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William Rivers Pitt | The Sham of Austerity and the Storms to Come

We were robbed, and we can get that money back if we choose to act.

"There is another storm coming, rumbling the deep thunder of discontent just over the horizon. Those who stole from our present and future would do well to heed that noise." (Photo: Adam Fagen / Flickr)

We had a storm up here the other day that walked and talked. The rain came sideways, the dirt road became a quagmire and the doors shook in their doorframes from the wind. As night fell the storm strengthened, the woods were filled with the gunfire sound of snapping branches, and then the power went out. Thankfully we have a generator, but the darkness held sway for a 10-count until the genny kicked on. In the depths of those 10 lightless seconds, I heard a terrified cry from the far side of the house: “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

I outraced the wind getting to my three-year-old daughter’s room, and just as the lights came back on I found her by the rain-battered window, walleyed with fear watching the trees dancing to the hard music of the storm. She turned to me, huge tears trembling in her eyes, mouth drawn down in a fearful bow and cried, “Daddy, I don’t like it!” I made a move toward her just as a gust shook the wall. She threw herself at me, and I scooped her up, and she cried, and I whispered all the things Daddies whisper when the wind gnaws the eaves and the leafless winter trees look like spiders in the shouting night. Soon enough she slept, wreathed in Pooh and Corduroy and Taggie and all the soft, safe things that tame the dark.

This is what I do, what I can do within reach of my arm. I bathe her, dress her, make her dinner, tickle her chin to make her squeal, read her all the wonderful things in the world — I can recite The Lorax by rote now — and I show her that Daddy is not afraid of the storms, which helps her to dismiss her fear and sleep deeply even in the teeth of the wind. In those moments when I stroke the hair from her untroubled brow, I am ten feet tall, clear of eye and mind. My hand does not shake.

It is all a sham, of course, because I am afraid, and angry, because there are other kinds of storms that lie well beyond the reach of my arm, and they affect my daughter far more profoundly than some rain against the window. There are people out there beyond the trees who are stealing from her, stealing from her present and future for nothing more than greed cloaked in an absurd political philosophy that claims they don’t have to kick in their fair share like everyone else.

It was recently revealed by way of a massive document leak that the wealthiest of the global wealthy have taken trillions of dollars and, through the services of a secretive Panamanian law firm, squirrelled that money away inside virtual coffee cans in tax havens all over the world. The “Panama Papers” scandal, as it has come to be called, has ensnared a large number of world leaders, and cost Iceland’s prime minister his job.

Those 11 million pages contain the names of hundreds of Americans who also used the services of that Panamanian firm to hide their money. They are the focus of my rage, because they did what they did to avoid paying taxes. Taxes, which pay for the school my daughter will attend, the textbooks she will read, the teachers who will guide her, the roads that will carry her there, the police and fire departments that protect her, the public servants who will help her register to vote someday and who clear the roads when the storms turn white.

Meanwhile, the paid lackeys of these thieves run up and down the halls of Congress, and all over the media, shouting about how broke we are as a nation. Austerity, they cry, budget cuts, no food for poor children or assistance for poor families. Social Security and Medicare must be cut because that’s the responsible thing to do. No support for wounded and traumatized veterans, but of course we can afford more war. We need education budget cuts, no infrastructure repair, no health care reform, because look, see, we’re broke.

No, we aren’t. We were robbed, and we can get that money back if we choose to act. This is a fiction we live in, cunningly crafted to cover the tracks of those who care only for themselves. Between the bloated “defense” budget and all that untaxed money lying offshore, we have the revenue required to address these pressing issues and chase the “austerity” argument off like a diseased cur.

But will we? There is a distinct possibility that the leading candidates for the highest office in the land, their friends and top donors, are hidden in the pages of the Panama Papers. We may never know, because according to the Guardian, much of the content will remain secret, sealed off, buried. Will whoever is chosen have the courage to chase down the truth for the rest of us, for my daughter and yours, or is the robbery already complete?

There is another storm coming, rumbling the deep thunder of discontent just over the horizon. Those who stole from our present and future would do well to heed that noise. If and when that storm does come, it will not be my little girl who is afraid. It will be them.

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