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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Let Them Eat Cake

Lawrence O’Donnell said something absolutely remarkable on Morning Joe just a few moments ago… and he didn’t even realize he had said it.

To put it in context, he was talking about the line on Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return that showed the billionaire reported income of $3.4 million. “That’s not so much,” O’Donnell said. “That’s less than a local New York TV anchor makes.”

Stop and think about this for a minute. Never mind O’Donnell’s intent, that a billionaire should be making billions, not millions. Never mind the obvious difference between gross income and net income after deductions. Focus on what’s really important in what O’Donnell let slip: a local television anchorman earns at least $3.4 million a year.

Okay, maybe a TV anchorman in Des Moines, Iowa makes less. But we’re talking about a talking head who shows up on your screen for an hour five nights a week bringing home more than three million dollars a year. I realize that’s not a lot of money to someone like Lawrence O’Donnell who makes $4 million a year in a business where his peers —  TV anchors on the national scene — make even higher annual salaries: Fox’s Shepard Smith ($10 million); ABC’s Anderson Cooper ($11 million); Fox’s Bill O’Reilly ($18 million); and NBC’s Matt Lauer ($25 million). That’s not money earned after a lifetime of hard work; that’s annual income. You can do the math and figure out their net worths.

I’m not picking on TV journalists. Actor Jim Parsons’ 2016 salary was $25.5 million. Basketball player LeBron James’ 2016 salary was $31 million. Movie actor Bruce Willis charges $1 million a day to appear in a film and “walked away” from an offer of “$3 million to spend four days on the set of the third Expendables movie” when he didn’t get his demanded $4 million, according to Vanity Fair.

These numbers are staggering. Do you have any idea what a million of anything really is? How long would it take you to count a million grains of sand? Now, think about what these people actually do to earn these enormous sums. Lawrence O’Donnell appears on television, usually from the chest up, seated, and… talks into the television camera… For an hour. He is watched on TV by working-class Americans, like the ditch digger who has spent all day sweating in the hot sun digging ditches for an annual salary of $19,900. His hands are calloused from his shoveling and his muscles ache and he comes home to flip on his TV and watch Lawrence O’Donnell sit in his air-conditioned studio and chat for sixty minutes and draw his $4 million salary.

Think about the emergency room physician, working all hours of the night, facing life or death situations on a moment’s notice who earns $249,000 a year. Or the high school teacher who is tasked with educating America’s children who will lead our country into the future: perhaps the most important job of all. For this, high school teachers earn $47,000 per year.

Now think about America’s elderly citizens, retirees, and disabled. Sixty-five million Americans – and that number is growing as Baby Boomers age – receive Social Security income. Many of them can no longer work and must live on a fixed income. The average monthly Social Security check is $1,347 (some are as low as $700). The average annual income for an elderly or disabled person living on Social Security is $16,000. To put that in perspective, the federal poverty level is $11,770. Many people can only stretch their fixed income so far and often have to choose between expensive medicine and food.

These are not lazy people. These are men and women who worked their whole lives until they grew too old or became too disabled to work any further. They worked hard doing the jobs large and small that benefited society. They dug ditches to lay telephone cables and sewage pipes; they taught unruly children to read and write; and they worked feverishly to save lives in hospital emergency rooms. They are the “99 Percent”.

You won’t find the talking heads among them. Any one of us would be set for life with what they make in a single year. Our retirements and our old age would be assured, as theirs already are. They are the “One Percent”. When Lawrence O’Donnell says $3.4 million is “not so much; that’s less than a local New York TV anchor makes” he is giving us a glimpse into the world and the mindset of the “One Percent”. It is a world ordinary Americans cannot fathom, any more than its denizens can understand ours. Lawrence O’Donnell will never have to choose between purchasing a prescription refill or dinner. He will never have to worry about not having enough money to pay this month’s electric bill. Most Americans struggle to make car payments; some own their cars outright. Jay Leno owns 130 automobiles, including a $1.2-million McLaren. It’s a totally different world.

As mind-staggeringly rich as the One Percent is, the Uber-Rich are even wealthier. The top ‘one-tenth of one percent’ owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. This is what Bernie Sanders was talking about when he said “The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral and political issue of our time.” People are waking up to this. People who grew up in white picket fenced suburban homes with working fathers and housewife mothers, who now live in a time where they cannot afford to buy such a home themselves, where both husbands and wives require two incomes merely to survive and must often work far longer than their father’s 40-hour work week or supplement their income with second or third jobs. They see the disparity between their lives and the lives of the TV news anchors who “only make $3.4 million a year” and they are filled, not with envy, but with resentment. Of such stuff are revolutions born.

These frustrated people – the 99 Percent – are on the verge of revolting. Bernie Sanders supporters were drawn to his message of a political revolution. Donald Trump has tapped into this frustration drawing support from people hungry for change who view Hillary Clinton as a continuation of the status quo – a status quo that benefits the One Percent and not them. It is ironic that the poster child for the One Percent – a man who owns his own Boeing 757 plane and a Fifth Avenue penthouse with solid gold furnishings – has been adopted as the savior by so many of the working class, who believe he will advance their interests ahead of his own or those of his fellow One Percenters. Regardless of who wins the presidency in 2016, this incredible, unprecedented, and unfair wealth and income disparity will continue and when the masses can no longer bear the burden it will lead to a revolution, if not political, then one as violent and bloody as the French Revolution. On that day, guillotines will line the streets and talking heads will roll.

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