Monday, September 19, 2011

The Idiot Right's New Poster Boy

The Idiot Right has a new poster boy. He’s Louisiana Congressman John Fleming, and he is a piece of work. He was interviewed by MSNBC’s Chris Jansing today. At first there was nothing new: the same old talking points bullshit (“if you go after the high income earners, you go after the job creators” and similar pseudo-economic slop). But Jansing is a good interviewer, and Fleming was, shall we say, not ready for that.

Here’s the exchange, starting at about the 2:26 mark of the link. I've taken the liberty of supplying the Congressman's inner monologue in brackets:
Jansing: Well, with all due respect, Congressman, the Wall Street Journal estimated that your businesses, which I believe are Subway sandwich shops and UPS stores—very successful—brought you last year six million dollars.

Fleming: Yeah, that’s before you pay five hundred employees, you pay rent, you pay equipment and food. The actual net income of that was only a mere fraction of that amount.
If he’d shut up right then, he might have escaped without serious damage. But he’s a politician, and apparently a remarkably dim-witted one even in comparison to the rest of the cretinous yahoos who populate the House. Here’s the follow-up [OMG—my staff didn't warn me she could ask me something else!].
Jansing: So, you’re saying that if you have to pay more in taxes, you would get rid of some of those employees? These are not as successful businesses as what we want to indicate?

Fleming (interrupting): [Shit, I’m trapped. I can’t tell the truth or my hypocrisy is on display. But if I don’t strut a little, she just got away with calling me unsuccessful. Quick! Change the subject!] I would say that since my net income, and again, that’s the individual rate that I told you about, the amount that I have to re-invest in my business and feed my family is more like 600,000 of that 6.3 million. And so, by the time I feed my family, I have, you know, maybe 400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment, all of that.

Jansing: You do understand, Congressman, that the average person out there, who’s making forty, fifty, sixty thousand dollars a year, when they hear that you only have four hundred thousand dollars left over, it’s not exactly a sympathetic position. You understand that?

Fleming: Well, again, class warfare has never created a job. [Ah, relief, back on Talking Points!] And that’s people that will not get jobs. This is all about creating jobs, Chris, this is not about attacking people who make certain incomes. You know, in this country, most people feel that being successful in their businesses is a virtue, not a vice. And once we begin to identify it as a vice, this country is going down.
Before you ask, Gentle Reader, yes, he really is that stupid. Yes, he really is that arrogant. And yes, he really does think his shit don’t stink.

As I write this piece, I realize that tearing this douchebag’s argument to shreds is more difficult than I’d originally thought… because he has so many mind-bendingly inane things to say it’s difficult to decide where to start.

OK. So we’ll take what he says and doesn’t say chronologically. So, we start with where the majority of that $6.3 million went. He nets $600K. Therefore, he spends about $5.7 million on business expenses ranging from rent to equipment to personnel. And he’s got 500 employees. Anyone notice a problem? The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Multiply that times a 40-hour work week, times 52 weeks, times 500 employees, and you get $7.54 million, which, where I come from, takes up a sizeable chunk of that $6.3 million in gross income. And that’s with everyone working at minimum wage, with no benefits. It doesn’t include rent, utilities, equipment, or inventory.

So one of the following must be true: A). a huge percentage of those 500 employees are not merely making crappy wages, they’re also part-time, B). he’s lying about the number of employees, or C). he’s lying about his gross income. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume it’s choice “A.” According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know, but the internal link doesn’t work), he owns “owns 33 Subway sandwich shops in northern Louisiana and owns Fleming Expansions, LLC, a regional developer for The UPS Store, which supports stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.”

So that’s at least 34 locations. Let’s say rent and utilities are a steal… say $2000 a month per venue. Let’s see… there’s $816K. The food for those Subway stores… a markup of what? Well, standard appears to be about 300%, but let’s give him a little lower expenses to maximize what he pays his workers. How about 400%? That would mean an expenditure of $1.26 million. Insurance and other overhead… again, let’s be conservative. $5000 per venue? Another $170K. So that leaves us a whisper over $4 million to be divided among those 500 employees: wages, benefits, payroll tax, everything. In other words, $8000 per employee per year. This, ladies and gentlemen is what the fat-cat “job creators” have to offer.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that a business like Subway is likely to have a lot of part-time, short-term workers. But these aren’t the kind of jobs the country needs to recover its economic footing. And if Rep. Fleming thinks otherwise, he’s even stupider than I thought.

OK, next point. Now it’s time to notice that he never answered the question about whether he’d lay people off if his taxes went up. Of course, he wouldn’t: he needs those drones to work for subsistence wages to finance his lifestyle. He hires people because it’s more profitable to do so than to lose business because customers, miffed at the lack of service, go elsewhere. He can, poor lamb, try to figure out a way to survive on a mere half million or so.

Oh, and since small businesses pay taxes on their profits, not their gross sales, Mr. Fleming wouldn’t be affected by the proposed tax on those making over $1 million a year. That’s because he’s destitute.

Moving on. He nets $600K, but after “feeding [his] family,” he has only about $400K to re-invest into his business. His official website says his children are grown, so his family consists of himself and his wife. My wife and I can eat pretty well on considerably less than $10,000 a year. He, on the other hand, needs $200,000. Perhaps he is married to an allosaurus?

OK, OK, I get it. He’s talking about all the expenses of running a household, meaning that he’s scraping by on about twice what my wife and I make between us (I’m a Full Professor at a university; she’s the Director of Financial Aid at a community college). Well, of course, that doesn’t count all his other sources of income… like the $174K (plus an extraordinary benefit package) he makes as a Congressman, for example. Or whatever he makes in his medical clinic. Or…

But the impoverished Mr. Fleming says he’s left with a mere $400K to re-invest on things like “upgrading [his] locations” and “equipment.” Uh, Congressman… how does that create jobs? Really. How? Still, he clearly believes that having that kind of money to invest is his sovereign right. Newsflash: it isn’t. Not to mention the fact that it’s very clear that he does little if anything to actually earn any of that money. Being a Congressman is—or damned well ought to be—a full-time job. He’s almost certainly making over $1000 for every hour of actual work at his private business: money he can make because he has assets to begin with, not because he’s doing anything noble now.

Faced with a perfectly reasonable point that the average person isn’t going to weep for him, Fleming reverts to inane platitudes about “class warfare.” As I’m not the first to note, they only call it class warfare when the rest of us fight back. And “virtue” is an ironic word coming from an acquisitive ass like Fleming. There is nothing either virtuous or vicious about wealth. There is something virtuous about labor, but Fleming does little of that. Nor is asking the wealthy, the greatest beneficiaries of what the nation has to offer, to contribute a little to the common weal—to pay as high a percentage of your income in taxes as a cop or a schoolteacher do—an “attack.” But, sir, if you and your gluttonous and avaricious co-conspirators continue to adopt the smug, supercilious, and hubristic attitude you seem unable to suppress… well, the attack will come soon enough.


Jack Marshall said...

While there are legitimate points to be made,clearly it is disingenuous to deny class warfare when this post is full of its tell-tale footprints. Labor is full of virtue, but investment in business is not? Come on. The wealthy are "beneficiaries," like America just randomly gives people money? (Well, except for Solyndra, anyway...) There's no difference between the abilities, skills, and life choices of those who own and operate Subways and those that work there? Talk about talking points...from 1914!

The effort to demonize Americans who take risks, earn money, take more risks investing it, and have the audacity to maintain that the government shouldn't take the profits, which were far from guaranteed, to give to those who may not have contributed anything to society at large except children they can't afford to feed is only going to resonate with members of the public who are envious, lazy, hopeless, or who have no aspirations to become successful themselves.

The wealthiest need to pay more taxes because that's the only place the money will come from. The GOP is idiotic to deny it. But the antagonistic rhetoric that makes villains out of those who are taking the risk to build businesses---or have succeeded in doing so---is societally suicidal...and it IS class warfare.

It just doesn't feel like it, because you're not the one being bombarded.

manjushri924 said...

I have no problem with Mr. Fleming's making a lot of money. I do have a problem with his whining about having "only" $400K to re-invest, with his wildly exaggerated claims of job creation (how many of those 500 employees make enough to be above the poverty line?), with his evasion of a simple question (not that he's alone in that!), and with his distortion of the President's proposed tax strategy. If he were actually investing $400K of a net $600K income into his business(and he had no other revenue), he wouldn't even be subject to the proposed repeal of the Bush tax cuts on high earners, much less on the tax on incomes over a million. He either knows that proposal doesn't apply to him, or his other income puts him over the threshold, or he's a complete moron.

Nor am I suggesting that he doesn't have skills his workers lack. But he doesn't have to use them: his managers, who make only a fraction of what he makes (because their income comes from working rather than from being rich to begin with, so they can't have 33 stores) do that for him. He "consults" with them. But what he really does is provide the capital. That doesn't require any ability.

And no one, repeat, no one, is suggesting the "government take the profits." A difference of a couple per cent of only that income that exceeds that of 98% of the population's doesn't strike me as an attack. His point ultimately, is that it's OK to cut services he doesn't use, to reduce the wages of government employees (other than Congressmen, of course), etc., but expecting someone who makes several hundred thousand dollars a year for doing next to nothing to cough up another $6-8K is outrageous. I call bullshit on that argument.

Anyway, I guess on your list of those who think the rich ought to pay more in taxes than they do, I qualify as having "no aspirations to become successful." I'm not envious (contemptuous is a different thing); I work 55 or 60 hours a week at a profession which requires a certain amount of acumen, so "lazy" doesn't fit very well; I'm nothing near hopeless. But you're right, if "success" is measured only in material terms, I can live without it--at least without the difference between my current income and his.

And yes, I think that investment income ought to be taxed at the same rate as earned income. If that's enough to label me a Bolshevik, so be it.