Tag Archives: money

GOP Tax Plan: A Complete Social Restructuring of the United States

4 Dec

Welcome to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 500 pages of far-right dreams smashed together in two weeks and rushed to a vote in the middle of the night. While there is an enormous amount of this plan that we should all be mortified about — specifically how it hoards wealth for the top 20% of Americans and steals money from the poor and middle class — there is far more going on here, much of which has little to do with tax “reform.”  I worry that most people are not paying attention to everything it does over time, as evidenced by the fact that most of the people who voted to rush this through have not even read the whole plan, nor have there been any substantive hearings or analysis provided. This massive document is also difficult to read because much of the marginalia is hand written scribbles, eliminating even concerned senators’ ability to read and understand the implication of the entire document before voting on it.

In addition to the sociopathic maldistribution of wealth this plan secures, the social ramifications are profound and are antithetical to what we have worked so hard to accomplish in the ways of equity in the past 100 years.  For example, this plan includes Medicare reductions that will end cancer treatment for people on Medicare. Yes, you read that correctly. This sounds like a death panel to me, and it should not come as a surprise, given that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have been working to dismantle Medicare for years now. Oh, and as an added bonus it eliminates the Individual Mandate from the Affordable Care Act, basically robbing 13 MILLION Americans of coverage.

As outlined in the Chronicle of Higher Education, this bill creates even more barriers for people who are not in the top 20% of Americans to afford a college education. For example, this bill puts additional taxes on charitable donations to colleges that allow for financial aid. Small liberal arts colleges are heavily dependent on charitable gifts to survive. The message is quite clear, the GOP does not value education, as further evidence that Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education. People do your homework here! Obviously, the lack of access to eduction benefits the GOP, as it encourages ignorance and precludes critical thinking skills: skills that would allow people to ask questions of the government, the people that are supposed to be public servants.

Another alarming part of this bill — so alarming I needed to get my smelling salts just to be able to write this — is the reversal of The Johnson Amendment. Yes, this is part of the Religious Freedom Act (specifically Christian agenda freedom) coming from the far right wing, which now controls our government. The Johnson Amendment, created by LBJ in 1954, prohibits all non-profits, or what is called a 501 (c) (3) from making any type of political endorsement or stand to lose their tax exempt status. Trump and his henchmen are now about to reverse this in this tax plan, but ONLY for churches, allowing them to become tax-free lobbying organizations. So much for separation of church and state.

The bill slashes the corporate tax rate, eliminates the bulk of the estate tax, and changes “pass-through” business taxation in a way that benefits only the wealthiest of business owners. These changes are PERMANENT. The tweaks that MIGHT make a small change for poor and middle class taxpayers expire within the first three years. At the end of ten years, the vast majority of households making $75,000 or less will see their taxes rise, often by 20% or more.

Many deductions are eliminated or severely curtailed including bike-to-work incentives, moving expenses, most mortgage and home sale deductions, tax preparation deductions, and disaster relief deductions. State and local tax deductions are greatly reduced, penalizing blue states that fund federal programs for red states.

The bill will increase the deficit by at LEAST $1 TRILLION. So much for the party of fiscal responsibility. Deficit hawks like Sen. Flake and Sen McCain (the Arizona Stooges) believe that wealth will trickle down as businesses have more revenue, even though EVERY major corporation interviewed has indicated that the vast majority of this revenue will be used to pay bonuses and reward stockholders, giving no benefit to the average American. Sen. Murkowski sold out her constituents in exchange for getting drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Yeah, that’s a tax issue… Sen. Collins accepted a fig leaf promise for a vote someday on an ACA bill that won’t come close to solving the problems caused by the loss of the individual mandate. Sens. Johnson and Daines pretended that minor changes to the pass-through rules would help small business owners. Overall, over 20% of Republican Senators had major objections to the bill but voted for it with vague changes and vaguer promises.

The most nefarious impact is yet to come. As that big deficit hole comes into reality, Republicans will certainly use it to insist on austerity measures. This is a feature, not a bug. As the deficit grows, they will insist that Social Security, medicaid, and medicare be slashed to balance the budget.

Our only hope for derailing this monstrosity is putting pressure on the conference process that will reconcile the House bill (awful in many different ways) with the Senate abomination. Getting the House to accept all the little tweaks and odditities may be difficult, and losing them may make the final bill impossible to pass again in the Senate.

TAKE ACTION: Contact your Representative and Senators and demand that they stop this horrible bill. It’s not tax “reform”, it won’t serve the middle class, it crushes the poor, and it includes elements that will reshape the social network and basic protections that we rely on today into something mean, nasty, and unrecognizable.

Advertisements

Women’s History Month 2015: Women on 20s

20 Mar

Rosa20What a great movement to initiate during National Women’s History Month — getting women’s faces on our currency. How sad that while women make up more than half the population, we only see white men’s faces on our currency.

How might we look at this more equitably? How can we work together to put a woman’s face on the twenty dollar bill? Who should it be? I know Alice Paul is getting a lot of traction, as is the amazing Shirley Chisholm. I must confess, I am rather partial to seeing Rosa Parks on the twenty dollar bill, although I do love Eleanor Roosevelt.

 

A Call To Action: Click here to cast your vote! A Women’s Place is on the money!

Dr. Monica Wehby, the Hollow Candidate

22 Aug

Monica WehbyThe 2014 mid-term elections have conservatives salivating, and the Tea Party holds out hope they can gets folks to drink their rancid brew. With many Congressional Democrats retiring and a handful of red-state Democrats seen as highly vulnerable, the GOP is working hard to retake the Senate. If they succeed, President Obama’s final two years in office will make his first six look like a productive picnic. Despite the friendly playing field, conservative operatives are trying not to take anything for granted, noting the many deeply flawed candidates that have cost them probable seats in the past two cycles. (Remember these charm free folks: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle?) To hedge their bets, they’re looking at less likely pickups and dumping huge amounts of money on some long-shots. The amount of money being poured into GOP hopeful Monica Wehby’s campaign is disturbing. I suspect there are many countries that run on budgets that are much less than what the Koch brothers are pouring into campaigns such as Wehby’s.

The support for Wehby is perplexing. She’s running against Senator Jeff Merkley, the first man to receive the Marilyn Epstein Pro-Choice Champion Award from the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, who is finishing his first term. He’s popular, effective, and honest, but as a Freshman may be vulnerable. Despite the conventional wisdom, Oregon is NOT a blue state, but rather a very purple state with a slight Democratic edge in statewide races. The Koch Brothers and their ilk (The top 1%) have decided that this makes Oregon a potential pickup, so they found themselves a candidate.

Sadly, they did a worse job of vetting their pick than Sen. John McCain (R – Angrytown) did when he chose half-term half-wit Sarah Palin as a running mate. Dr. Monica Wehby is a surgeon and a political newcomer. In a “throw the bums out” year with Congressional approval ratings at an all-time low, this telegenic candidate seems promising. Until she tries to pick a position on, well, anything. Sadly, a number of advertisements against Senator Merkley  are already in full swing.

Before winning the GOP primary, Wehby made headlines for her history of stalking ex-boyfriends. She spun that as proof that she’s a determined person who would work hard to get what she wants in the Senate. The two different and independent stalking cases are pretty serious and my first thought was: “Oy! I only hope she does not have a gun on her.”  She also gained some notoriety for fleeing press conferences and debates once she’d used up her carefully crafted talking points. When pressed about LGBT rights in a TV interview, she kept talking about marriage equality, even though the question was about anti-discrimination laws. She says she’s pro-life but would support a woman’s right to choose while celebrating laws like “partial birth” abortion bans. She says she supports equal pay for women while saying that laws that actually enforce equal pay are bad because they would make employers hire more men to avoid lawsuits. Really. Stammering, stunned, and wide-eyed, she clearly isn’t comfortable taking a position that hasn’t been fed to her by the Kochs and their cronies. Again, I am reminded of Charles Durning’s performance of Dance A Little Sidestep from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Suddenly that Koch money is showing up on the airwaves. Wehby’s new ads are everywhere, trying to make her sound like a smart fiscal conservative. She attacks Sen. Merkley for voting to raise the debt ceiling and for opposing a balanced budget amendment. With a homey but deeply flawed analogy between the Federal budget and household money management, she manages to avoid any real fiscal facts. Raising the debt ceiling was critical to avoiding another, worse financial meltdown if the US were seen to ignore its obligations. The debt that Sen. Merkley wisely voted to keep paying is mostly the result of the fiscal ineptitude of George W. Bush and two pointless, costly wars. The balanced budget amendment is a nightmarish concoction that would hamstring the government. Economists both liberal and conservative decry it as a disaster that should be avoided at all costs. As an experienced legislator, Sen. Merkley knows this. I continue to be shocked and mortified that such falsehoods are allowed to be aired!  I know that in Georgia the Koch money is spreading lies and attacking Democrat hopeful Michelle Nunn. Koch money is fueling elections across the entire country.

It’s clear that Dr. Wehby is intended to be the anti-Merkley. That’s certainly true. Sen Merkley is an experienced, talented legislator with a deep understanding of the issues and a true passion for the needs of Oregon’s citizens. Monica Wehby is a shallow political puppet pursuing a Senate seat just because. Oregon’s choice this November is clear.

Update: Wow! I’m rather appalled and nonplussed to see Ben West doing a commercial supporting Wehby. Mr. West, I’m curious as to how you would support Wehby when she was NOT pro-marriage equality until after it was a fait accompli?  I’m also curious that she was not at Gay Pride nor has she attended a Basic Rights Oregon function?  In the commercial you assert that she is for all families, but it seems rather obvious that she is only for white wealthy families, and now you her token gay friend.

Distribution of Wealth in the United States: A Scary Picture of Money

1 Apr

bag_of_moneyI have been rather astonished and disappointed with all of the hullabaloo being made over the record highs achieved with the Dow, as though it were an accurate instrument measuring the financial success and stability of ALL Americans. This continued subscription to “trickle down economics” is part of the dark legacy of Ronald Reagan.  This distorted view of economics does hold true…if you are standing in front of a Fun House mirror.  Regardless of my own philosophy and my own political convictions, the unbiased truth is that the recent record highs of the Dow only demonstrate the exponentially increasing wealth of the top 10% of Americans.

I admit to having my own very conflicted feelings around money and about capitalism, so I will try to contain all of this article to just facts regarding wealth in the United States.  I have to thank my friend Steve Joiner for inspiring me to write this.

First, let us divide the country into five sections of wealth: The Bottom 20%, The Second 20%, The Middle 20%, The Fourth 20%, and finally the top 20%.  92% of all Americans believe the distribution of wealth needs to be more equitable and distributed more fairly.  Sadly, this same 92% of Americans’ perception of the actual distribution of wealth is far removed from the reality.  The reality is that the bottom 40% of Americans have an infinitesimal portion of the distribution of wealth, while the top 1 % have more than the entire wealth that 9 out of 10 Americans believe the top 20% should have.

I will try to make this a bit more simple and understandable.  Let us say the entire country has 100 people total.  Of that 100 people, 60% of those people are either destitute, or struggling to make ends meet. Another 20% are doing well financially.  The final 20% can be split up as follows: 18% are doing exceedingly well and controlling a great amount of wealth, but then the top 1% control so much wealth that it cannot be pictured on a simple bar graph of wealth due to its disproportionate size.  For greater detail and so you can see the actual graphs, click here.

What can be done?  We know that 92% of Americans want this inequality to change, so where do we begin?  Here I have to thank my friend Bruce Kestelman for inspiring me to address Paul Ryan’s budget redux.  Here is where the disparities in wealth have to become political and I have to call out bad behavior.  Paul Ryan continues to offer a budget for the United States that only  benefits the top 2% of Americans.  Yes, he continues to beat the tired old drum of ending Medicare and gutting Medicaid and of course, lowering taxes on the very wealthy.  Am I the only one nonplussed here?  While claiming to be in alignment with “Catholic Values,” see what Catholics say in response to Ryan.  How on earth does Ryan’s budget honor the social contract or social justice in any way?  We can change the inequitable distribution of wealth with our votes.  We can take power away from Paul Ryan and John Boehner by not voting for them!

I realize today is April Fool’s Day, but I regret to say this is not an April Fools joke.  Well, sadly the joke is at the expense of the American people.

Hooray for the Boy Scouts? Not so fast…

30 Jan
Too good to be true?

Too good to be true?

Less than six months after the Boy Scouts of America aggressively reiterated their anti-gay membership policy, the organization seems to have had a change of heart, or heart facsimile. In a media statement quietly linked from the homepage of their website, the Scouts present a brief statement about their membership policy. On the surface, it seems like a strong step forward.

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation.

That vague promise — pending a closed-door conversation like the one that reaffirmed the gay ban in July — has the media all a-tremble. Even major LGBT advocacy organizations are treating this statement like a major change in policy.

Sadly, I am skeptical. Beyond the less than emphatic phrase  “discussing potentially,” the whole thing feels like a desperate media grab rather than a sincere change of heart. Let’s look at another important part of the statement.

This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

“The best needs of their families?” Can you smell the hypocrisy? For decades the Scouts have bullied any local chapter that tried to be fully inclusive into toeing the national line. Suddenly, a patchwork of gay-might-be-okay troops that makes Don’t Ask Don’t Tell look like sound policy is perfectly acceptable. Rather than take a clear, inclusive stand, the so-called leaders of the Boy Scouts of America are lapsing into a laissez-faire confusion, or worse yet a “separate but equal policy”. It’s pretty clear that the motivation is greed.

Even before last July’s shocking affirmation of bigotry, the Scouts were bleeding money and support. Many companies were refusing to fund a blatantly bigoted group, and many local governments were voiding contracts with the Scouts as violations of non-discrimination policies. Feeling the financial pinch, the BSA is looking at their policy afresh. Rather than say that discrimination is wrong, however, they are afraid of the many conservative — often church-affiliated — groups that run local chapters. Fearing a reverse backlash, they hope to have their gays and hate them too.

Don’t get me wrong, progress is welcome. But after so many years of telling gay boys and leaders that they are unwelcome and unfit, trying to strike a muddled balance just won’t cut it. Forcing parents, scouts, local supporters, and sponsors to navigate a gay-might-be-okay morass doesn’t fit well with scout law.

A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.

None of those adjectives reconcile with this clearly self-serving discussion of potentially reversing some policies. As long as there are other options available, parents who truly want their children to learn, share, and grow should continue to steer clear of the Boy Scouts of America.

Fiscal Cliff Notes: The Truth About Taxes

5 Dec
Warren Buffett: A Sensible BIllionaire

Warren Buffett: A Sensible BIllionaire

Almost as soon as the 2012 Presidential election was called for Barack Obama, the media and collective punditry turned their attention to another issue, the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.” (Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Picture Harry Reid and John Boehner driving a convertible armored car, Thelma and Louise style….) It’s important to dial back the drama and look at what’s really going on with the Federal budget. The current situation is called a cliff because of the steep reductions in the deficit that will be triggered if no other action is taken before December 31. Am I the only experiencing déjà vu here caused by obstructionist Republicans? Many automatic spending cuts will begin; various safety net and stimulus funds will diminish or end (such as unemployment benefits); tax rates for all Americans will go up.

Taxation is the issue which will matter the soonest and has become the sticking point in the current debate. The other issues ease in over the year with plenty of time for Congress to (re)consider them. Tax rates will go up on January paychecks.

President Obama campaigned — and WON — on a promise to keep taxes low for poor and middle class Americans and to restore slightly higher rates for the wealthiest 2% (albeit we still do not address those living in poverty the way we should, but I shall save that for another soap box opportunity). Under his plan, nearly $1 TRILLION in additional revenue would be realized by increasing the top rate by about 4% and the dividends rate by 5%. This will happen automatically when the Bush tax cuts end at the close of the year. Unfortunately, so will tax cuts for the other 98%, resulting in a relatively more painful income reduction for most families.

Sadly, because of the way the tax code is structured, the overall impact of the change is much worse the less you make. The New York Times has some wonderfully detailed charts that explain how this happens. It boils down to three things:

  • In general, higher earners rely less on wages and more on investments which are taxed at a lower level, so raising income taxes hits lower earners harder.
  • Payroll taxes are capped at about $100,000 of income, so earning more than that does not result in higher levels of these taxes, making the overall rate lower.
  • Corporate taxes, which are disproportionately borne by higher bracket payers (and then passed along to their customers…) are also historically low and are not even on the bargaining table.tax-rates

Teapublicans and Weeper In Chief Boehner whine that taxes are too high as it is and that raising them will hurt small businesses and job creation. The facts — and a little history — call them liars. Independent analysts note that less than 8% of small businesses would pay the higher tax rates. Even more significantly, a majority of small business owners in a recent poll expressed little concern over the tax rates. They are much more worried about changes in Medicare, which is a central element in the Republican plan.

The Times site mentioned above shows that taxes are lower than they’ve been in 30 years. In fact, as this handy chart demonstrates, Republican president Eisenhower left office with tax rates significantly higher and a booming economy. Tax reform is important, but it should heed the advice of Warren Buffett: a millionaire should pay a higher rate than should his or her (mostly his, by the way) employees.

Boehner can complain all he likes, but if he does nothing, everyone’s taxes will go up. The Senate passed a fair bill months ago that is languishing in the House. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, demonstrating true leadership again, is working on an administrative process to force it to a vote so that 98% of American’s can get the fairness they deserve. President Obama has made it clear that he’ll support the bill. Will the lame duck House allow petulance to trump action? It remains to be seen. One thing they should note: the majority of Americans will hold the GOP accountable if we start heading over the cliff.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 24, Suze Orman

24 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a woman who is using her personal success to advocate for civil rights for all. Susan “Suze” Orman was born in Chicago in 1951. She received a B.A. in social work  from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After college she moved to San Francisco, where she initially worked as a waitress as she had as an undergraduate. She raised $50,000 from friends and supporters to open her own restaurant, which she invested with Merrill Lynch.

Her broker at Lynch lost the investment. Frustrated and wanting to pay back the money, Orman was convinced she could do a better job and convinced the firm to hire her. Once she learned the ropes, she sued the firm for the lost investment and won. She also kept her job, impressing her supervisor with her business acumen and strength of character. After a time she moved on to Prudential, and eventually founded her own financial group which she ran until 1997.

Also in the mid-90s Orman began writing books to help others manage their finances. Remembering everything she had to learn and applying her early training in social work, she focused on helping people who would not otherwise get good financial advice. Although she has also written books on managing wealth on a much larger (and rarer) scale, she has always put energy into providing advice for everyone. Much of her work has focused on financial advice specifically for women, acknowledging the unequal playing field. She has been a frequent commentator on news and talk shows and in 2002 began her own show on CNBC.

She has written nine consecutive New York Times Best Sellers and has written, co-produced and hosted seven PBS specials based on her books, winning two Emmy awards. Orman has also won more Gracie Awards (for women in media) than anyone else. She  was named to the Times Magazine list of 100 most influential people in 2008 and 2009, the 2010 Forbes Magazine 100 most powerful women in the world, and 18th on the Forbes list of The Most Influential Women In Media.

Orman came out as lesbian in 2007 and has won GLAAD media awards for her work for the LGBT community since. She married her long-time partner, Kathy Travis, in 2010. On her show yesterday, Orman focused on gross financial inequities faced by LGBT couples (such as the horrific tax morass created by DOMA and conflicting state laws). Starting powerfully from her own experience, she set out the very practical case for marriage equality.

Here I sit in front of you. A 61-year-old woman who has been gay my entire life. Who has been in a committed relationship for the past 12 years. And I will die in this relationship … YET, I am not treated equally.

She lays out the four primary issues — taxes, pensions, social security, and health insurance — and makes a clear, impassioned case for breaking down the bigotry that rules federal marriage law. Consequently, any United States Presidential candidate that believes in discriminating against the LGBT population looks like a bigot and just ridiculous. What a great gift for pride month.

%d bloggers like this: