COLUMBUS _ "The state of the union is deplorable, and I hope he says so, because we ought to do something about it," Uncle Chet said, then lowered an armful of logs into the wood box.
"He can't," I said. "If the stock market tumbled the next day, they'd say it was his fault."
"Let it tumble," he said. "What we need is an injection of truth, not a pep rally."
The wood stove was blazing this frigid afternoon, and everyone was in the living room, soaking up the heat. Buddy and his big sister, the college-bound former little miscreant, were playing Mario on the Wii. Hon was at her desk, struggling with taxes, and Uncle Chet and I were minding the fire, cooking venison stew, drinking Black & Tans.
"What is the real state of the union?" he asked as he leaned back in the recliner. "One in six workers doesn't have a job, and the Republicans, majority party in the House, resent their unemployment benefits."
"Let them eat dirt," I said.
"It's even worse for recent graduates -- nothing like it was when we were growing up. Just imagine sitting in a classroom, these days. The teacher comes along and counts students: one, two, three, four, five, you get jobs. Six, sorry, you don't. …"And then there are the under-employed; the ones who used to build houses, but now they wear paper hats and serve up French fries. And all this, while Nike comes from Asia, Carhartt comes from Mexico and EverGreen Solar, lately of Massachusetts, just announced it's firing 800 Americans and moving to China."
"That's a bad one," I agreed. "The way I look at it, it should be illegal to jump ship if you were built with public money."
"They took $58 million in American public subsidies, then dropped our flag." Uncle Chet said. "Now shouldn't that be a crime? Doesn't it amount to economic treason?"
Hon turned around from her paperwork to interject: "The question is: Would Harry Truman stand for it?"
"No way," I said.
"No way," Uncle Chet said, "because in his day, the public good mattered. But that was before the corporate brainwash from Reagan through Baby Bush that all things public -- all things we own jointly as citizens, even our tax dollars -- are bad, and only private wealth is good."
"You mean great," I said.
"You're right. Great. And so, what is the state of our wealth, the state of our money, in 2011? Is the dollar slipping against the price of groceries and gasoline?"
"'Fraid so," I said.
"Definitely," Hon said.
"Are wages and Social Security keeping up with the cost of living?"
"'Fraid not," I said.
"Sounds like the state of our money is pretty dismal," he said. "And that's before we examine our shared balance sheet. Our $12 trillion in debt, much of it owed to foreigners -- just imagine the horror if you really owed this money? But guess what? You do! And they will be coming for it."
"Maybe we should go bankrupt," I said.
"Maybe, but we could do other things first. We could lift the ceiling on the Social Security tax, preserving that fund with the stroke of a pen," he said. "Right now, rich people don't pay Social Security tax on income over $106,800 a year. It's only levied on income up to that amount."
"To make sure it doesn't miss a waitress," I said.
"So, if I make $1 billion this year, I pay only on the first $106,800. But if the cap were lifted, all my income, and that of other millionaires and billionaires would be taxed at 4.2 percent -- the same rate the waitress pays on all her income -- and Social Security would be solid for us, and for our children."
"Sounds good," said the little miscreant, eyes still on the monitor.
"I didn't know you were listening," Uncle Chet said as he turned to her.
"I wasn't," she said, "until I heard you say `for our children."'
Cooperstown bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit www.thedailystar.com/tomgrace.