Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I don't know why

Today at the ASHA conference I was more inspired than I expected to be again around people who spend their lives working in developing, by stories from all around the world, people representing the truest American ideals. That's what the USAID is all about, and until this conference, I don't think I'd really thought about what American ideals are, precisely. We bandy about terms like democracy and freedom, but what do those words really mean? True equality, equal access to all parts of our democracy and our state, access to economic opportunity, and education, and health care, and voting booths.

Then, during lunch, I watched the news. Is it something about being in DC, where the shots from the capital are broadcast to the nation, that makes one spend more attention focused on politics? I also browsed around the New York Times as I ate my sandwich, reading the resignation letter from the vice president of Goldman Sachs. It linked to this article from the Rolling Stone. The abstract? These ideals of democracy are being perverted by financiers who believe that greed is the sole American value.

In the article, Simon Johnson, an economics professor at MIT, “compares the bailout to the crony capitalism he has seen in Third World countries,” exactly the kind of corruption we aspiring ASHA grantees are fighting against.

More irony? The mutual fund shares I continue to own, purchased at a discount rate when I worked at a financial institution directly out of college, were taken over by--you guessed it--Goldman Sachs. So, full disclosure--I'm one of the people getting doubly ripped off, both as a taxpayer and as a "muppet."

One of the jokes that my brother suggested, when I was looking for ways to shave money off my travel budget, was that I could bring a tent and pitch it among the Occupy protesters, with whom I stand figuratively if not literally. I'd get free lodging, not to mention bragging rights. I walked right by the Occupy encampment on my way from the Metro this morning. Not only would my budget have been smaller, so would have been my commute.

And on the news at lunch, today is the same day that Republicans announced their plan to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent. When Mitt Romney pays 13 percent, the same exact rate I am taxed on my four-figure annual income, because I'm self-employed rather than being employed by someone other than myself. When Goldman Sachs pays one percent. And the entire ASHA budget (if it doesn't get cut, by those same Republicans), funding American ideals around the world, is 1 percent per year of what Goldman Sachs earns in profits in a single quarter.

Ironic much? It's almost enough to make me wish I'd pitched a tent and waved some placards.

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