Tag Archives: Wealth

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.

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Feeling Grateful in Time of Great Despair: Happy New Year

1 Jan
2017:Organize

2017:Organize

2016 has been an exceedingly painful, turbulent, and awful year. Since turning 50 three weeks ago, I have been deeply troubled by the current course of the United States under what can only be called a Fascist regime, under Trump and his merry band of racists, misogynists, and homophobic collectibles, who seem to want to dismantle all of the agencies that serve people in the United States. Their collective efforts will ensure that the top 20% of Americans not only keep their wealth but will build on it exponentially — a wet dream for Paul Ryan. Sadly,  author Thomas Pynchon  captures the philosophy of the 21st century GOP:

Back when I was getting into the business, all ‘being Republican’ meant really was sort of principled greed. You arranged things so that you and your friends would come out nicely, you behaved professionally, above all you put in the work and took the money only after you’d earned it. Well, the party, I fear, has fallen on evil days. This generation — it’s almost a religious thing now. The millennium, the end days, no need to be responsible anymore to the future. A burden has been lifted from them. The Baby Jesus is managing the portfolio of earthy affairs, and nobody begrudges Him the carried interest…

There is no sense of paying it forward — no sense of leaving the earth a better place for future generations. No, the rules have changed and now it is about getting all you can and getting more than you need, regardless if others have to go without, and future generations have to suffer for it.

As I have turned 50, I am witnessing our country turn backwards and turn its back on all targeted individuals and communities. For those predicting an economic windfall under TrumpPutin, I worry you are a bit delusional. I am most regrettably predicting a recession that will be just as traumatic as the one George W paved the way for during his administration.

While it has been most challenging not to give into a misanthropic abyss, or The Princess Bride’s “Pit of Despair,”  I have also had to do some serious reflection as we are about to usher in 2017. While I am terrified of what the next four years have in store, I have to also be exceedingly grateful for the life I have.

Here is what I have that makes me share tears of joy: A life partner whom I love and adore and who loves me as we get to travel this journey of life together; such amazing family and friends who make my heart swell with love — friends who constantly make me work to be a better person. These two things alone give me hope and make me so extraordinarily grateful! I know I am strong enough to persevere and resist a fascist regime.

I know how to engage in community organizing, how to stand in solidarity for human rights and social justice. I know how to keep vigilant and NOT normalize our current condition. I also know I do not do this work alone, for I do this work with my brilliant family and friends! To all of you: I say thank you! Happy New Year. I wish you all peace and that you each are surrounded by love.

Earth Day 2016: United By the Soil Beneath Our Feet

22 Apr

globalsoilweekToday is Earth Day, celebrated by nearly 200 nations and an important chance to look at the world we share and celebrate better ways to live in healthy cooperation. This isn’t just a day about recycling or public transportation — although every effort to improve our world helps. It’s a time to reflect on the fact that the billions of people who live on this planet fundamentally walk the same ground, breathe the same air, drink the same water. We are all connected.

I would like to thank Melody Travers of the Global Soil Forum for bringing a powerful program to my attention. Global Soil Week, timed to coincide with Earth Day and Earth Week activities around the world. This program, sponsored by IASS Potsdam and an impressive array of international organizations, speaks to my heart. Their work is about ensuring healthy soil, a key component of healthy living that is often overlooked. As Ms. Travers observes:

Our soils which are our communal life-support system, a common good for humanity, are under immense pressure to produce an increasing amount of food, energy, and raw materials. Soil degradation continues unabated in many countries, resulting in devastating losses of biodiversity and threatening the provision of ecosystem services such as soil fertility for food production, groundwater recharge or carbon sequestration. Thus we need to protect the living soil from rapid and continuous large scale degradation going on all over the world.

This year, Global Soil Week is promoting its efforts through the international  release of the song Golden Grounds. Please visit the website and listen to this anthem of interconnectedness. Spend some time looking at the amazing information collected by this important program. I am thrilled to see the celebration of inclusive development, the focus on poverty and hunger, the acknowledgment of maldistribution of resources, including the very land on which we live.

We are all connected on this weary world. Let’s work together to nurture it and each other on our respective journeys.

Labor Day 2015: Much Despised by the GOP

7 Sep

Labor Day 2015Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887.  Finally in 1894, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September under the Cleveland Administration.  Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how all of the GOP presidential candidates show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.

Reflecting back, the United States can proudly celebrate the influence of its labor unions and how they have helped to protect the too often marginalized and voiceless.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire proved there was still a great deal of work to be accomplished by the labor movement.  Labor Unions also worked to protect children and helped to establish an eight hour work day, fair wage laws, and breaks for safety and meals — that whole notion of having a weekend.

Sadly, America seems to be losing its appreciation of Labor Unions while privileging profit over people.  President Clinton left a nasty legacy called NAFTA and perpetuated a culture of vilifying those in poverty.

Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small movement forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from all of the GOP candidates has been nothing less than hostile, as they all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy.

We hear Republicans bleat about jobs and the economy but do nothing, while at the state level we see a nefarious and dangerous Scott Walker are dismantling unions and isolating workers from the political process.  We have seen Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Jindal bash and target teachers and unions, rather than looking at how do we redistribute wealth in an equitable way that helps to lift people out of poverty. Please take a look at this short video on the distribution of wealth; this is what we should desperately focus on and how every GOP candidate is on the wrong side of history here.

Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra hot dog before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg, thanks to my husband for the choice of Bragg):

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child

There is power in a Union.

Happy Labor Day to all of our brothers and sisters that have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line.

The Supreme Court and Chrisley Knows Best: The Death of Social Justice?

4 Apr
Heads They Win/Tales We Loose

Heads They Win/Tales We Loose

While at first glance,The United States Supreme Court and the reality television show Chrisley Knows Best may seem like two very disparate platforms, they are sadly very similar when it comes to eroding social justice.

To my great sadness, Chief Justice Roberts and his inhumane colleagues voted to remove financial caps on donors to federal candidates.  Re-enforcing Citizens United, the Supreme Court has made it abundantly and painfully clear that money trumps democracy. The exceedingly misguided Chiefly On the Wrong Side of History Roberts tried to defend the 5/4 decision with a bastardization of the 1st amendment:

There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.

That would hold some truth if we had a categorically different distribution of wealth in the United States.  Fortunately, Justice Breyer offered an unprecedented dissent from the bench that perfectly captures the many inequities this decision puts in motion:

…the majority opinion is a disturbing development that raised the overall contribution ceiling to the number infinity. If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate.

Well done, Justice Breyer.  I’m at least grateful that four of the nine justices understands the power of money and how it ties into buying elections, continuing to disenfranchise already targeted populations, and fostering an increased cynicism in our election process.

So how does this have anything to do with the rather awful television show, Chrisley Knows Best?  Sadly, this show is about how money trumps all!  If you have enough money you can now buy yourself a television show and create more wealth while obtaining a bizarre and shallow status of “celebrity.”  This vapid tv show is nothing more than an obnoxious display of conspicuous consumption, misogyny, and a reckless celebration of bad behavior.  Are we really supposed to feel bad for a white 17 year old boy because his father put a boot clamp on his $100,000 Range Rover.  Really? What does this say about us as a culture?  While I am the first to admit that I enjoy what I call popcorn television, is there no limit to how awful the impact might be of pop culture?

What happened to a purported government that worked towards equity and removing barriers from voting? We don’t even seem to offer the pretense of equity and equality.  Now we just have huge For Sale signs tagged to elections.

What happened to television shows that were amusing and didactic both? Shows like Maude, The Jeffersons, and The Mary Tyler  Moore Show seem to have been replaced by the uber wealthy that can buy their own “Reality” tv show.  What isn’t for sale now?

Call to action: Here I invite all of you to recommend ways in which we can both collectively and individually works towards social justice — work towards making the world a better place for all.

Bigot of the Week Award, January 31: Thomas Perkins and the Wall Street Journal

31 Jan
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

Sadly, there was yet again a plethora of bigots to choose from this week, but none  so clearly sank to such a nasty level as this BWA, making this week’s winner  an easy choice. Venture capitalist Thomas Perkins wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal complaining about the way the rich are treated in the United States. Yes, you read that correctly, this rich, straight, white guy is feeling mistreated because a few progressive voices are complaining about the lopsided distribution of wealth and inequitable treatment of people based on their net worth.

The myopia and hypocrisy would be tragically laughable, but Perkins managed to work in a bizarre Nazi reference and some aggressive anti-Semitism.

Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.” … Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?

Did anyone else throw up while reading that? What is this man smoking? American progressives are the “descendants” of the Nazis? Jews in 1930s Germany were the equivalent of Perkins, Romney, Koch, and the other malevolent 1%ers in America? Perkins has no shame, no sense of history, and a stunning lack of awareness of his own power and privilege.

Perkins’ writings were horrific enough. Sadly, the Journal saw fit to print them. Going one step further, after an unprecendented wave of protest hit the paper, the editors published a feature entitled “Perkinsnacht.”  They called his letter “unfortunate, albeit provocative” — begging the question of why they published it — and then stepped up the hypocrisy with this gem:

the vituperation is making our friend’s point about liberal intolerance — maybe better than he did.

So, people calling a nasty bigot a nasty bigot is intolerant? Blasting anti-Semitic, hyper-privileged nonsense as nonsense is intolerant? I don’t think that word means what the editors think it means. This is such a grotesque situation that it leaves me in despair.  Are we to really supposed to pity people who carry enormous amounts of power, wealth, and privilege? I worry that not only does Perkins have no moral compass, but that the Wall Street Journal also lacks any sense of proportion or irony.

Dishonorable mention goes to long-time conservative hack Michelle Malkin, who opted to use her column inches this week to defend Perkins. Wringing her hands about the “grievance industry” of “wealth-shaming,” she accused Perkins’ detractors of participating in a “bullying epidemic.” Just a note, Ms. Malkin — the last refuge of a bully is accusing others of bullying…

The 50 Year War on Poverty: Where Are We Today?

16 Jan

LBJContinuing with my desire for an increased awareness around issues of poverty and class — which automatically addresses issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the many other intersections of identities — I thought it might be helpful to do some reflection since President Johnson initiated his War on Poverty 50 years ago.

As we reflect on issues of poverty and class (and all of the implications therein), it might be helpful to keep in mind that today over half of the members of the United States Congress are millionaires. Yes, leading the pack is our Republican Darrell (I Hate the Poor) Issa, with a net worth of approximately $464 million dollars. Of course, Republican Obstructionist Mitch McConnell also made the list of millionaires.  When those crafting policy are so far removed from the practical concerns of everyday people, it’s no wonder that they make so little effort to improve the lives of those people.

For years, polls have shown that the top priority for Americans is job creation. Congress has done virtually nothing. Instead, congressional Republicans have wasted money fighting the Affordable Care Act, a law that ensures that the poorest still have access to necessary health services. Trying to score Tea Points, they shut down the government, again disproportionately harming the poorest, both government employees and service users.

In a nation where the highest court has decided that corporations are people, it comes as no surprise that those conglomerate entities wield their power to collect more wealth. The result is an increasingly skewed distribution not just of wealth but of security. People who are scrambling for a basic living have precious little time to fight for their rights. That makes the recent fast food and Wal-Mart strikes even more impressive.

War on Poverty? It seems like poverty is winning, abetted by the authorities who should be bearing arms against it. How sad this makes me for the late President Johnson, who tried so hard to address issues of poverty by creating social programs that would help lift people out of poverty without judgement and shame.

Here we are now 50 years post Johnson’s initiatives according to the Pew Research Center:

Today, most poor Americans are in their prime working years In 2012, 57% of poor Americans were ages 18 to 64, versus 41.7% in 1959.

Far fewer elderly are poor: In 1966, 28.5% of Americans ages 65 and over were poor; by 2012 just 9.1% were. There were 1.2 million fewer elderly poor in 2012 than in 1966, despite the doubling of the total elderly population.

But childhood poverty persists: Poverty among children younger than 18 began dropping even before the War on Poverty. From 27.3% in 1959, childhood poverty fell to 23% in 1964 and to 14% by 1969. Since then, however, the childhood poverty rate has risen, fallen and, since the 2007-08 financial crisis, risen again.

Poverty is more evenly distributed, though still heaviest in the South: In 1969, 45.9% of poor Americans lived in the South, a region that accounted for 31% of the U.S. population at the time. At 17.9%, the South’s poverty rate was far above other regions. In 2012, the South was home to 37.3% of all Americans and 41.1% of the nation’s poor people; though the South’s poverty rate, 16.5%, was the highest among the four Census-designated regions, it was only 3.2 percentage points above the lowest (the Midwest).

Sadly, today we see our own version of the Hunger Games being played out.  The people with the most power have the most money and continue to strip benefits from those that need it the most.  Perhaps obliviousness is their greatest privilege.

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