American Dreams Are Turning Into Nightmares

Ed Raymond

Back in the Dark Ages when dreams were possible for poor kids I paid my own way to a college degree by playing football and baseball and working at least 30 or 40 fascinating jobs. Among them: guarding bodies at night in a mortuary, restaurant counterboy, toilet cleaner, “amateur” paid baseball pitcher, Marine Corps reservist, postal worker, steel building constructor, spray painter, pulley reamer, waiter.....Well, you get the picture. And I had time to play college football and baseball. It was not easy. It just seemed normal and possible at the Harvard of the Midwest, Moorhead State Teachers College. A poor farm kid from 180 acres of Little Falls rocks and sand had never had more fun.
After three years in the Marine Corps as a machinegun platoon commander, regimental supply-fiscal officer, and rifle company exec and commander, I used the G.I Bill to get a Masters Degree in English Education while tending bar in the Skol Room and Treetop Room at the Frederick Martin Hotel to supplement Uncle Sam’s largesse. It’s a great tragedy that paying your way can’t be done anymore. State legislators over the country have failed one of their primary responsibilities, to finance higher education so students from the lower quadrant can attend college without borrowing tens of thousands of dollars. How many students from families who earn less than $50,000 can attend a University of Minnesota that charges an annual tuition of $21,000?  Forty million Americans owe $1.2 trillion in student debt. 550,000 Minnesotans owe billions. Nationally, people 60 and over still owe $43 billion of student debt!

The Moral Crimes Of Our Present Society

We will rapidly become a third-world country if our society does not educate the young to be intellectually, morally, and physically competitive. John Stuart Mill in the 17th Century elaborated on our societal responsibilities: “It still remains unrecognized, that to bring a child into existence without a fair prospect of being able, not only to provide food for its body, but instruction and training for its mind, is a moral crime, both against the unfortunate offspring and against society, and that if the parent does not fulfill this obligation, the State ought to see it fulfilled, at the charge, as far as possible , of the parent.” High tuition is a “moral crime.”  Excessive student debt is a “moral crime.”
As an example of fulfilling obligations, Congress after World War II passed the G.I. Bill, sending tens of millions of veterans to higher education over the last seven decades. Some conservatives thought that free college educations for vets would break the U.S. Treasury. It has been determined that for every dollar spent on the G.I. Bill seven dollars are returned to the economy. The latest American Legion newspaper summarized its importance to the country: “The signing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (1944 GI Bill) was not simply a postwar benefit to veterans and their families.  It changed the course of U.S. history and stimulated a global economy. ...The GI Bill has been described as the most significant legislation passed by Congress in the 20th Century...It all amounted to a better, more prosperous America.”
In 2014 because of do-nothing Congresses over the last decade we now have fewer high school graduates among the 20-30 group than we have with people between ages 55-64. It’s a disaster on fast track.

Student College Debt Now Greater At $1.2 Trillion Than Credit Card And Auto Debt

Over 70 percent of graduating BA degrees this year have an average debt of $29,400. Because of the lousy economy seven million of the 40 million student loan borrowers are in default. Remember that student loans are not covered under bankruptcy laws. They are FOREVER. A teacher identified as @brrenda525 by USA Today is still paying her student loans after 25 years of teaching. (An interesting stat: student debt is rising faster in state universities with the highest paid presidents!) Senator Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard professor and one of the very few senators with a sense of history, says that student debt is a national emergency. Students in lower paying but essential jobs such as education and community services will be still paying off loans in their 50’s. Can they afford to marry? Can they afford to buy a home? Can they afford to live a meaningful life? Living in your parent’s basement after graduation is not part of the American Dream. It would be a nightmare.
While running for the Senate in 2011 she put the warning of John Stuart mill in 21st Century terms while discussing the huge gap between rich and poor: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You used other people’s money. You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea–God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along.”
The American middle class, what there is left of it, is now  behind most European workers and Canadians in median salaries. Sixty percent say the country is on the wrong track; only 25 percent say we are on the right track. Forty percent of Americans now say they are members of the poor class, a 15 percent jump since 2008. Only 44 percent of the former middle class feel they are still members.

Why Are We In Such A Mess? The Rich Are Getting Dumb And Dumber–-And More

Evidently the ultra-rich in this country have not figured out that to maintain their wealth they must contribute to the education of all members of the society and to the maintenance of the common good. Opportunity to succeed must be available to all.  But the entire U.S. population is also getting dumber and dumber because many reject science while accepting much of the religious voodoo in the 32,000 religious “denominations” in this country. A new Gallup Poll showed that 42 percent of Americans believe the creation took place less than 10,000 years ago. This group has daredevil humans saddling up Ty Rexes for a local dinosaur derby!
The level of scientific ignorance is appalling. One in five still believe the sun revolves around the earth! Only 28 percent of the members of the Tea Party have faith in scientists. Over 60 percent have no clue that DNA is the absolute key to heredity. Over ninety percent don’t understand that radiation is extremely harmful to the human body. Twenty-five percent of Texas biology teachers believe that humans, only four million years old at current estimate, cavorted with dinosaurs that died off over 65 million years ago. Please do the science and math.  One-third of Americans still believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. How many churches have huge rock piles ready to stone to death homosexuals, adulterers, and other sexual miscreants according to the instructions left by Leviticus? Sixty percent believe in the Book of Revelation and the predictions about Armageddon. They are ready to Rapture to Heaven naked! It’s funny that a majority of Americans cannot name the first book in the Bible although over 85 percent say they are “religious.” These stats end up with the question: Is it possible to govern this country with all this scientific illiteracy? No.

Taxes Are Levied To Keep A Modern, Complex Society Operating

Even Supreme Court Justice John Marshall as early as the middle of the 19th Century said taxes are the glue of a society. Our Rent-or-Buy Congress has seceded the power to tax to the ultra-rich and corporation “persons”–and have totally neglected to enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. What a mess! Our roads, bridges, airports, and national parks are falling apart.  Public education and the teaching profession is tremendously underfunded while Congress fiddles and diddles naming  post offices some want to close. And how about a boring 50-round fight over universal  health care?
Paul Buchheit of Alternet reports that trade volume on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reached $1 quadrillion in 2012. For those who don’t handle that much money that’s a thousand trillion dollars. Our entire Gross Domestic Product in 2012 was $17 trillion. While citizens pay between 6-9 percent sales taxes to support services and infrastructure for the benefit of the public and corporations, the Exchange pays not one penny of sales taxes. They even have the chutzpah to complain their taxes are too high–and got an $85 million rebate from Illinois.
Warren Buffett, the second richest man of the world, has already declared the ultra-rich have won the rich-poor war. He earned $12 billion last year and paid about 12 percent in taxes. His secretary pays 30 percent on her niggardly income. This country spends $8.3 billion to pay all of the 250,000 emergency medical technicians and paramedics. We should send the bill to Warren—and he’s a nice guy. He’d still have $4 billion for pocket change. His company Berkshire Hathaway still owes back taxes from as long ago as 2002 but made $29 billion in profit last year. The company got a $395 million rebate last year by utilizing accounting tricks common in big business. And it deferred $57 billion in federal taxes. Buffet clams he favors a tax policy that would require millionaires to pay fed taxes at a 30 percent rate.

The Saga Of Minnesota’s Medtronic And It’s Escape To An Irish Tax Haven

Remember when multi-millionaire Mitt Romney’s dancing horse Rafalca failed to win the Olympics?  We U.S. taxpayers paid for the care, feeding, grooming, stable fees, and training of the dancer to the tune of $77,000 because Mitt deducted the total cost as a “business expense.” I think Ann Romney also rode the horse as part of some medical treatment....
Although the tax on U.S. corporations is 35 percent, they paid at an average rate of 12 percent in 2013 according to the IRS. Don’t listen to the Chamber of Commerce whiners. They have Congress in hand, Rent-Or-Buy.
This in brief is the Medtronic tax story: It has offered to buy Dublin-based Coviden PLC, another maker of medical devices, for $42.9 billion, and move its executive offices to Ireland while leaving its operational offices in Minnesota. Coviden was actually started by U.S. Tyco but quickly moved to  tax-haven Bermuda, but then got a better tax deal in Ireland. Medtronic is currently hiding over $14 billion from the IRS in 37 tax havens scattered around the world. One would need a huge chart to follow every shenanigan perpetrated by these two corporations to escape taxes. Corporations around the world employ millions of green-shade accountants to cover their asses from the tax collectors. (I wonder if they spend more trying to hide profits than if they actually paid their taxes to the right country–where they actually made their profits!)

What Could Our Society Do If These U.S. Corporations Paid Their Taxes?

Bank of America has 300 subsidiaries hiding $17.2 billion in off-shore tax havens. It would owe $4.3 billion to us otherwise. Citigroup has $42.6 billion hiding in many tax havens. If this money was in the U.S. it would have to pay $11.5 billion in taxes. That would cover the entire K-12 school lunch program–complete with fresh fruits and veggies. ExxonMobil is hiding $43 billion in “offshore” profits and has paid U.S. taxes at a rate of 15 percent. If they paid the taxes on $43 billion we could fix over ten percent of the faulty bridges in this country, currently estimated to cost $108 billion to fix. Minnesota’s General Mills has money in 55 tax havens. Minnesota’s Honeywell had profits of $5 billion over the last three years but paid only 1 percent in taxes. Pfizer Medical made $43 billion in 2010 through 2012 around the world–but did not pay a dime in federal taxes.
I think its absolutely fascinating that Vegas gambling receipts are declining. Some say it’s because billionaires no longer get a “rush” out of winning millions at the table.

Raymond is a former Marine officer and school board superintendent and resides in Detroit Lakes.