Do you know anyone who is pulling down $1,530,205 per year? Unless I miss my guess, it wasn’t anyone in Selma, AL on Sunday, March 7, 1965.
Think about this. With the Emancipation Proclamation being issued on January 1st, 1863, there were people in that crowd in Selma whose parents were alive when President Lincoln’s paperwork hit the presses.
In 1952, just thirteen years earlier, Sunday morning comic strips introduced us to a parallel universe in which Charlie Brown began his Quixotic relationship with a football and a spotter named Lucy.
And since we’re talking parallel universe(s), it hit me this week that in some kind of odd way, the early Civil Rights movement was all about not being able to kick the football that had been promised by Mr. Lincoln.
Now, these many years later, it was eerie for me to watch our government running towards a constructed disaster called the sequester. Dire blunt-force cuts in spending have been trumpeted for weeks. And then, at the very last instant, the House of Representatives left for vacation without a deal.
But there’s more.
Once the nation gets up from falling flat on our sequestered backs, we’ll be facing the debt ceiling debate in a couple of weeks. And after that? Then we have the continuing resolution (CR) fights to decide if we will pay the nation’s bills, or not. And the insult? This hostage situation – all of it – was absolutely avoidable and otherwise unnecessary.
Still smarting from the rampant stupidity, tonight I was watching cable news and heard politicians calling what many of us have paid into Social Security an entitlement…as if we’re getting some kind of free-ride on the prosperity train…money we’ve put into one of the most successful social programs since the abolition of slavery and the GI Bill. While not a rocket scientist, I’m starting to have a pretty good idea of who the Lucys are.
So back to my presenting question:
Do you know anyone who is pulling down $1,530,205 per year? You should. It is your Congressman.
What do they get? Deciding to channel my rage into constructive channels, I drilled into the question a little bit only to discover the average member of the United States Congress gets an annual salary of $174,000 or $14,500 p/month.(1)
But wait, there’s more…
For being in session 112 days (2012), the 2013 House Calendar shows that they’ll have 239 days off. Put another way, a member of Congress is making almost $1400 for every day they’re open for business. Not too shabby, right?
In return for such herculean effort, members of Congress can , for income tax purposes, deduct living expenses of up to $3,000 per year for living away from home. Not factored into my sum total is the cost of what We, The People, kick in to provide members of Congress with some of the best health and life insurance provisions in the country. Additionally, each member also gets what is called the MRA (Members Representational Allowance) which covers many things like staff, travel and office supplies. In 2012, the average MRA was $1,353,205 (per member). It pays to be a member of Congress. And none of this math has anything to do with what the money a member of Congress raises (and spends) to get re-elected. So I guess it is true. Membership does indeed, have its privileges.
And guess what we get for that kind of cash? Sequestered.
But it gets better [cue: blinking sarcasm light]:
The payroll tax went up from 4.2 to 6.2% in January. For the average worker, that means $60 less in their checks each month.(2) If you look at all the ways taxes dip into our wallets, 77% of all Americans will pay more taxes in 2013 than they did in 2012. Ain’t life grand? So again I ask, what are we getting for our money?
Hunger – Food stamps or breakfast for school kids? Yeah, that’s probably another really good place for us to think about cutting our deficit. Was Ebenezer Scrooge correct in his assertion that the poor should just get on with it and die, thereby doing us all a favor in decreasing our surplus population? I think not. Feeding America says: “Hunger in America exists for over 50 million people. That is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population – including more than 1 in 5 children”. Next time you go out, count them off…every 6th person you see is in trouble when it comes to having enough to eat. Yet Feeding America can feed a family of four for $45 p/month. Ironically, “…the average U.S. farmer feeds 155 people. In 1960, a farmer fed just 26 people”. Farmers in the United states produce 40% of all the world’s corn and soybeans.” (3)
And for all our productivity, lobbyists and special interests have made sure that We, The People, get fat while subsidizing the U.S. Sugar industry to the tune of $3.5 Billion a year. Put another way, The L.A. Times references CALPIRG: “If these agricultural subsidies went directly to consumers to allow them to purchase food, each of America’s 144 million taxpayers would be given $7.36 to spend on junk food and 11 cents with which to buy apples each year –- enough to buy 19 Twinkies but less than a quarter of one Red Delicious apple apiece”. (4)
And what about Oil? Fossil Fuel. Mother Jones reports that in April, May and June of 2012, ExxonMobil made a profit – after all the bills were paid – of $16 billion dollars – in 3-months. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan watchdog group estimates the Oil Industry will receive $15.6 Billion each year, for the next five-years, in “industry-specific and broader business subsidies”. But this week, I considered myself lucky to have found gas @ $3.82 p/gallon. I am sleeping so much better knowing that as a taxpayer, I’m helping to insure ExxonMobil is going to survive. [cue: blinking sarcasm light (again)]
And what about the Department of Defenses budget (DOD)? After two wars (one of which we started…the very first time in our history that’s happened), no one wants to be vulnerable to attack, but what about spending attacks from within? Here’s just one example of Congress telling the Pentagon what it needs to spend in just the State of Ohio. Josh Swigart, Staff Writer for the Dayton Daily News reports:
The Pentagon wants to suspend tank upgrades at the Lima plant until a new version is ready, possibly in 2017, saying it can save $3 billion. Legislators question the savings and lament the loss of 800 jobs in Ohio and more elsewhere, and are budgeting more than $250 million to keep the plant running.
Global Hawk Block 30 drone:
The Pentagon says it can rely on the older U-2 spy plane and save $2.5 billion by 2017 by ditching the drone, managed from Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Congress balked and put $278 million the program.
The Pentagon says the cargo plane, used heavily by the Air National Guard, is unneeded and that grounding the fleet could save $400 million by 2017. Some fear this could shutter the Mansfield Air National Guard base and cost hundreds of Guard jobs around the country. Congress put funding in to keep the planes flying.
Air National Guard:
The Pentagon wants to scale back the size of the Air National Guard by roughly 5,100 positions, saving an estimated $300 million next year. This could impact jobs at bases in Springfield, Columbus and Mansfield. Local congressmen are fighting the cuts.
East Coast missile battery:
The Pentagon says it has no need for a missile battery on the East Coast to protect from countries such as Iran. But U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, disagrees and has put in $100 million next year for the project, which could cost $3.6 billion by 2017.”
So in just the few minutes it’s taken to read this far, we’ve located $35,258,659,675…that’s thirty-five billion with a “B”. And that is without even broaching the subject of reforming the tax code and its legion of special interest loopholes. We haven’t touched NASA, Medicaid, NPR, Sesame Street or the Department of Homeland Security. Impressive.
So what could we do with that kind of ‘found’ money? At the posted retail price of $5 for a box of 10 Twinkies, We, The People, could buy 70,517,317,350 Twinkies; that’s just about 490 Twinkies for every taxpayer in the country. And think about the lifeline we’d be throwing to the U.S. Postal Service if we used Express Mail to deliver that many Twinkies.
Instead of distracting the Nation by bumping from one manufactured fiscal cliff to the next, we could go about the business of governing by addressing a different kind of grocery list.
How about addressing job training, reconstituting aging school buildings and water systems? How about raising the minimum wage for food service workers from $2.13 an hour? How about rebuilding our bridges and our rail systems? And there’s that whole mental health thing that comes with homelessness and gun control. Surely we could spare a dime for our Veterans. Or here’s a novel idea, how about paying our teachers the kind of wage that reflects how important it is for our kids to be able to read and write before they go to a college. And since we’re talking about education, how about addressing the linkage between quality and the cost of college tuitions at state schools? Why not reimagine a new GI Bill to make an entire alternate system of education in our community college and vo-tech schools available to any high school senior with a “B” average or better. The kids graduate. They get jobs. They pay taxes and start families. With more tax payers shouldering the load, deficits shrink. Hardly sounds like the end of our civilization as we know it, does it?
I’m wondering if the real illusion being perpetrated on the citizenery is to keep us so busy dealing with one manufactured money crisis after another that we don’t notice Congress never getting around to dealing with:
1) Citizenship and Immigration; 2) Global Warming; 3) Water we can’t drink and 4) nuclear waste we can’t bury. What about early childhood education for every kid in America? What about reviewing what the cost has been on our ill-fated war on drugs? And what about streamlining the voting process itself? If I remember, the right to vote was at the heart of all that trouble we started for the British back in 1776. Voting Rights…apparently Justice Scalia thinks everyone being able to voice their vote is another one of those pesky entitlements like the food and energy businesses have gotten addicted to.
It’s our money. It’s our Country. It matters that we be able to actually kick the football our legislators keep pulling away from us. If you have any questions about what that feels like, ask the people that joined the Freedom Riders 48-years ago this week. If you don’t think we have to keep fighting for a more perfect union, ask the people who dared to think they could walk across a bridge in Selma, Alabama and the tens of thousands of marchers who joined them in the days and weeks after the first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And cross the bridge, they did.
Write your Representative or Senator. Tell them how you think they should be spending your money. It is, after all, your money and your Representative or Senator has plenty of days off to read your letter.
Imagine how quickly things would change if we tied congressional paychecks to Members performance in getting the work of the People accomplished? There is a certain appealing logic in wanting to emulate the Vatican and lock everyone inside the Capital until reasonable compromises are reached.
This is not a movie and it’s not a bad game of football. It is our country. It is all about our Home and our duty to make it better – for everyone. What happened in Selma took moral conviction that only We, the People can harness as a potent force for change. What happens over the next several years in Washington is going to take the same kind of moral courage.
If you’re mad enough to complain, do something. Spend a stamp. Send Lucy a letter.
East Capitol Street, NE and 1st Street, NE
Washington, DC 20004
Prefer the phone or E-Mail? Try this handy link:
January 6, 1944 – March 1, 2013
“Bonnie Franklin, the actress who created an indelible television character playing a divorced, working mother of two headstrong daughters on the long-running series “One Day at a Time,” died Friday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 69.
The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer, her family announced.
By the mid-1970s, Franklin was a theater veteran who had earned a Tony nomination for her performance in the Broadway musical “Applause” when she was offered a different kind of role, one that was not then the usual fare on network television.
Developed by Norman Lear, the new CBS series would tell the story of Ann Romano, a divorced woman in her 30s raising two teenagers and building a new life for herself in her hometown of Indianapolis. Franklin’s character wasn’t the first divorced woman on network television but the role, like those of other characters in Lear’s groundbreaking sitcoms, was infused with a new level of social realism.
Franklin was nominated for an Emmy in 1982 and twice nominated for Golden Globe awards for her portrayal of Romano.”
July 12, 1934 – February 27, 2013
“(CNN) — Van Cliburn, the classical pianist honored by a New York ticker-tape parade for winning a major Moscow competition in 1958, died Wednesday after a battle with bone cancer, his publicist said.
“He died peacefully in his Fort Worth, Texas, home … surrounded by loved ones,” spokeswoman Mary Lou Falcone said.
Cliburn, 78, won the International Tchaikovsky Competition months after the Soviet Union stunned Americans with the successful launch of Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth. His victory swelled U.S. pride when it was near a Cold War low.
“Van Cliburn was an international legend for over five decades, a great humanitarian and a brilliant musician whose light will continue to shine through his extraordinary legacy,” she said Wednesday. “He will be missed by all who knew and admired him, and by countless people he never met.”
He was credited with improving cultural relations between the two superpowers. Cliburn toured the Soviet Union several times through the 1960s during the height of tensions.
Cliburn, considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, performed for every U.S. president since Harry Truman, according to his official biography.
At the end of the ticker-tape parade in May 1958, the 23-year-old address the crowd at New York’s city hall.
“I appreciate more than you will ever know that you are honoring me, but the thing that thrills me the most is that you are honoring classical music,” Cliburn said. “Because I’m only one of many. I’m only a witness and a messenger. Because I believe so much in the beauty, the construction, the architecture invisible, the importance for all generations, for young people to come that it will help their minds, develop their attitudes and give them values. That is why I’m so grateful that you have honored me in that spirit.”
My thanks to “My Electronic Jukebox” (a WordPress blog of worthy note). Here is a great link to a back-stage pass to some of his work:
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS:
LFE-252-police-block-March-on-Selma_1965: http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/12/27/responding-to-people-in-power/; Thumbnail History of “Bloody Sunday”: http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/al4.htm and http://mlkkpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_selma_to_montgomery_march/; Charlie Brown and Football_Charles Schultz_first seen on November 16, 1952: http://peanuts.wikia.com/wiki/Football_gag and http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/07/22/when-we-first-met-when-did-lucy-first-pull-the-football-away-from-charlie-brown/; Definition of Sequester: Graphic by dan4kent. (1) Congressional Salaries and Allowances by Ida A. Brudnick, Specialist on the Congress (January 15, 2013) – Congressional Research Service 7/5700 – www.crs.gov – RL30064: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30064.pdf; 113th Congress House Calendar (Eric Cantor): http://tv.msnbc.com/2012/11/30/hardly-working-congress-in-session-126-days-next-year/ © NBCUniversal – Powered by WordPress.com VIP; (2) Effect of Payroll Tax Break Expiring in January 2013: http://www.factcheck.org/2013/01/fudging-on-the-fiscal-cliff-deal/; Hunger in America 2012 and hunger statistics: http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america.aspx; (3) Farm Statistics: http://www.americasfarmers.com/about/facts/did-you-know.aspx; Sugar Subsidies: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/242747-sugar-subsidies-out-of-date and (4) See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2011/09/taxpayers-funding-junk-food-farm-subsidies.html#sthash.dpltNrKf.dpuf; Oil Subsidies: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/big-oil-subsidies-fiscal-cliff-deal-obama-congress and http://www.forbes.com/sites/energysource/2012/04/25/the-surprising-reason-that-oil-subsidies-persist-even-liberals-love-them/; Defense Spending Cartoon – 2011-04-13-pentagon_waste_Paul Szep_Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-szep/pentagon-waste_b_848778.html and article on Defense Spending: Dayton Daily News – http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/congress-pushes-for-weapons-pentagon-didnt-want/nRC7w/#sthash.WCp9zSrm.dpuf; Woman_Using_Monroe_Adding_Machine: http://www.officemuseum.com/calculating_machines_pinwheel_other.htm; Confrontation in Selma: http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/bracy-harris-the-justice-equation-faith-hope-and-action/; Fallen in Selma: http://childrenaremorethantestscores.blogspot.com/2012/03/spread-word-from-selma-alabamas.html; Bonnie Franklin: http://pdxretro.com/2013/01/bonnie-franklin-is-69-today/; Van Cliburn_April 1958_Ticker Tape Parade_Source_NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=87771963
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