Private jets stack up at Kona International Airport while an elderly man peddles to his home in the nearby brush — all of his worldly possessions attached to his rusty bicycle. In Kona town, a young man, talking to the voices in his head, filthy, and in the same clothes he wears every day, every week, comes out of the bushes where he appears to live. In the same frame, Paul Allen’s indescribably luxurious yacht sits at anchor, private helicopter on deck at the ready.
Many will recall when then-councilman Kelly Greenwell suggested private jet owners pay a voluntary fee for parking at Kona’s airport as a way to support improved island infrastructure which, he reasoned, supported aircraft owners as well as island residents. Despite wanting to fund infrastructure in the least painless ways (i.e., trying not to steal more from the dwindling services of those who can least afford it), Greenwell’s suggestion was met with a firestorm of letters asking how he dared ask for money from some of the wealthiest people on Earth. Unfair taxation.
The irony of our economy is that none have a more rapidly growing average income than those whose tax bracket is stupefyingly high, while “nil” can end up being their final tax bill. (Think General Electric.) One family, the Waltons, with its Walmart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. (Think Hokulia.) In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent of our citizens, yet many of those who seem richer than god scream the loudest for tax cuts.
“The new extremists balk at extending unemployment benefits or providing food stamps for young children. Yet, they have no trouble offering millions in subsidies to corporate interests or lowering taxes for the ultrarich corporations. Obscene wealth couples with the arrogance of power as billionaires such as the Koch brothers make 3 million dollars an hour from their investments while simultaneously calling for the abolishment of the minimum wage.” — Lewis Lapham, Harper’s
Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin seems to have renounced his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying capital gains taxes on his approximately $3 billion stake in Facebook, leaving the country that provided rich ground for his success, including taxpayer-funded (government) services, infrastructure, schools and security.
These wealthiest companies and individuals duck responsibility to the countless young and old whose dire circumstances are increasingly ignored by a society that’s failing them.
Our country has been the beacon of opportunity, wealth, equality and freedom for hundreds of years, but our democracy is sliding into a plutocracy (political power controlled by the wealthy). As wealth decides elections, the middle and less financially endowed classes struggle to stay on the rung of a slippery economic ladder that’s harder to climb, teetering above a safety net full of gaping holes. What can be done to change this scenario?
First, efforts to increase the minimum wage to a livable wage need your support. Congress must protect unemployment benefits for those who are out of work through no fault of their own. People on benefits spend that money on food and other supplies, stimulate local economies, engage local businesses and keep their communities economically functional. Research shows that for every dollar the government pays out in unemployment benefits, the economy benefits by $1.60.
Most critical is that every citizen can help protect the basic tenet of our functioning democracy (“one person, one vote”), not just by voting in each election, but by calling on local and federal leaders to support fair elections and serious campaign finance reforms including publicly funded elections.
Your voice is needed in the burgeoning movement to overturn the disastrous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a legal decision made by the conservative Supreme Court that allows a secret and bottomless pit of opportunity for the wealthiest individuals and corporations to finance candidates and buy elections. Several states are calling for a constitutional amendment to stop the effects of that ruling and the growing control which corporations and special interests have over our government. Help Hawaii become a leader in this effort. Search “Overturn Citizens United,” “Hawaii fair elections” online.
Bottom line: only a motivated citizenry can reinvigorate and reinstate the promises of past generations. Each of us must insist that the U.S. remains the land of opportunity and freedom for all, not just the top 1 percent of the wealthiest individuals and corporations.
Janice Palma-Glennie is a resident of Kailua-Kona.
Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of West Hawaii Today.