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Carlson: “A thing that money could buy”

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Some readers may recognize that line from an old Peter, Paul and Mary song that continues, “the rich would live and the poor would die.” Unfortunately, there’s too much truth to it: Wealth does allow the rich to live longer than those who do not have sufficient money, not to mention what’s left of the increasingly squeezed middle class.

“Income inequality” is a phrase news media and politicians alike want to avoid. They duck phrases deploring language that elicits thoughts of “class warfare.” The stark fact is income disparity, the difference between the super rich and the average worker, is at its greatest chasm in history (with the possible exception of 1928).

Yes, many of the wealthy (households with combined annual gross incomes more than $250,000) pay taxes. And, in a society that long ago institutionalized graduated tax rates, they usually pay more than those who earn less. But many of the super rich, the top two-tenths of one percent, don’t pay any taxes.

I once heard a member of the super rich say flat out “only stupid people pay taxes.” They retain attorneys and accountants to find shelters and write-offs to ensure they don’t pay a cent.

Yet they gladly take the protection of the American military in an unsafe world as an entitlement. They still expect their social security check when they “retire.” It makes me more than a little angry.

I mention this because, for all the rhetoric being tossed around regarding the need to repeal the historic passage of Health Care Reform because of problems and unintended consequences, the fundamentals of more government involvement in this gargantuan consumer of much of America’s wealth will remain in place.

Why? Because it is viewed as an equalizer that provides the poor and the stressed middle class more accessibility to more affordable health care and more protection against catastrophic illness that can financially ruin a household in a heartbeat.

The truly wealthy will still be able to afford to go anywhere in the world for the latest treatments for diseases without known cures. But the average citizen will get more relief, especially with such protections against denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

This view of the federal government as an equalizer providing some modicum of protection from predatory companies who prey on the ignorant, the disadvantaged and the poor, and who hide behind the mantra of “let the marketplace decide,” is what lies at the heart of the debate between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

In mid-January I was privileged to speak at the installation ceremony of a good friend who was formally taking the oath of office as the new U.S. attorney for eastern Washington. Mike Ormsby, a one-time business colleague, is one of those rare decent, compassionate, intelligent people who, despite his success, education and hard-earned income, still has a passionate commitment to justice.

Justice is another one of those concepts at the heart of much of the current political debate. Many people, myself included, have a nagging sense that justice is not as blind as it is supposed to be, that the rich are treated more leniently because they can afford the high-priced attorneys skilled at extracting their clients from any kind of legal dilemma.

At Mike’s installation ceremony I concluded by saying:

Lastly, Mike has a real sense of that word “Justice.” He knows that too often wealth can make a difference, that justice is not always blind. Thomas Jefferson once said that the Tree of Liberty from time to time is watered by the blood of patriots. Mike knows that patriot blood is too often shed by the less educated, by the less privileged, the less blessed—-who remain the backbone of Amercia. And he cares. . . .

The next time you hear someone denouncing government, whether local, state or federal, ask yourself who and what stands between you and the legal predators that lurk around us. Ask yourself why you have a better chance at obtaining justice of any kind in this country rather than anywhere else in the world? – Chris Carlson

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