Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are the Far Right Evangelicals Really No Threat?

  • Lou Engle, yelling from the stage
  • Peter Montgomery

    Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.

  • Last week, Lisa Miller, noted religion writer and editor (Newsweek and the Washington Post) filed an op-ed in which she fulminated against “the left” and journalists who have raised concerns about the influence of dominionist thinkers on Republican presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.

    “Beware False Prophets who Fear Evangelicals,” the headline reads. And the opening salvo sums up her attitude: “Here we go again. The Republican primaries are six months away, and already news stories are raising fears on the left about ‘crazy Christians.’”

    It’s true that political reporters can stumble when covering religion, but Miller is making a more sweeping charge: that “leftists” and journalists are unfairly hyping the influence of far-right leaders and painting all evangelicals with the same brush. She doesn’t make the case.

    Miller links to recent in-depth articles from the Texas Observer, The New Yorker, and The Daily Beast, but doesn’t really engage substantively with any of their reporting. Instead, Miller gives a pro forma acknowledgment that the stories “raise real concerns” about candidates’ worldviews while portraying the articles broadly as evidence of unfair attacks on evangelicals from a hysterical anti-Christian “left.” She calls dominionism “the paranoid mot du jour.”

    If It Quacks Like a Duck

    It may be the “word of the day,” as journalists continue to educate themselves and their readers on this particular strand of thinking, but that doesn’t mean an investigation of the role of “dominionism” in religious right rhetoric and strategy is a paranoid project. (The urge to investigate, or to interpret, can be too easily dismissed as paranoid. But if not for such “paranoia,” what exactly would the role of journalists be?)

    So, as background: dominionism refers to a theological tenet at the core of the religious right movement—that Christians are meant to exercise dominion over the earth. As RD readers know, dominionist thought is not a new phenomenon. It may be true, as evangelical leader Mark DeMoss says in Miller’s story, that “you would be hard-pressed to find one in 1,000 Christians in America would could even wager a guess at what dominionism is.” But it’s certainly not true of the leaders of the religious right political movement. Their followers are hearing dominionist teaching whether they know it or not.

    In recent years, there has been a very visible embrace by traditional religious right leaders of the rhetoric of “Seven Mountains,” a framework created by former Campus Crusade for Christ director Bill Bright. It puts dominionist thinking in clear, user-friendly lay language. The “Seven Mountains” of culture over which the right kind of Christians are meant to have dominion are business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family, and religion. (Some folks rearrange the categories a bit to explicitly include the military.)

    The language has been used by Pentecostal leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, a group that sees itself creating a new church and an army of spiritual warriors who will hasten the return of Christ by taking dominion over the earth. But the Seven Mountains framework has also become a sort of lingua franca among the religious right, forming the basis for Janet Porter’s May Day rally on the mall last year as well as the National Day of Prayer and Jim Garlow’s Pray and Act campaign. The Family Research Council and prominent religious right figures like Harry Jackson and David Barton all use the language.

    In other words, this is not a movement dreamed up by people with no understanding of Christianity who simply want to stir up fear of conservative evangelicals. The increasingly widespread use of “Seven Mountains” rhetoric reflects an effort by a broad swath of conservative evangelical leadership to adopt a shared set of talking points, if you will, to unite theologically disparate elements in common political cause to defeat the Satanic/demonic enemies of faith and freedom: secularists, gays, liberals, and the Obama administration.

    C. Peter Wagner is the founder of the New Apostolic Reformation and author of Dominion!: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World. His official bio says “In the 2000s, he began to move strongly in promoting the Dominion Mandate for social transformation, adopting the template of the Seven Mountains or the 7-M Mandate for practical implementation.” Wagner was an endorser of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s prayer-rally-cum-presidential launch and dozens of members of the New Apostolic Reformation were involved in organizing and speaking at the event.

    Shouting “Harlot” in a Crowded Theater?

    In an online conversation about her article, Miller criticizes coverage of the movement’s excesses, saying “that clips in which ministers shout ‘harlot’ over and over are likely to inflame more than they are to elucidate,” saying that “the left needs to search its soul, as it were, and see that it’s guilty of the same kind of demonizing that one sees on the right.” That is just one of several false equivalences Miller lays out, and it’s an irresponsible assertion.

    I agree that it can be uncomfortable to watch Lou Engle screaming from a stage, but it is even more uncomfortable to see him in a leadership role with other religious right leaders and members of Congress, as he was at the Family Research Council’s “prayercast” asking God to defeat health care reform. Engle, who declares that “the church’s vocation is to rule history with God,” introduced Michele Bachmann at that event.

    Miller seems unfamiliar with, or uninterested in, the extent to which dominionist and reconstructionist thinking is reflected in the worldview of Michele Bachmann. (Miller says Pat Robertson, who ran for the presidency in 1988, was a dominionist; implying that Bachmann and other contemporaries are self-evidently not). It is not some kind of guilt-by-association stretch to ask what it means that Bachmann describes Christian Reconstructionist John Eidsmoe as a mentor and major influence on her thinking. Neither is it surprising that Rick Perry’s political prayer rally would bring greater attention to the extremist nature of the event’s sponsors and speakers, which has been extensivelydocumented.

    Dominionist thinking within the religious right has real-world consequences that justify concern. In the online discussion of her article, Miller wrote that she didn’t see much difference between Jerry Falwell creating Liberty University to train evangelical Christians to be active citizens and a Mormon sending her kid to BYU or a Catholic sending her kid to Georgetown.

    But there is a difference. Maybe Miller should read Sarah Posner’s recent article for RD on the approach to law that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann studied at the precursor to Robertson’s Regent University law school, or her exposé on the approach currently taught students at Liberty’s law school. On a recent exam, for example, students were asked about a case -- one which Liberty Counsel lawyers were currently involved in -- regarding a woman had renounced her homosexuality and was refusing to honor the court-ordered custody arrangement for a child she'd had with a former partner. The exam asked whether students, as Christian lawyers, would advise the woman to honor the court orders, or defy “man’s law” in order to follow “God’s law.” Students who said they would advise her to obey court orders got bad grades. Also, in the real world, Liberty Counsel’s client fled the country with the child in defiance of multiple court orders and has become a folk hero to many in the religious right.

    Liberty’s goal is to fill state and federal judgeships and legislatures with people who embrace this view of the law; people like Michele Bachmann.

    Miller goes after other straw men. She argues that liberals seem to presume that “a firm belief in Jesus equals a desire to take over the world.” Who, exactly? (And what a neat way to deny the voices of progressive, or even radical-left Christians.)

    She compares “anxieties among liberals about evangelical Christians” with charges made by some far-right Christians that Obama was the Antichrist seeking world domination. Seriously? Where’s the evidence for this leftist anti-Christian jihad, especially from someone who several paragraphs later says she is making a plea for “a certain amount of dispassionate care in the coverage of religion”?

    Miller writes, “Certain journalists” (no names here),

    use ‘dominionist’ the way some folks on Fox News use the word ‘sharia.’ Its strangeness scares people. Without history or context, the word creates a siege mentality in which ‘we’ need to guard against ‘them.’

    Really? There is an extraordinary propaganda campaign built around convincing Americans that sharia law and Muslims generally pose a dire threat to the Constitution. But how many members of Congress, state legislatures, presidential candidates, and cable news personalities are ranting about the need to pass laws against dominionist teaching, or for that matter to restrict the ability of Christian evangelicals to build churches or engage in politics? Exactly none.

    Miller isn’t the only one to make this kind of false equivalence. Jonathan Tobin, writing inCommentary, claims that reporters are portraying Perry and Bachmann as theocratic Manchurian candidates and that those reporters are the moral equivalent of right-wing activists who suggest Obama wants to impose Islam on America. “Rather than worrying about Christians plotting to take over America, we ought to be more concerned with liberal journalists resorting to religious bigotry to smear conservatives.”

    Is anything more predictable in our current political culture than liberals being charged with religious bigotry?

    It’s true that Christian conservatives “thrive in a mindset of persecution,” as Miller quotes a scholar saying. That’s why religious right leaders have for decades been telling evangelicals that liberals and feminists and secular humanists and gays are hostile to religious liberty and are on the verge of criminalizing Christianity and dragging preachers from their pulpits and tossing them into jail. It’s ludicrous, though apparently still energizing.

    But here’s the truth: religious right activists don’t need journalists portraying them as “freaky and dangerous” in order to see themselves as “political activists on behalf of God.” That’s what Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry and religious right leaders tell them they are, over and over again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bachmann Is Lying


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(Cross posted on Alternet)


Are Michele Bachmann's Views About 'Christian Submission' Even More Extreme Than She's Letting On?

The people, churches and groups that shaped Bachmann's thinking are far more anti-woman than most Americans fully comprehend.
Photo Credit: Agence-France Presse {AFP]
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Michele Bachmann told a barefaced lie the other day. She was asked in the Republican candidates' debate with the other Republican contenders, “As president, would you be submissive to your husband?"

Bachmann answered: “Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10th. I’m in love with him. I’m so proud of him. And both he and I — what submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, it means respect. I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful, godly man, and a great father. And he respects me as his wife.”

She either lied, has changed her mind, or she says one thing to a national audiance and another to her hard-right evangelical followers.

Here's what she said in answer to the same question in 2006: “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.”

As Jill Lawrence noted:

Back in October 2006, recounting her life journey to an audience at the Living Word Christian Center, Bachmann talked about “receiving Jesus” at 16, studying hard, meeting her future husband at college, and earning a law degree. “My husband said ‘Now you need to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.’ Tax law! I hate taxes—why should I go and do something like that?” she told the audience. “But the Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” Bachmann said she never had taken a tax course, “never had a desire for it,” but “I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband.” Later, when the opportunity to run for Congress arose, “my husband said, ‘You need to do this,’ and I wasn’t so sure.” She became sure two days later, after praying and fasting with her husband.

The real story here is that Bachmann understands just how extreme her part of the evangelical movement is. She also understands that a certain amount of godly lying will be needed to mask that. She understood that the question she was asked the other day was about a biblical teaching that is misogynistic to the core and advocates total submission of a wife to a husband. It is teaching she's signed on to long ago.

The people, churches and groups that shaped Bachmann's thinking are far more anti-woman than most Americans fully comprehend.

There is a background to this.

The issue of wifely submission is at the heart of the entire anti-feminist agenda that shaped Bachmann. I should know. As I describe in my book Sex, Mom and God, the current crop of religious right leaders -- including Michele Bachamnn -- got their ideas and inspiration from my family’s work, books and film series. As the New Yorker correctly noted about my late father and the movies I directed when I was his nepotistic sidekick:

[Bachmann and her husband] experienced a life-altering event: they watched a series of films by the evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer called “How Should We Then Live?” Schaeffer, who ran a mission in the Swiss Alps known as L’Abri (“the shelter”), opposed liberal trends in theology. One of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, he has been credited with getting a generation of Christians involved in politics. Schaeffer’s film series consists of ten episodes tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture, from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade… He repeatedly reminds viewers of the “inerrancy” of the Bible and the necessity of a Biblical world view. “There is only one real solution, and that’s right back where the early church was,” Schaeffer tells his audience. “The early church believed that only the Bible was the final authority. What these people really believed and what gave them their whole strength was in the truth of the Bible as the absolute infallible word of God.” …Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L’Abri that the Bible was not just a book but “the total truth.” He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

Bachmann's Reconstructionist Gurus

Besides my father, Bachmann signed on as a follower of other leading “Reconstructionists” teaching “dominion.” And out of that movement came the big family, home-school movement that included a push to restore “traditional” roles of women.

This is a subject I know something about because I was the person who discovered and promoted one of the leading anti-feminist leaders who teaches absolute submission of women to their husbands -- and not in the “We respect each other” Bachmann-style whitewash.

In fact, the whole conservative evangelical movement Bachmann is part of is distinguished by its hatred of the feminist movement top to bottom.

In her hedging about what submission means to her, Bachmann has signaled with a wink and a nod to the Fox News crowd that she’ll have to soft-peddle some of her harsher views – at least as she’d theoretically apply them to other ordinary evangelical moms not running for president.

The Reconstructionist Patriarchy Movement

In 2009, over 6,000 women met in Chicago for the “True Woman Conference,” to call women to “Complementarianism” -- in other words, to join the Reconstructionist Patriarchy Movement called by another less-forbidding name. The organizers used their conference to launch the “True Woman Manifesto.” A clause in the preamble read, “When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to [male] authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father.”

“We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world,” the group’s leader, evangelical best-selling author/guru and “motivational speaker” Nancy Leigh DeMoss, said in her opening remarks.

Women are “called to encourage godly masculinity” by submitting to men, says the “True Woman Manifesto” those leaders assembled to sign. Women must “submit to their husbands and [male-only] pastors.”

According to this view of what I’ll call Godly Groveling Women, women must “honor the God-ordained male headship” of their husbands by allowing their men to rule them. Thus, selfish “rights” (as in the Bill of Rights) are “antithetical to Jesus Christ.” So The Godly Groveling True Woman believes that she must (as it were) rent her womb to God (and thus to a Reconstructionist revolution in whatever name) in order to embrace “fruitful femininity.”

For those who missed the conference, the way to a “Complete Submission Makeover” was made easy. According to the True Woman Web site, “Don’t miss out—take the 30-Day True Woman Make-Over to discover and experience God’s design and calling for your life! Join Nancy Leigh DeMoss on a journey through Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, and Titus 2:1–5. For thirty days, we’ll send this email directly to your inbox, complete with biblical teaching; helpful links, printable downloads, and recommended resources.”

What Nancy Leigh DeMoss was doing with her Complete Submission Makeover was to extend the reach of a fringe fundamentalist movement—the “Quiverfull Movement”—into the evangelical mainstream. (The name of the Quiverfull Movement alludes to Psalm 127:3: “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed.”)

Some Quiverfull leaders have argued against allowing daughters to attend college, as “worldly outsiders” might destroy their faith. Daughters, they say, should stay at home after they graduate from homeschooling. Daughters should practice being a “helpmeet” to their fathers, training to someday “serve” those godly husbands God will send their way. Some Quiverfull women are not allowed to drive. Others make lists of daily tasks to submit to their husbands for an okay. Quiverfull wives are carrying on at least one of Mom’s rules, however: They believe it is their duty to be sexually available to their husbands at all times. If a husband strays because of a wife’s refusal, it’s her fault.

Mary Pride

Mary Pride, the modern-day patriarchy/Quiverfull movement’s female founder, was frequently quoted at the True Woman Conference. Pride paved the way for the modern-era “submission movement” decades ago. She did so with my help.

Pride was one of my father's followers and began to write me fan letters in the 1970s after I’d emerged as a successful rabble-rousing antiabortion leader. By then I was doing the rounds, speaking at the biggest and most politicized churches of the day, including Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist. I was even pursuing my own evangelical media side project: the business of publishing and promoting far right books.

As a moonlighting literary agent, I represented my parents, as well as Dr. C. Everett Koop, John Whitehead, and several other Religious Right and (emerging) neoconservative authors.

In the early 1980s, Mary Pride sent me a manuscript for her first book,The Way Home, which was to become the bible for the big-family/homeschool movement that Bachmann is part of.

Pride told her life story—how she “moved away” from her “feminist” and “anti-natal” beliefs and embraced Christianity. She explained how she found “true happiness” in the “biblically mandated role of wives and mothers as bearers of children.” Pride wrote that “the church’s sin which has caused us to become unsavory salt incapable of uplifting the society around us is [the] selfishness [of] refusing to consider children an unmitigated blessing.” In The Way Home Pride pitched huge families as the only way for women to be truly happy and the only way to change America and bring it back to its so-called Christian foundation.

Pride was interested in more than women just having babies; she wanted those babies indoctrinated. So Pride called for unleashing a new generation of godly homeschooled children onto the slumbering American mainstream in order to reform it.

Pride’s overnight success occurred for several reasons. She was a capable writer and was speaking to Jesus Victims who could be swayed by “the Bible says” arguments. Pride’s success was also yet more evidence of the backlash against Roe v. Wade.

Pride cashed in on the Reconstructionists’ semiunderground network of homeschool groups founded by Rushdoony that Michele Bachmann has been part of.

I was in a good position to launch not only Pride’s book but also any project I wanted to get behind. It was in this capacity as a brash young wheeler-dealer, literary agent/author/filmmaker to the Religious Right, and evangelical/pro-life link to the emerging neoconservative movement that I launched Mary Pride. And she, in turn, started a large movement that—like so much else that has come from the Reconstructionist-inspired Religious Right since the 1970s—flew under the radar of the mainstream media.

And if you want to know who Michele Bachmann's bedrock supporters are you could overlap everyone in America who is raising their children according to Mary Pride and Bachmann's donor list.

Many Reconstructionist-influenced pastors began using Pride’s materials almost as soon as they were published because (at last) here was a woman telling other women to submit to men. And as luck would have it, Pride and her husband were computer experts back when few people were. So Quiverfull adherents were some of the first Internet users to grasp the potential of home computers. Homeschool groups began to network, and Pride became the leader of the evangelical homeschool movement, which she, only second to John Rushdoony, created in its anti-American incarnation.

Anti-American Bachmann and Company

When I say “anti-American,” I mean anti-American as America actually is: multicultural, pluralistic, gay embracing, multiethnic, and based on a secular Constitution and the secular rule of law. Mary Pride and company would have claimed to be patriotic, but their loyalty was to a “Christian America.” They seemed to have nothing but contempt for America as it actually was.

The Christian homeschool movement drove the evangelical school movement to the ever-harsher world-rejecting far right. This happened because evangelical homeschoolers like Bachmann have been demanding ever-greater levels of “separation” from the Evil Secular World.

It wasn’t enough just to reject the public schools. How could the Christian parent be sure that even the evangelical schools were sufficiently pure? And so the Christian schools radicalized in order to not appear to be “compromising” with the world in the eyes of increasingly frightened and angry Jesus Victim parents.

The irony was that Pride preached a dogmatic, stay-at-home, follow-your-man philosophy for other women while turning her lucrative homeschooling empire into a one-woman industry. So Pride may be added to the list of powerful women -- like Michele Bachmann -- who just love those “traditional roles” for other women. And Pride’s successor in the patriarchy movement, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, was also one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do best-selling career women doing high-paid speaking gigs while encouraging other women to stay home and submit to their men.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss happened to be the daughter of a former friend of my mother’s, Nancy DeMoss, who was instrumental in my parents’ rise to evangelical superstardom. Nancy DeMoss was also pivotal in the role of facilitator and financier when it came to seamlessly merging Reconstructionist ideology with the “respectable” mainstream evangelical community. I worked closely with Nancy on several projects. She generously supported my various Schaeffer-related antiabortion movies, books, and seminar tours. She also took “our” message much further on her own by underwriting a massive multi-million-dollar well-produced antiabortion TV and print media ad campaign inspired by our work.

Soon after the death of her wealthy husband, Arthur DeMoss, Nancy DeMoss became my mother’s friend and an ardent Schaeffer follower. She took over her late husband’s foundation as CEO, and besides underwriting several Schaeffer projects, she contributed millions to Republican and other far right causes (including $70,000 to start Newt Gingrich’s political action committee, GOPAC). She also helped the Plymouth Rock Foundation, a Reconstructionist-aligned group.

The De Moss machine will make Michele Bachmann's win possible, if she does win the nomination. This machinery has been crafted under the media radar for almost 40 years now.

Bachamnn Is an Extremist Anti-Feminist

This is the movement Bachmann signed on to when she fell for the hard evangelical anti-feminist line. The other people Bachmann lists as her theological mentors are all even harder line anti-feminist activists than was my father.

As the New Yorker noted, among the professors were Herbert W. Titus, a vice-presidential candidate of the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party (now called the Constitution Party), and John Whitehead, who started the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal-advocacy group. Titus was a longtime student of my father's. And Dad was a founding board member of Whitehead's "Christian civil liberties" Rutherford Institute, as I was.

The law review published essays by my father and Rousas John Rushdoony, the leading Reconstructionist/ prominent Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law—execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for example—would be instituted.

At Oral Roberts, Bachmann worked for a professor named John Eidsmoe, who got her interested in the burgeoning homeschool movement. She helped him build a database of state homeschooling statutes, assisting his crusade to reverse laws that prevented parents from homeschooling their children. After that, Bachmann worked as Eidsmoe’s research assistant on his book “Christianity and the Constitution,” published in 1987.

The Real Bachmann on Women

As we've seen, Michele Bachmann told an audience in 2006 that she followed her husband’s education path because, “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” Her mentor, John Eidsmoe, makes a similar case throughout God & Caesar, his book on how Christians should engage in politics and government.

For Eidsmoe, the role of a woman is chiefly second class to her husband: “God’s Word gives women respect and respectability which they had never enjoyed in any other culture, and we must do what we can to preserve biblical standards. But it establishes the man as the head of the house” (p. 125). He writes:

Humans cannot function without leadership, at least not when they must live and work together. And the basic unit of authority in human society is the family. The husband is the head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23), and children are to obey their parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:2).

Husbands are to instruct their wives in things of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:35), and parents are to instruct their children (ps. 115-116).

He goes on to condemn the rise of feminism and criticize feminist scholars, saying they “violate the normal order” God put in place:

Many had planned all their lives to become housewives and mothers, believing such a calling would bring meaning and fulfillment to their lives. Now they are told by the feminists that it is ‘demeaning’ and ‘unfulfilling’ to be a housewife, and they don’t know what to believe. They are frustrated as housewives and feel guilty for not being ‘more,’ but don’t feel any inclination for anything else. And the husband, who planned all this life to be a traditional husband and father and thought he was marrying a traditional wife, feels threatened, insecure, and resentful about these changes in his wife. If the wife goes to work, he may resent sharing housework; that wasn’t what he bargained for when he entered the marriage (p. 124).

Right, Ms. President?

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom and God.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It Is Time For a Revolution Against the Rich (Two Articles that Are a Must Read)

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

From the NY Times


Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

Omaha

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OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.


With an unprecedented sum of wealth held within the top one-tenth of one percent of the US population, we now have the most severe inequality of wealth in US history.


Amped Status / By David DeGrawAmped Status / By David DeGraw


Americans Don't Realize Just How Badly We're Getting Screwed by the Top 0.1 Percent Hoarding the Country's Wealth


(First Published in Alternet)


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With an unprecedented sum of wealth, tens of trillions of dollars, held within the top one-tenth of one percent of the US population, we now have the most severe inequality of wealth in US history. Not even the robber barons of the Gilded Age were as greedy as the modern-day economic elite.

As American philosopher John Dewey said, “There is no such thing as the liberty or effective power of an individual, group, or class, except in relation to the liberties, the effective powers, of other individuals, groups or classes.”

In my report, The Economic Elite vs. the People, I reported on the strategic withholding of wealth from 99 percent of the US population over the past generation. Since the mid-1970s, worker production and wealth creation has exploded. As the statistics throughout this report prove, the dramatic increase in wealth has been almost entirely absorbed by the economic top one-tenth of one percent of the population, with most of it going to the top one-hundredth of one percent.

If you are wondering why a critical mass of people desperately struggling to make ends meet are still not fighting back with overwhelming force and running the mega-wealthy aristocrats out of town, let’s consider two significant factors:

1) People are so busy trying to maintain their current standard of living that their energies are consumed by holding onto the little they have left.

2) People have very little understanding of how much wealth has been consolidated within the top economic one-tenth of one percent.

Considering the first factor, it is obvious that people have become beaten down psychologically and financially. A report in the Guardian titled, “Anxiety keeps the super-rich safe from middle-class rage,” suggests that people are so desperate to hold onto what they have that they are too busy looking down to look up: “As psychologists will tell you, fear of loss is more powerful than the prospect of gain. The struggling middle classes look down more anxiously than they look up, particularly in recession and sluggish recovery.”

Considering the second factor, people do not understand how much wealth has been withheld from them. The average person has never personally experienced or seen the excessive wealth and luxury that the mega-rich live in. Wealth inequality has grown so extreme and the wealthy have become so far removed from average society, it is as if the rich exist in some outer stratosphere beyond the comprehension of the average person. As the Guardian report states:

“… having little daily contact with the rich and little knowledge of how they lived, they simply didn’t think about inequality much, or regard the wealthy as direct competitors for resources. As the sociologist Garry Runciman observed: ‘Envy is a difficult emotion to sustain across a broad social distance.’… Even now most underestimate the rewards of bankers and executives. Top pay has reached such levels that, rather like interstellar distances, what the figures mean is hard to grasp.”

In fact, the average American vastly underestimates our nation's severe wealth disparity. This survey, featured in the NY Times, reveals that Americans think our society is far more equal than it actually is:

“In a recent survey of Americans, my colleague Dan Ariely and I found that Americans drastically underestimated the level of wealth inequality in the United States. While recent data indicates that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all wealth, people estimated that this group owned just 59 percent – believing that total wealth in this country is far more evenly divided among poorer Americans.

What’s more, when we asked them how they thought wealth should be distributed, they told us they wanted an even more equitable distribution, with the richest 20 percent owning just 32 percent of the wealth. This was true of Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor – all groups we surveyed approved of some inequality, but their ideal was far more equal than the current level.”

This chart shows the survey's results:

The overwhelming majority of the US population is unaware of the vast wealth at hand. An entire generation of unprecedented wealth creation has been concealed from 99 percent of the population for over 35 years. Having never personally experienced this wealth, the average American cannot comprehend what is possible if even a fraction of the money was used for the betterment of society.

Given modern technology and wealth, American citizens should not be living in poverty. The statistics demonstrate that we now live in a neo-feudal society. In comparison to the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of the population, who are sitting on top of tens of trillions of dollars in wealth, we are essentially propagandized peasants.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are struggling to get by, while tens of trillions of dollars are consolidated within a small fraction of the population, is a crime against humanity.

The next time you are stressed out, struggling to make ends meet and pay off your debts, just think about the trillions of dollars sitting in the obscenely bloated pockets of the financial elites. I still cling to the hope that once enough people become aware of this fact, we can have the non-violent revolution we so urgently need. Until then, the rich get richer as a critical mass with increasingly dire economic prospects desperately struggles to make ends meet.