Tag Archives: Social Contract

MLK Day 2014: Public Service

20 Jan

Day of ServiceIt’s not just another holiday. In 1994, President Clinton signed legislation – put forward by Sen. Harris Wofford (D – PA) and Rep. John Lewis (D – GA) – which transformed the decade-old holiday. The goal was to challenge Americans to use the day for citizen action and volunteer service. As noted on the official site for the day, “It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.” What a lovely lens of social justice. Sadly, our most pressing national problems remain: racism, homophobia, misogyny, poverty, and increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

The legacy of Dr. King is multi-faceted. While he is known as a civil rights leader, he also maintained that these rights required the active engagement of all citizens. Civic engagement is a key component of being part of a democratic society.  There is great value in communities being interdependent.

In the era of standardized testing and teaching to those  tests rather than skills (a legacy from the George W years), civics has been sadly omitted as a part of regular curriculum. For the record, civics is “the study of the rights and duties of citizenship.” (Oxford Compact Dictionary) Social Studies is often only the residue of the rote names and dates approach to learning, leaving out the active role granted to and required of good citizens a la The Social Contract.

The Center for Civic Education is working hard to change this circumstance. The Campaign to Promote Civic Education effort is a fifty-state campaign (including the District of Columbia) aimed at restoring the civic mission of our nation’s schools by encouraging states and school districts to devote sustained and systematic attention to civic education from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

In Oregon, civics was dropped as a part of core curriculum in 1997. Recently, a concerned Legislature created the Civics and Financial Education Task Force to address the gaps in civic education. The final report of the task force articulates significant frustration with the current climate in education but does propose a small return to civics education beginning this school year.

As you enjoy the holiday, please give some thought to what you do to give back to your community. If you are not able to volunteer today, look for an opportunity in your area and commit some time. If there are young people in your life, take the time to make sure they are learning about their role in an active, meaningful democracy. And, just for fun, revisit some civic learning that might just make you smile, because being a part of a free society should also bring us joy. We must all stand in solidarity if we are to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and poverty.

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Stephen King Moves from Death to Taxes

3 May

Writing horror for Ryan and Romney…

I have to confess, I’m not the world’s biggest Stephen King fan. I appreciate his contribution to popular literature and know many people who really enjoy his writing but I’ve always been in the take-him-or-leave-him camp. This week, however, he wrote something that really caught my attention: an essay with the straightforward title “Tax Me For F@%&’s Sake.”

Joining the somewhat eclectic ranks of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg, and Edie Falco, King calls for fairness in the tax code. In his blunt, irreverent style, he makes it clear that Americans paying their fair share to support the nation where they made their millions (or billions) is a patriotic duty. To those on the right who say they’re tired of the very wealthy making this case, he replies

Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them?

King focuses on three main ideas as he makes his compelling argument, including a nod to the social contract as he skewers anti-fairness advocate and serial liar Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged.

The idea that “rich folks want to keep their damn money” is another key observation. King readily acknowledges the generous charitable contributions made by the über-wealthy ranging from Steven Spielberg to the Koch brothers. As he sagely observes, however, those contributions are made both at the rate that the donor chooses and to the causes that the donor prefers.

Why don’t we get real about this? Most rich folks paying 28 percent taxes do not give out another 28 percent of their income to charity. Most rich folks like to keep their dough. They don’t strip their bank accounts and investment portfolios…And what they do give away is—like the monies my wife and I donate—totally at their own discretion. That’s the rich-guy philosophy in a nutshell: don’t tell us how to use our money; we’ll tell you. The Koch brothers are right-wing creepazoids, but they’re giving right-wing creepazoids. Here’s an example: 68 million fine American dollars to Deerfield Academy. Which is great for Deerfield Academy. But it won’t do squat for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Which brings us to the central point of King’s essay. There are things that individuals should do and there are things that governments should do (arguably that government must do). Relying on the largesse of even the most well-meaning millionaires to run a nation is absurd on its face, not to mention bad government. The fact that it is leaders in the Republican party who respond to the Buffett Rule with “Want to give more? Write a check!” demonstrates their venal obsession with making the rich richer and abrogating their obligations as elected officials. Even assuming that just writing a check would magically allow the government to use those funds, such a glib response is antithetical to the very fabric of our nation. As King eloquently observes,

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

Bravo, Mr. King! The full essay at The Daily Beast is required reading. King uses his own experiences as a small businessman, donor, and millionaire to fully dissect the issues of responsibility and participatory government. Now if we could just scare the GOP into listening.

Happy Administrative Professionals’ Week: What’s your tax bracket?

25 Apr

This is Administrative Professionals’ Week. Founded in 1952 as Secretaries’ Day by Mary Barrett, president of the National Secretaries Association (NSA) and C. King Woodbridge, president of Dictaphone, it was initially celebrated in June. Over the past 60 years it has undergone a number of changes in name and timing, but the principle is the same: Honor the workers without whose efforts the bosses and employers work would be impossible.

The celebration, now sponsored by the International Association of Administrative Professionals which grew out of the NSA, is particularly timely as the nation focuses on tax fairness. As billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett has observed, thanks to our bizarre tax codes those making the most money typically pay the lowest tax rates. His example (echoed recently by President Obama), was that his secretary paid a higher rate than he did, something Buffett, Obama and a significant number of wealthy Americans find unacceptable.

The inequity is compounded by the fact that women and minorities typically make lower relative wages, even for the same work. Paying a higher tax on that lower wage creates a greater income inequity and results in a vicious cycle of oppression. Of course Republicans in Congress, supported by Presidential Candidate and serial hypocrite Mitt Romney, see nothing wrong with this. Want to see what it looks like for you? Slate has created this handy calculator to show how long it would take Romney to earn your annual income; try it, then use this tool to compare your relative tax rate. If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.

Buffett Rule or Reagan Rule: U.S. Senate refuses to even vote on tax fairness…

17 Apr

You mean I got one right?

Today is the day that most Americans are required to file their taxes. (Not Mitt Romney, of course, who has filed for an extension…) Thanks to President Obama and a strong push from fair-minded progressives, this requirement has sparked a lot of conversation about tax fairness and tax rates. Billionaire Warren Buffett also helped lead the charge, making a recommendation which has come to bear his name: The Buffett Rule. This would require that anyone making more that $1Million in a year would be required to pay a minimum tax rate of 30%. This proposal is wildly popular, polling at over 70% approval, including support from many of the people who would be required to pay the higher rate. Senate leader Harry Reid brought forward the Buffett Rule for a vote yesterday. It was denied cloture along mostly party lines missing the 60 votes required to move to a vote on the matter itself.

Why is the Buffett rule necessary? Sadly, the complex tax laws make it easier for people with large incomes to shelter money, engage in deductions, and take advantage of loopholes. A typical one- or two-income family making $60,000 or less per year simply doesn’t have the fiscal diversity to make the most aggressive use of the tax code. As President Obama noted this weekend, his secretary, whose income is less that 12% of the Obamas’ income for 2011, pays a higher tax rate because of the way the code works. This is wrong.

Why else is it necessary? It is, as the wonderful Elizabeth Warren reminds up, part of the social contract. Making vast sums of money requires the support (willing, intentional, or otherwise) of the whole of society. Paying that back is a reasonable request. It is also true that income inequity forces a larger tax burden on households headed by women and people of color. Of course the loudest voices in the Republican party disagree. The Ryan budget does nothing to address this inequity. Candidate Romney, who refuses to share more than one year’s worth of his tax papers with the country he wants to lead, is also a vocal opponent. Anti-tax goblin Grover Norquist, of whom many Republican legislators live in fear, is adamant in his opposition.

Ironically, as the President has pointed out, this isn’t a new plan:

I’m not the first President to call for this idea that everybody has got to do their fair share. Some years ago, one of my predecessors traveled across the country pushing for the same concept… So this President gave another speech where he said it was “crazy” — that’s a quote — that certain tax loopholes make it possible for multimillionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary. That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan.

But of course 21st Century Republicans in Congress can’t be bothered with inconvenient things like history, or facts…

Number 1 Hero of the Year Award 2011: Elizabeth Warren

31 Dec

Number 1 Hero of 2011

What a pleasure to present 2011’s Number 1 Hero of the Year. One of the rare people who has won multiple Hero of the Week Awards, Elizabeth Warren has been a model of the principles of TSM. Stymied by obstructionist Republicans (who clearly feared she would actually do her job) when she was nominated by President Obama as head of the new Consumer Protection Bureau, she has breezed past this setback. As an outspoken advocate for the 99%, she consistently demonstrates her understanding of good governance and meaningful social policy.

In September, she spoke out eloquently about the social contract:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody…Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

More recently, she demonstrated her clear understanding of the intersections of oppression, specifically as they relate to marriage equality:

 No one – no one – should be discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or religion…As other states grapple with whether to support marriage equality, I’m ready to move to the next step: End the two-tiered system created by the Defense of Marriage Act.

A rare public figure of principles who is determined and articulate, Elizabeth Warren sets a standard that every liberal in America should strive toward. It will be a delight to see her crush Scott Brown (a BWA winner!) in the Massachusetts Senate race next year. Who knows where she may go from there?  My sincere hope is that the United States will be fortunate enough to see Warren as POTUS.

Flashback to 2010: Our Hero of the Year was another strong woman, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Sonny and Cher and Ronald Reagan: Now Tie These Together…

23 Oct

Late last night my husband and I watched an old Sonny and Cher show — a great piece of nostalgia.  We got to see a very young and cherubic Steve Martin and a baby-faced Teri Garr.  What started as a lark turned out to be a very interesting conversation and reflection of just how far backwards we have gone as a country.

In the early 1970’s, America was on a progressive trajectory.  We witnessed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the second wave of the Women’s Rights Movement, and Roe v. Wade.  We witnessed desegregation finally being implemented in the South. We also saw a nation angry and protesting the war in Vietnam and it was safe to be anti-war / pro-peace and still be considered patriotic.  All of these values are reflected in a witty and fun-loving way on the Sonny and Cher Show.

The particular episode we saw included a skit that both mocked and celebrated CBS’s All in the Family.  The skit was exceedingly well crafted and addressed racism, misogyny, homophobia (Steve Martin plays the gay character), and hypocrisy.  It was this particular skit that gave both my husband and me pause to reflect, “what the hell happened to this progressive trajectory our country was on at that time?”

We had no further to look than 1980 and what I will call the American Reign of Terror for 12 years: the Reagan/Bush Years.  While the GOP have canonized St. Ronnie (and today he would be considered a socialist by Republican standards), Reagan set into motion the undoing of the United States.  Reagan gave voice to religion in a qualitatively different way that set a course for the co-opting of religion to its current incarnation of a cult of unadulterated hate; by no means am I lumping together all religions, but certainly the loud and powerful christians.

Reagan can also take credit for expanding government and for his signature “Trickle Down Economics.”  We have now had over 30 years empirical data to prove how ineffective and damaging Trickle Down Economics is, unless you are part of the top 1% of Americans. Is it any surprise that we have the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, with Republicans categorically refusing to create jobs and raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans?  Talk about obstructionist!

While watching one of my favorite skits, The Vamp, I experienced both being tickled by Cher as Nefertiti and saddened as I thought about where we are today as a nation. When I think about the Tea Party (the party of hate and blatant racism, homophobia and misogyny) and I think about the current crap (oops, I mean crop) of GOP presidential candidates, I’m horrifically shocked at the downhill slope our country has taken.

I hope the OWS movement will pave the way for thinking Americans to take back our country from being held hostage by white heterosexual christian terrorists. I hope Americans will learn from people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who refers to Rousseau’s Social Contract. I hope we, as a nation, can stop the greed and talk again about peace and civil rights for all.

And the beat goes on…

Hero of the Week Award: September 23, Elizabeth Warren

23 Sep

Hero of the Week

This week Elizabeth Warren really stood out amongst her peers and showed true leadership, when addressing a crowd and talking about the deficit and fair taxation.  Her video/speech earns her this week’s HWA.  If she does not win the Senate seat in Massachusetts, I fear this is a bad harbinger for the country.

Here is a part of Warren’s speech regarding taxation and class warfare:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No!
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.
You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.
You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.
You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.
You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.
But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

I love this speech and I love that she refers to the Social Contract. Here is my enormous fear: I worry there are too few Americans who know what the Social Contract is and have never heard of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  I so wish Americans knew history; it sure would save a lot of time, anguish, and lives if we did.  Click here to see  the video of our Warren, provided by “Voice of the Trailer.”

I also have to give an honorable mention to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).  Ros-Lehtinen is the first Republican to have the social courage and integrity to break from her party and sponsor legislation repealing DOMA.  Our Ros-Lehtinen is a wonderful straight ally.

Honorable LGBT Ally

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