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Middle Class and Mad in the USA

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" --Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

Maybe a better movie analogy is Albert Brooks trying to get his money back from the casino in Lost in America.

How can we possibly get the money to balance the budget?

In Ashtabula County in Ohio, the police force was cut by more than half, and a judge suggested that the county residents arm themselves.

Because of cutbacks Texas couldn't comply with a law to install seat belts on school buses.

The Obama Administration estimated that 300,000 school employees will have been laid off in 2010.

Funding for food pantries, homeless shelters, and elderly assistance is disappearing.

We tax soda pop, churches, taxi rides, online poker. We cut after-school programs in low-income areas, library hours and park services. We increase state income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, cigarette taxes, utility costs, license fees, building permits, parking meter rates.

Yet how often do we hear about the massive redistribution of income from the rich to the poor over the last 30 years? The wealthiest 1% have tripled their share of our country's income -- not by working harder than the rest of us, but through tax cuts and financial deregulation. These 30 years have been immensely productive for the U.S., but the middle class worker makes less today, adjusted for inflation, than in 1980. All this while corporate profits have reached record levels and unemployment has increased dramatically.

I know, I know, Congress just renewed the tax cuts for the rich. Our representatives have lost touch with middle-class America. They stubbornly refuse to admit that the tax-cut stimulus hasn't worked, that it's decimated the middle class while leaving our country's infrastructure in woeful disrepair.

And they continue to blame the people for whom the stimulus hasn't found jobs.

Even worse, media propaganda has conditioned much of the populace to believe that government and the poor, rather than greed and the rich, are the culprits.

So without a tax increase on the rich to correct the 30-year redistribution, we need a creative, non-regressive approach to deficit reduction. Perhaps a financial transaction tax, especially on the high-risk derivatives and "credit default swaps" that nearly wrecked our economy. Economist James Tobin suggested something of the sort in 1972.

According to Labor Institute director Les Leopold, a .3% fee (about a third of a penny per dollar) on currency and stock and derivative transactions would generate about a half-trillion dollars a year for America. That's almost as much as we spend on the entire military.

(Not all financial transactions are destructive, of course. So it couldn't be called a "toxic tax," regrettably for those of us seeking linguistic payback for the "death tax.")

I know, this has as much chance of being adopted as traffic fines based on percentage of income. But it's another reason to stay mad as hell, which seems to be all a middle-class American can do these days.

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