Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Now let’s look at the history of the individual income tax. In the 1950s and 1960s the top income-tax bracket for an individual was 91 percent. That means that for every dollar an individual earned over a certain amount — let’s just say one hundred thousand dollars — he or she had to give Uncle Sam ninety-one cents. Even in the 1970s it was still 70 percent. What is the tax rate for the richest Americans today? Thirty-five percent. Think of it: the tax rate for the richest Americans went from 91 percent down to 35 percent. Now, that’s a tax cut the likes of which has never been enjoyed by the vast majority of Americans.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a plastic rooster, tear gas
Conservatives tout the free market as the backbone of our economic system but hide the fact that they’re stacking the deck to serve their interests. The option of leaving the market alone doesn’t exist. Show me someone who’s made lots of money, and I’ll show you how we wrote the rules so that he or she made money. Bill Gates is a rich man because the government granted him a monopoly on his Windows software programs. If I sell you Windows without Bill Gates’s permission, he’ll sue me. That’s not the free market; that’s the way we wrote the rules. The government doesn’t have to give Gates copyright protection for Windows; there are other, better ways to finance software development.
Then boom, boom, boom, the stores fell like dominoes. Without the Gas-n-Go to anchor the town, and with the grocery store and the bank gone, the rest couldn’t hold. The pharmacy shut one day and never reopened. Armored trucks were seen emptying it.
And thanks to breakthroughs in electronic communication, we now have the potential to connect every person on the planet in a seamless web of cooperation. Technology has given us the means to build a worldwide movement grounded in universal human values that transcend the barriers of nationality, race, gender, and religion. Back in the early eighties, even domestic long-distance phone calls were a significant expense, and the cost of international phone calls was prohibitive. Now we can telephone around the world for pennies. If we prefer to meet face to face, affordable airfares have made that easier, too. Add the Internet, and the joining of ordinary people in a collective struggle to create a more cooperative global structure becomes a real possibility for the first time in the whole of human experience.
The idea that America’s a democracy is a fucking lie. We’ve had one fixed election after another. By my calculations, Hubert Humphrey beat Richard Nixon in 1968. Of course, Humphrey was a jackal as well. But what is not widely understood is that we’ve always had a system in America of not counting certain votes. My good friends on the Left are afraid that the Republicans are going to steal the next election by computer — that the software is going to allow Karl Rove to change the vote. Well, most people who worry about that are white. Black people know they’ve stolen the vote the old-fashioned way for centuries.
The important and difficult question is “How? How save the wilderness?” I am not much concerned with the state of the world a thousand years from now, for in that long-range view I am an optimist: I think that the greed and stupidity of industrial culture will save us from ourselves by self-destruction. What I am concerned about is the world my children will have to live in, and maybe, if my children ever get around to it, the world of my grandchildren.
For a long time, during the dirty war in Colombia, when my friends were being shot dead all around me, my goal was just to survive. But after I was tortured, my goal changed. It was not just to survive, but to live a meaningful life. Sometimes, in the ordeal, we find the seeds of our identity.
The goal of the economic hit men is to cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars for the sake of corporate profits. Their job, you could say, is to create a global empire, and they’ve done just that. Not only does the U.S. control world commerce, but we influence world culture: The language of diplomacy and business is English. People all over the planet watch Hollywood movies, eat American fast food, and adopt American styles of clothing. We have no significant competition.