2011-03-18 / Columnists

The Progressive

Winter Blues
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

This winter has taken a tremendous toll on our physical and psychological health. Neighbors decided to assist each other and/or debate vigorously as to who has responsibility or rights to parking spaces. We all were unhappy with the inadequate response to the first blizzard by the municipal authorities. One city father claimed (it appears falsely) that the response was a way of city workers and their union leadership protesting city cuts in the sanitation department budget. While I and many others suffer from mid-winter seasonal maladjustment, it is not just the dark, damp cold winter that has me singing the blues – it is the sad dismal state of political and economic discourse that is causing pain for me and I suspect many others. Are these United States forgetting our promise and our shared history of gradual continuous progress and liberty, becoming a nation that rewards theft and greed? All of us, despite our political ideology, must ask this essential question!

It has been reported that American businesses earned a record profit of $1,659 trillion in the third quarter of 2010. I know of families where the major breadwinners have been unemployed for more than two years. Other wage earners are accepting lower wages. All this is occurring when the New York Times and other reputable media outlets are reporting there will be enormous increases in energy costs, food products, and clothing in the foreseeable future. Health care costs and educational costs are increasing annually. Many senior citizens rely on the small cost of living increases in their social security benefits to help them when health costs increase. Our government’s criteria for analyzing prices when developing when a cost of living increase for social security recipients is justified does not adequately include the actual needs of senior citizens who need to purchase food, heat for their apartments and homes, and access health care.

At the same time there is an organized media driven campaign to blame all the present economic disasters on government employees and the unions that represent them. This will be tragic for all poor and middle class Americans if this campaign succeeds. Our private sector unions are weak and as a result many major American corporations have abdicated any responsibility for ensuring a decent civilized lifestyle for their employees when they retire. Many corporations refused to hire employees and then secure so-called independent contractors to avoid supplying health care benefits, paying for unemployment compensation taxes, and other expenses such as sick pay, paid holidays and vacations. We also see that corporations do not want longterm employees. The corporations want labor accomplished and see the people who perform this labor as a commodity – not as human beings. This is not an America I desire for my child and my grandchildren.

There has been considerable discussion regarding the deficit. It would appear the only response the GOP and many Democratic politicians have to remedy this problem is to cut services to the less fortunate of our social fabric. There is little discussion on the regressive taxation system our nation and most states and local authorities have. These projected cuts will cost misery for so many and increase the regressive nature of our taxation. Cutting fuel subsidies to the poor is such a deplorable cut that Congressman Grimm of Staten Island, who was elected with support of Tea Party activists and Peter King of Long Island, a reactionary politician who spews vile innuendo against our Moslem neighbors, is opposed to this cut. In New York State the top 1 percent control 35 percent of the income and in New York City the top 1 percent control 44 percent of income. Both our governor and mayor do not feel these fortunate people, among the richest people on our sad planet, should share some of this wealth through increased taxation. Instead, teachers need to be excessed, firehouses and senior citizens centers closed, and civil servants vilified. Eliminating and capping taxes does not eliminate our responsibilities to citizens and to each other. It does not eliminate our nation’s, state’s, and city’s social contractual responsibilities. Calling negotiated benefits bonuses does not swipe out the city’s responsibility. The retirement enhancements were part of givebacks that caused the city difficulty in hiring because it reduced starting pay for uniformed men.

In the state of New York taxpayers with incomes over $63,000 pay only 8.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes while most taxpayers pay 10 percent to 12 percent. If New York State lets the income tax surcharge expire at the end of the calendar year a family earning $50,000 annually will have the same marginal tax rate as an individual who earns $50 million annually. There are many budget solutions that our nation can pursue. We need to examine the need for military installations on all seven continents. We need to end the arbitrary cap on social security contributions. Our health care costs must be reduced by having all Americans served by a one-payer government run program, which is successful in reducing costs in many countries. Our state needs to curb overtime and cut expensive politically connected consulting services and use civil servants. Our nation and state and city should end corporate welfare subsidies and tax breaks given to corporations that often do not produce any visual benefit. Our nation needs to put people to work. If business sits on its trillions in profit the government needs to do necessary infrastructure repairs and build needed projects. Teachers should be rewarded with superior working conditions, adequate compensation, dignity and respect. Attacking instructional staff will not improve our schools. Helping instructors develop different teaching skills in order to understand the method that will assist the particular learning needs of each individual student will be a benefit to the individual and the entire social and economic future of this country. This financial crisis can be a blessing in disguise if we use the opportunity to express our democratic liberty as the crowds did in Cairo to demand social justice – not increased economic inequality and regressive taxation.

The cashier who pounds a cash register every day, the office worker pounding the keyboard of a computer, the firefighter who risks injury and possible death every day and the dedicated teacher who strives to teach despite obstacles did not have the power to make the decisions that caused such widespread misery. If the bankers could still receive bonuses as their financial institutions receive taxpayer funds; economic justice demands that the antiunion campaign cease. Unions ensure political and social expression for all workers both union and unorganized. New Deal legislation regarding unions led to the largest working class middle class in world history especially after the Second World War. Attacks on this social contract will lead to widespread misery, and possible social violence. Spring will arrive soon but without a change in our political rhetoric recognizing that political liberty without social and economic dignity can lead to my continuous crying of the blues.

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