Monday, December 13, 2010

In Defense of the Top 1%

I am not rich. I am not poor. I am middle class. Neither upper or lower middle class, I am simply middle middle class. As an academic librarian, higher education's social worker, I have no reason to believe that I will ever elevate myself beyond my middle middle class standing. I have no talent, no non-librarian marketable skills, no gift for the entrepreneurial. I have more than what I need in life and a lot less than what I want from it. I am one of those "mass of men" whom Thoreau described as living a life of "quiet desperation." That being said, I don't think it's right to punish the rich for being rich.

Democrats believe otherwise. They think it's good - even noble and righteous - to punish the wealthy, in this case, by not extending their tax cuts, tax cuts Dems think every other American should retain. It is selfish and un-American to deny one group of individuals the same benefit being doled out to the majority. Liberals would normally claim such a situation discriminatory and would rant until blue in the face about the injustice of it all, but since the rich tend to be conservatives they are now more than happy to uphold the injustice of it all. Discriminating against the top 1-2% of our society is still discrimination, and it is hypocrisy like that which drove me away from the Democratic Party.

The rich are an easy target because we envy them. We know we will never be their financial equals, and so out of spite we look for ways to get back at them. I don't know anyone in this country, however, who wouldn't trade places financially with someone making over $300,000 a year. That's what we all work for, isn't it? To make money? And yet some insist on punishing those who just happen to be better than the rest of us at making money. It's not the fault of the wealthy if you pursued a career in a field our society doesn't appreciate enough to allow you to make over 300K. Blame your fellow riff-raff for that! Also keep in mind as the Dems salivate over sticking it to the wealthy that in a lot of instances, we, the oh-so-downtrodden, helped to make the rich get rich by buying their products, going to their concerts and games, eating at their restaurants, and enjoying their movies. It's not only bankers and Wall Street CEOs who we would punish. You explain to Oprah, Tom Brady, Regis, George Clooney, and Lady Gaga why they should pay more in taxes because we like what they do.

The idle and the incompetent don't become rich, and so it is that somewhere in the history of every wealthy family is someone who worked very hard to EARN a fortune. I thought that the ethos behind the American Dream was that if you worked hard enough, opportunity and fortune would follow, and yet here we are on the verge of punishing a small minority of people for accomplishing that dream. Sure, there are some whose fortunes were made bilking, cheating and swindling others, but to judge all wealthy people by those few is no different than proclaiming all poor people deadbeats who prefer living off welfare to having a job simply because there a few who are just like that! This idea that "working Americans" are everybody but the wealthy and thus more deserving of tax breaks is laughable. The rich work, too, sometimes harder than you and me, sometimes not, but they work nonetheless and shouldn't punished for it.

BTW, it should be noted that the same small group of Americans that the Dems want to punish for making money is the same small group that donates almost $2 billion more than the rest of us combined to assist those in need. Perhaps it is just because they have more money to give to the less fortunate but there's nothing saying that they have to donate anything at all, and yet they do. (see Table 9, page 12).

I will never be rich. Mine will most likely always be a life of financial mediocrity, resigned to entertaining but never living out fantasies of a more affluent lifestyle. I'll never have a yacht, London flat, private airplane, swimming pool, or gardener. I'll never be able to afford to travel to Venice before it sinks. And I'm not going to hold it against those that do have those things and can visit Venice (especially if they take me with!). Tax cuts for everyone or tax cuts for no one.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Death Sentence

Over the past several days, HomeAgain, our pets' microchip company, has sent out "Lost Pet in Your Area" email alerts featuring at least three cats who went missing. Each cat had been declawed. Short of finding their way home or being found those three cats don't really have a chance. Since they have no front claws they can't climb trees or fences to escape dogs and they can't really defend themselves against other cats. Their ability to catch mice, insects and other animals that might help keep them alive is severely diminished. Add to that the fact that overnight temperatures in the Atlanta area have been in the 20's with highs during the days being in the 40's, and their prospects look grim.

People who get their cats declawed don't value their cats. Or, rather, they value their sofas and lounge chairs more than their cats. There's no knowing if any of the lost cats were declawed by their current or previous owners, but somewhere along the line someone thought so little of their cat's life that they paid money to surgically remove the cat's first line of defense. Anyone with an iota of common sense knows cats are the ultimate escape artists, and no conscientious owner would have placed their cat in the situation now facing those three lost cats.

As I type this my right index finger is throbbing from a nice gash Jackson inflicted on me last night. Despite routinely clipping his front claws since he was a kitten there's no way to count the number of scratches my hands, arms, knees and legs have endured over the past 11+ years. The other weekend Ida had to once again cut fraying threads from a $400 chair that Lucy likes to sleep on - being too fat to jump up on the chair, Lucy claws her way to the top. In fact, we don't have a single piece of furniture that doesn't bear the tell-tale evidence that a fully-clawed cat lives in our house. Of course, it all could have been avoided had we each had our cats declawed, but we never placed our material things or our own inconvenience over the well-being of our cats. The value our cats bring to our lives far exceeds the cost of every piece of furniture in the house and every tube of Neosporin we've had to buy. I can always get another sofa or chair; the cats, on the other hand, can't be replaced.

I feel sad for the owners of those cats - losing a pet is heart-wrenching. But I feel more for the cats. Cats are tough, resourceful animals, and though lost, cold and completely out of their element those three cats would normally have a fighting chance. However, thanks to people, they don't have any front claws, and so the odds are now against them. People who have their cats declawed are cruel, irresponsible, and selfish.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Any Volunteers?

USA Today recently reported on how charitable Americans are with their time and money. Not surprisingly financial donations are down; however, the number of people volunteering is trending upwards. A long-time financial contributor myself and but usually a step or two behind the trendy, I'm happy to say that I, too, can now be counted among the volunteers.

In October I started volunteering at a cat shelter, Furkids. In some ways it was a selfish decision. I finally came to accept the reality that I am never going to be a humanitarian, a Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Duke or Sloan, and that the only thing my name will likely adorn will be a grave stone, a very grand one, mind you, but a grave stone nonetheless. Humbled by this epiphany, I began thinking of how I could make a difference in the world, and naturally cats came to mind. I toyed with the idea of helping people, like supporting literacy efforts and teaching immigrants conversational English, but helping people is why we have churches, right? So, cats won the day.

It's a no-kill, cage-less shelter with about eleven good-sized rooms where the cats hangout on elaborate cat trees and shelves, and I would estimate that there's well over 100 cats total. I'm generally assigned a room or two to clean litter boxes, refresh water and food bowls and sweep and mop the room. It doesn't leave a lot of time for socializing (industry speak for petting) the cats, which was my true desire when I started but I'm OK with that. The world needs its ditch diggers and this shelter needs its litter scoopers.

This isn't my first volunteer gig. When we lived in Ithaca, Ida and I both volunteered at the Cortland County SPCA doing pretty much what I do now except the cats were all in cages. I got sucked into running for and winning a seat on the Board of Directors, thinking that I would be even better positioned to do some good. Man, was I an idiot. Small town politics usurped every meeting, and frustrated that we hadn't done a thing to help the animals, I stepped down and never looked back. I'll do most anything for cats...except work with small-minded people. If I win the lottery, I'll start my own shelter and/or a ranch where disabled and disadvantaged kids can ride horses and care for other farm animals. Until then, I'm satisfied with the grunt work of keeping the cat rooms clean.

Lest you think I care for animals more than I do people...oh, wait...I do care for animals more than I do people! But I'm not completely lacking in compassion for my own. This year I donated to the Haiti relief efforts, helped Ida serve dinner at a Ronald McDonald house, collected and redeemed yogurt tops to fight breast cancer, and for the past three holiday seasons I've donated to the Atlanta Food Bank and Heifer International. This year through Heifer I gave the gift of honey bees. It's not nearly enough to get a building wing, street corner, or elementary school named after me (they'd probably spell my name wrong anyway), but that's alright. I can only do what I can do and hope it makes a difference to someone...or something.

Here kitty, kitty, kitty...