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It’s A Wonderful Life

April 27, 2011

So here I am. 28 years old managing a very popular restaurant/cafe in Los Angeles. I look forward to going to work nearly every day and can truly stand proud behind my employers, the “beast” that is The Curious Palate. Every day is filled with personal successes, professional successes, metaphorical successes and, generally, joy. I am paid fairly for the hard work that I do and manage to carve out a pleasant existence. I have a family and friends who love and respect me. I am in the process of quitting smoking cigarettes and know that I am strong enough (and have the support of a bevy of supportive peers to help me) to do it on my own. I have health insurance that I pay for out of pocket and have a clean bill of health. I subsist without car but with bike. Venice Beach is a quick 10 minute ride. My friends are happy and doing well. My family is happy and doing well. My immediate community is happy and doing well. We seem to be the only ones.

Reading the headlines one gets a completely different picture of the daily state of affairs in our United States. Millions of people are unemployed and underemployed. Millions of people are sick and in physical pain and are without health insurance. Millions of older adults are losing and have lost their jobs at a time when they should be living comfortable lives. Millions of elderly folks are living in fear of their social security benefits – which they’ve paid for their entire lives – at a time when they should be stress-free and enjoying the last years of their lives. Millions of young recent college graduates are entering a job field which is unreliable and unceasingly negative. Millions of these job, which SHOULD exist for Americans here at home, are fleeing our shores to be give to uneducated poor folks in China, Bangladesh, India, Mexico and Panama where environmental rights, workers rights and tax laws can be pushed aside. GE, which made a staggering $14 billion in 2010 in profits paid $0 in US taxes that year. And their CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, serves as President Obama’s chief of the [American] Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. BP, Transocean and Halliburton, all responsible for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, all gave large bonuses and awards to their executives in what, specifically, Transocean labeled their “best year in safety“.

This reality doesn’t seem nearly as rosy as my own personal reality.

What is going on? How did things get this way? I am by no means long-term financially stable and yet I am, by today’s standards, doing very well. I have to pay taxes and be assessed 25% interest on a credit card and these multinational record-earning corporations pay no taxes and receive no-interest government bailouts when they rig the system and slip up? How do we explain that the tax rates for the richest 0.1% of Americans has been slashed and slashed in the past 50 years which the tax rates for the middle class have increased and increased. We would have collected an extra $282 billion in tax revenue from the richest 0.1% in 2007 if they had paid the same effective tax rate. How does anyone point to teachers and unions and federal employees as the culprit for sucking us dry while at the same time cutting taxes to the richest and most powerful Americans individuals and corporations who hide money in overseas tax havens and move jobs to third world countries? Who’s less patriotic?

Who’s less “American”? This idea that anyone can achieve greatness if only they work hard. Is the definition of “work hard” now associated with hiring a harem of lawyers to dig through tax code and pull out every loophole imaginable? These lawyers have indeed worked very hard to ensure that their employers and their corporate ilk take advantage of the system, and by association, me.

I have no loopholes to abuse. I have no lawyers to pay. I have only my hard work

…and my morals.

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