a bunch of meaningless drivel to back up his point. Of course, he earlier derided liberals saying “statistics, that is to say, data, that is to say, evidence, is usually fatal to the liberal worldview”. Perhaps, but it’s hard to tell when the data and evidence and statistics he cites have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact cited.
Moore’s statement was, simply, that there is a lot of wealth in this country, and it’s concentrated among the rich. That’s indisputable. The top 1% of households, in terms of wealth (assets) – not income – own more than 35% of the wealth in the country. If you exclude owner-occupied housing (it’s relatively illiquid, because if you own your home and sell it, you still have to pay for a place to live), then the top 1% of households own more than half of all wealth in the country. That’s the sort of gap you ordinarily find only in kleptocracies like Libya and Iraq and despotic oligarchies like Saudi Arabia. Moreover, long-term trends show that after a long period (from roughly 1929 to about 1975) where the gap between the rich and the poor was gradually narrowing, the gap has been growing steadily since, and even in the most recent recession the gap grew wider. The gap expanded even during the recent recession – even though historically recessions help level the playing field – because federal tax policy is currently so skewed towards the rich.
And even if you take Moore’s point to a logical conclusion – that we could close a considerable portion of the deficit by taxing the rich more heavily – that doesn’t come close to Whittle’s mendacious (to use his word, or “lying through his teeth”, to use mine) suggestion that liberals want to fund the entire budget by taxing the rich. Of the 3.7 trillion budget, more than 2.6 trillion, or about 72%, is covered by existing taxes. It’s understandable that we would run something of a deficit during a recession (when a family member has to take a temporary pay cut, for instance, the family may temporarily shift some spending to credit cards until full income is restored), and you can’t argue that SOME increase in tax on the highest income levels – and cleaning up the loopholes that let GE pay no taxes at all – would destroy the economy.
In other words, we really aren’t broke, just as Moore said. We just have lying assholes like Whittle determined to discredit anyone who thinks it’s wrong for the top earners to actually pay a lower tax rate than the middle class, or who think it’s wrong to allow companies like GE to skimp on billions of taxes through giant corporate loopholes. But then, we learned that whether it’s weapons of mass destruction, the actual innocence of death row inmates, or tax policy, truth doesn’t matter to Republicans. All that matters is getting the results they want.