Sunday, April 20, 2014

Allen West Is Full Of It.


A couple of my friends recently posted a snarky little essay on Facebook by Allen West - Top Ten Reasons to Vote Democrat in 2014. 

Allen West is totally out of the reality ballpark when it comes to what Democrats believe. Since he doesn't like Democrats and doesn't respect Democrats and possibly doesn't even know any Democrats, I thought I would attempt a response from an actual living, breathing Democrat.

Top 10 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I can't wait for college football season to be delayed or cancelled because the student athletes are union employees."

My answer - Yep, you're pretty right on on this one but here's why: I think colleges have screwed the kids that actually bring the mega-bucks into their athletic programs for generations. Here is how valuable universities think sports are: Kentucky basketball coach salary = $5,387,978; Louisville basketball coach = 4,812,769; LSU football coach = $3,856,417; Alabama football coach = 45,476,738; Texas football coach = $5,353,750; Wisconsin football coach = $1,400,000. (Meanwhile, the highest paying universities pay their full professors an average of $180,000). And the kids, why they get nothing at all in return for their labors. Half the time, the schools don't even bother to give them a decent education out of the deal. This is a fair bargain how? $5,000,000 million for me, zero for you? Yep, that's how conservatives think all right.

Top 9 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I believe oil company profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are obscene, but the government taxing the same gallon of gas at 15% isn't."

My answer - Oil (energy) companies are the largest and most profitable corporations in the world, holding 7 of the top ten spots. Royal Dutch Shell took in 30.3 TRILLION in revenues with a $1.5 trillion profit. Exxon is America's most profitable company with profits of $44.9 billion last year. So it doesn't appear that $.04 cents a gallon tax is hurting them to badly. And they don't have to build roads and repair bridges and fund schools and maintain parks and on and on. Instead the oil companies USE the benefits the government spends THEIR 15 cents on.

Top 8 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I believe the government will do a better job of spending the money I earn than I would."

My answer - I don't know what Mr West would spend his tax money on if he got to keep it but I consider taxes the dues we all pay to live in a civilized society so if he'd stash it in the Caymans (a la Mitt Romney) while the government would use it to feed hungry children, I'll go with the government.

Top 7 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because Freedom of Speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it."

My answer - This is a bullshit meme by the oh-we're so victimized right. Facebook itself proves that Freedom of Speech is alive and well in America EVEN if it offends people. I see lots of things on Facebook that offend me (including this idiotic screed by Mr. West) but I don't complain and I don't turn him into the the Offensive Speech police. I just scroll on by....or occasionally take them on with my own right to Freedom of Speech. 

Top 6 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I'm way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves. I am also thankful that we have a 911 service that get police to your home in order to identify your body after a home invasion".

My answer - Again with playing the victim card. No legislation that has been proposed would take all their guns away from Americans. We Democrats would like to see background checks on all purchases and stricter penalties for straw sales which was what was in the bill the Republicans filibustered last time around (thank you, NRA). Background checks have actually stopped some criminals from buying guns...and just maybe, saved your child's life.

Top 5 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I'm not concerned about millions of babies being aborted so long as we keep all death row inmates alive and comfy."

My response - I am pro-choice that is true. This is a personal decision that I don't believe politicians should have anything to say about....especially male politicians....especially male politicians who consistently voted against the best interests of those babies once they were born. My answer to abortion is to provide all kids (girls and BOYS) with sex education and all women with free contraception to minimize the number of abortions as much as possible. You will never stop unwanted pregnancies completely and making them illegal only makes them unsafe. As for inmates, I don't care if they are comfy but I believe everyone we are responsible for should be treated humanely, up to and including not torturing them.

Top 4 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I think illegal aliens have a right to free health care, education and Social Security benefits and we should take away the Social Security benefits from those who paid into it."

My response - No one is talking about changing/limiting/privatizing Social Security except your party, Mr. West. As for illegal aliens, I think its to our benefit that all people living in America to get health care and an education. That's better for us as a country. I think kids like the Dreamers, who've lived here virtually all their lives and know America as their only home, should be given amnesty. They make our country stronger, not weaker. They are contributors, not takers. 

Top 3 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I believe that businesses should NOT be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to the government for redistribution as the Democrats see it."

My response - Of course, this is ridiculous. No Democrat believes corporations should not make a profit. If that were so, how do you explain that right now, businesses are making record profits and the stock market is at an all-time high under Barack Obama. The fact is that industry is ALWAYS more prosperous when Democrats are in charge. You could look it up but you probably won't because what you found would conflict with your fantasy.

Top 2 Reason - "I'll vote Democrat because I believe liberal judges need to rewrite the Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters."

My response - You're kidding, right? We now have the most conservative court we've had since the New Deal. Chief Justice John Roberts almost always sides with the conservatives in controversial cases. It is only Justice Kennedy that keeps the conservatives from winning every decision. Not only is this the most conservative court but it is the most pro-business court ever. This is the Citizens United court that said corporations are people and money is free speech, which allows big bucks to virtually buy our elections. This is the court that said, "nah, we don't need the Voting Rights Act anymore 'cause there's no discrimination in America". This is the conservative court that doesn't even try to shield its bias, as in Justice Thomas' wife being the head of a Tea Party group.

Top 1 Reason - "we buy oil from countries that hate us but not drill our own because it might upset some endangered beetle, gopher, fish or frog."

My response - We are drilling more in America than we ever have. Our exports of foreign oil are less than they have been in decades. Nothing is allowed to stand in the way of Big Energy. They can perpetrate gigantic spills that despoil our sea coasts, our wetlands, our rivers, our neighborhoods and walk away with a slap on the wrist. They can engage in fracking that scientists now assert causes earthquakes ("too bad, so sad, get used to it neighbors") and most likely leak pollution into the water table. They dig mines then walk away from silted up creeks and bare mountaintops and dead miners. They hold their contaminated waste in ponds that leak and ruin whole stretches of rivers, not to mention poisoning the water of large sections of cities. They tear up the land to plant giant pipelines to carry especially nasty tar sands oil even though the people who live near the path of the pipeline protest again it. They bag up their radioactive waste and dump it in public places rather than dispose of it properly. So, it isn't only beetles, gophers, fish and frogs (you forgot birds, otters, turtles and numerous other forms of wildlife) who are risk. People who get in the way of Big Energy's agenda are endangered too.

Gee, Fox News printed Mr. West's little essay on their blog. Do you reckon they'll do the same for my response?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Clive Bundy - Welfare Recipient


Strange how people tend to have knee-jerk reactions regarding political issues. The very same people who piss and moan about lazy welfare recipients (particularly those who remain dependent on the government for generations), can't wait to load their weapons and head off to Nevada to stand with Clive Bundy against the evil, tyrannical feds.

I wonder how much research any of these folks have done on Bureau of Land Management-issued grazing rights? Do they think the rents charged by the BLM are fair? Do they even know how much they are? This is our land, don't forget.

The fact is that if you lease an AUM (the amount of land needed for one cow and calf for a month) from the states, you will pay approximately $12.30 (in 1998, probably higher now). The fee to lease a similar amount of private land averages $11.l0 (1999). The amount to lease that land from the federal government? $1.43.

And Cliven Bundy hasn't even paid that for 19 years, his theory being that his Mormon forefathers grazed that land for generations, before there was a Bureau of Land Management, and he should be grandfathered in for free grazing rights in perpetuity.

So, why is there a U.S. Grazing Service anyway? Well, it all started back in the 1940's when public lands were open to anyone who wanted to use them. The result of that, as you can imagine, was that everyone did - until the land was degraded to the point that cattle were starving due to lack of forage. So what did ranchers do? Why, they went crying to Congress to "do something" to help them. In response to their requests, the U.S. Grazing Service (which became the Bureau of Land Management) was set up to lease individual sections to ranchers (for extremely low rates) so only their cattle would be on that land instead of competing with every Tom, Dick and Harry who owned a cow.

Today, only about 20,000 ranchers hold permits to lease federal lands and guess what? Most of them are not ranchers at all. Big corporations, like Hilton, hold some, as does the mega-wealthy Ted Turner. The United Arab Emirates rents land from us, along with big investment companies.

And these leases do not benefit American taxpayers, they cost us!

They cost in money and also in the degradation of the land itself. Look at the picture above. Does this look like primo pastureland to you? No, it doesn't - but this is what the fight with Cliven Bundy is all about. Putting too many cattle on this kind of land results in over-grazing so that eventually, the only plant left is sage brush. Also, cattle naturally tend to congregate around any scarce source of water so that it becomes a muddy mess, despoiled by urine and feces.

Cattle compete with wildlife for the use of this land. For instance, we now only have about 37,000 wild horses (where there used to be 2,000,000). The BLM keeps rounding them up and selling and/or butchering them because they are a threat to the cattle. Cattle push big grazers like deer and elk farther and higher to find forage. Many ranchers (although not all) despise wolves and bears and cougars, all of whom see cows as a food source themselves.

Tourism and recreation actually contribute far more to western economies than cattle leases. For example, in the Central Winter Ecosystem Management Area in the Kaibab Plateau, Arizona, cattle leases are worth about $46,000 annually. Meanwhile, deer and turkey hunting brings in over $1,300,000. In the same way, tourists come from all over the country, and spend money, for the pleasure of watching wild horse herds running free in the west.

So, excuse me if I don't see Cliven Bundy as a great freedom fighter and I think the Tea Party types who read the biased right-wing blogs and go rushing to Nevada to take up arms in his defense are fools. Ditto, the people who post on Facebook about how they are on his side without knowing all the facts.

As far as I'm concerned, Clive Bundy is no better than that single Mom who collects food stamps, the one conservatives hate so much.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Playing By Different Rules


We Democrats are the Pollyanna party. We skip through life trying to see the best in people. We want to fix everything so our neighbors are happy....or at least housed, clothed, fed and treated for their medical conditions. Our hearts hurt when we see anything mistreated, whether that's a child, an elephant or a forest. We consider taxes the communal dues we all pay to live in a civilized society....and if you're lucky enough to have to pay a lot of them, that's a good thing for you. We think poor people are mostly that way through misjudgment or misfortune and not simply because they are grasping, greedy users out to get our stuff. In fact, many of us have a "there but for the grace of God, go I" attitude toward the poor. We think any two people who love each other should have the right to marry because no group gets to define marriage in the way that reflects their particular beliefs. We think that, over all, immigrants (even undocumented ones) do America more good than harm. We hate war and it takes a lot for us to agree to invade another country. September 11 was enough to bring us around but Iraq wasn't.

And you know what? We Democrats think we are winning the political war because we have the hearts and minds of many more Americans than the Republicans do. A majority of women agree with us, as do African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, the young....and all these groups are growing as the Republicans' base of the elderly, the ultra-wealthy and white males is shrinking, or at least, not expanding.

That does look pretty positive for the Democrats, right? But, hold the phone, because this is only the view from the surface.

The Republicans aren't even trying to compete on that playing field. They really don't care if their unwillingness to vote on immigration reform pisses off Latinos. They don't care if their refusal to pass Equal Pay (not to mention all the other War on Women issues) makes women unhappy. They don't care if their reluctance to update the Voting Rights Act upsets African-Americans. Do their views on the unemployment extension or a minimum wage increase or veterans benefits or "entitlement" programs like Social Security and Medicare disturb the unemployed, the poor, veterans or senior citizens. Oh, fucking well.

They have an entirely different agenda that really doesn't include voters.

First, they got a huge head start on that agenda by winning the 2012 elections as massively as they did. Because of it, they were able to re-write the congressional district maps, ensuring that Republicans could hold onto the seats they won for at least the next ten years. Democrats running for House seats got over a million more votes in the last election than Republicans but Republicans still won the majority because of the skewed make-up of congressional districts. And Republicans have even further plans for maximizing these advantages. Several states currently held by Republicans are considering going to a winner-take-all system for presidential elections which would minimize the votes cast by big city voters (Democrats) and enhance those cast by rural residents (Republicans), giving more of their electoral votes to the Republican candidate.

The Republicans' second big advantage is having a Supreme Court with a conservative majority biased in their favor. This is the Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United and more recently, McCutcheon v FEC. These are the "corporations are people" and "money is free speech" decisions which ensure that mega-rich individuals like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson and the shadowy networks they bankroll can outspend citizens' groups and literally buy state elections without having to reveal themselves.

The right-wing Supremes are also complicit in assisting the Republicans by gutting a key part of the Voting Rights Act while congressional Republicans stonewall Democrats who want to pass an updated bill.

Next, an explosion in voter suppression legislation in red states contributes to Republican ascendancy in those states. More stringent voter i.d. which many elderly and poor don't possess and can't afford to obtain. Shorter early voting hours which mean some working people can't get to the polls or hours-long lines so that others simply give up and go home. Making it nearly impossible for students to vote on their campuses. Cutting the number of voting machines and polling places (while placing them in distant and inconvenient locations) in Democratic districts. Putting intimidating "poll watchers" in blue districts to "challenge" voters. Putting up threatening and misleading billboards to discourage people in minority neighborhoods from voting. ("Voter fraud is a felony - 3 1/2 years, $10,000!") All this despite the fact that there is not and never has been a significant voter fraud problem in America.

And when all else fails, Republicans simply ignore the rules. If you follow what is going in the states, you know that Republicans in Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio and others have used dirty tricks that are breathtakingly egregious. Gaveling a voice vote closed and declaring a winner without counting or holding the vote in the middle of the night or adding contentious legislation onto their budget which had never been done before (Ohio) or adding it to a motorcycle safety bill without telling the Democrats (North Carolina) or not honoring a recall election by the voters (Michigan) or changing the rules about filibusters in mid-stream (Texas).

So, the political war in America is being fought on two different battlegrounds. While Democrats try to convince Americans to vote for them based on shared valued and ideas, Republicans concentrate on finding ways around voters.

Which side do you think will prevail in the end?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Conspiracy-Minded America

Diego Garcia - Is Malaysia Flight 370 Being Held Here?

Americans have always loved conspiracy. In my lifetime, I can remember conspiracy theories about JFK's assassination (which I actually never believed the American people got the real story about that), the "we-never-really-went-to-the-moon-it-was-all-staged-at-a-studio-in-Hollywood theory, the George Bush was responsible for 911 theory (because those towers had to have been blown up from inside!), the levees at New Orleans were purposely breached during Katrina and the this-one-or-that-one-isn't-really-dead theories.

And the American government has done a lot to create its own monster because they've lied to us so many times. The C.I.A. is just one big, giant lie factory and the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA have become the same. It's difficult to believe a word they say.

Still, in recent years, conspiracy has become a cottage industry in America, particularly with the election of Barack Obama. In the throes of of Obama Derangement Syndrome, his haters have become convinced that he 1) isn't an American, 2) isn't a Christian, 3) is a secret Muslim mole bent on the destruction of America, 4) Obamacare is actually a secret weapon meant to turn the U.S. into a socialist nation (you can pick your theory as to Obama's true political leanings - from one day to the next, he is a Nazi, a fascist, a socialist, a communist, the anti-Christ...). He has instituted death squads and even now, there are FEMA camps ready for the military (the ones who side with him anyway) to capture his political enemies. I guess they are just waiting until he confiscates all our guns. I'd say, he'd better be getting on it if he's going to get that done before his term of office is up......unless, of course, he never intends to relinquish power!)

It's amazing how those political enemies still have courage enough to post all the shit they do about Obama, right there on Facebook, risking kill squads and concentration camps, to bring the American people The Truth. Wow, we surely are the home of the brave!

The latest conspiracy is about Malaysia Flight 370 which disappeared three weeks ago with 239 on board. Since, then we've had false alarms and futile searches but we still don't have a clue about what happened despite ships and planes from several nations scouring the sea where it would have been likely to go down. And, of course, once again, the good old USA is the villain.

Now, there has been a supposed communication from one of the passengers, Philip Wood. The picture from his cell phone is black but it purports to show information which indicates that the plane is at a U.S. base in Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. Here is the text of the message:

“I have been held hostage by unknown military personal after my flight was hijacked (blindfolded). I work for IBM and I have managed to hide my cellphone in my ass during the hijack. I have been separated from the rest of the passengers and I am in a cell. My name is Philip Wood. I think I have been drugged as well and cannot think clearly.”

(Incidentally, in case you're curious, other journalists have testified that is is uncomfortable, but possible, to secrete an Iphone in your anus. I, myself, am not that dedicated so I can't back them up first-hand.)

The next question is: why would the U.S. want to hijack this plane? The answer posited is that among the passengers were several specialists in high tech surveillance and weaponry, mostly from China. Our government wants to interrogate them for information. And then what? The most common belief among conspiracy theorists is that we will kill those that have no value and imprison and enslave the rest.

So, there you go. Believe what you will. I guess if you buy into death squads and FEMA camps, if you can accept that our president is a Muslim traitor and our previous president blew up the Twin Towers, it isn't that much of a leap to give credibility to our the idea that our government would hijack a plane with 239 passengers on board.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Keystone Pipeline - What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Oil spill bird

A farmer lights ground water bubbling up from a fresh water spring on his farm in Western Pennsylvania.  The gas bubbles started one day after this property was fracked for natural gas extraction.  The farmer's horses stopped drinking this water the day the bubbles appeared.  This spring flows into a creek which feeds a larger river.

I've been keeping a file lately of all the various environmental catastrophes in the U.S. I once kept the clippings in a manila folder but lately I've had to move it to an expando-file.

In the latest event, a ship and a barge containing "bunker oil" (an thick, viscous oil used as fuel for marine vessels) collided in the Houston Shipping Channel. Officials estimate that 168,000 gallons of oil escaped into the canal (and if experience is our guide, this is probably an under-estimate since energy companies are not known for being candid). The Channel, which links the Gulf of Mexico and America's largest petro-chemical complex is now closed in order to try to contain the damage.

The occurrence previous to this one was a coal ash leak into the Dan River in North Carolina. The broken pipe that leaked millions of gallons of sludge (containing copper, arsenic, selenium, cadmium and aluminum, among other hazardous materials) into the river was owned by Duke Energy.

It turned out that environmental groups had been trying to get Duke Energy to clean up its act regarding coal ash ponds for quite a while. They'd even filed lawsuits to make that happen but, low and behold, when the new Republican governor (who happened to be a 30-year employee of Duke Energy) came into office, he ordered the state to take over the lawsuits. North Carolina then settled with Duke for the measly sum of $99,000 and no promise to improve their practices. Oh, and guess what? The lawyer who is supposedly on the side of the state in this latest spill had also worked as counsel for Duke Energy. Can anyone say Fox and Chicken House?

Prior to that, of course, was the chemical leak into the Elk River in West Virginia on January 9, The chemical storage facility was owned by a rather shady company named Freedom Industries. Freedom Industries eventually owned up to 10,000 gallons of a substance called MCHM leaking into the Elk River, which affected the water of over 300,000 West Virginians. No one appeared to know quite what MCHM, which is used in the coal production process, consisted of - not Freedom Industries (who declined to give up its formula) or environmental officials.

At first, West Virginians were told, not only not to drink their water, but not even to bath in it. They were to use it only to flush toilets. Eventually, everyone one seemed to simply throw up their hands and say, "oh, go head, it's probably okay". This, even though by February 5, school drinking supplies were still testing positive for chemicals.

Freedom Industries declared bankruptcy and skittered away (probably to start another shadowy corporation somewhere else under a different name. Too bad, so sad, West Virginians. And state officials were still adamantly stating that "this has nothing to do with the coal industry, NOTHING!"

And then there are the earthquakes. These are happening in several states where fracking is utilized (Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio) but most notably in Oklahoma.

Between 1975 and 2008, Oklahoma typically experienced one to three 3.0 or greater magnitude earthquakes per year. Between 2009 and 2013, that number grew to 40 a year. So far, since January 1 of 2014, Oklahoma has experienced over 500 quakes of all sizes.

Oklahoma is home to 4,400 fracking wells and fracking is said to be the "most reasonable hypotheses' as the cause of the increased earthquake activity. But we really didn't need science to tell us that. Study a graphic of what fracking is and does and your commonsense will tell you the same.

Over three years ago, a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy spilled 800,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. This kind of oil is known as "dilbit" (for diluted bitumen). It is so thick, it has to be diluted with gas to keep it flowing and it erodes pipelines much more quickly than regular oil. All this time later and while the Kalamazoo River has made progress in its clean-up, it is far from the pure, clear river it used to be.

Recently, the Sierra Club and EarthJustice revealed that hidden cameras showed that Louisville Gas and Electric was pumping its coal ash wastewater directly and continuously into the Ohio River. The company has a permit allowing them to do this "occasionally". "Oh, well," says the State of Kentucky, "it all depends on what the meaning of the word occasional is".

In 2013, the small town of Mayflower, Arkansas was the victim of an oil leak in an Exxon pipeline they weren't even aware ran below their homes. Two hundred and ten thousand gallons of heavy oil tar from Canada ran down their streets and into their homes. Twenty-two buildings were evacuated but the rest of the near-by residents weren't even told they could be affected by the chemicals until weeks later. By then, many of them were experiencing horrendous headaches, rashes and vomiting.

Exxon paid lip service to the damage it had caused Mayflower and then essentially, walked away from their responsibility.

Of course, if we go back far enough, we'll find the British Petroleum oil spill, still the largest in history, in which 800,000 gallons of crude oil were pumped into the Gulf of Mexico for a period of 87 days. Eleven people were killed in the initial explosion and 17 were injured. Sixteen thousand miles of coastline were affected in five states. Eight thousand birds, reptiles and mammals died in the first 6 month. We still don't know all the long-term consequences of this spill.

And the grand-daddy of them all - the Exxon-Valdez - celebrated its 25th anniversary on March 24. On that day, the Exxon-Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, one of the most pristine areas in all of America. Almost 11 million gallons of crude oil were released into the sound, despoiling 1,300 miles of rugged, remote coastline. After a quarter of a century, oil is still visible on the beaches. Thirteen of 32 monitored wildlife populations are considered "recovered or recovering". The pod of Orcas that considered the Sound home lost 15 of their 22 members after the spill and have never produced a calf since.

So, hell, yes - the coal, gas, oil and mining industries have proven to be such reliable and responsible citizens, by all means, let's approve the Keystone Pipeline. What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Uncle Sam Likes Them Better

Photo: When so few have so much, and so many have so little, our democracy and economy are under fierce assault.  This is not what America is supposed to be about.  This must change.            Photo: The typical CEO of America's largest companies and banks is now earning more than 475 times what America's average worker is paid. Fifty years ago, it was 40 times. This meteoric rise isn’t because CEO’s are “worth” it but because their boards want to give them more than the CEOs they compete with, giving the firm bragging rights on the Street and ensuring that the CEO will stay put. But this has resulting in an escalating arm’s race. And because CEO pay is fully deductible from corporate taxes, taxpayers are subsidizing this arm’s race -- even as median household income drops. In the table below you can see the ratio of CEO pay to average workers in the U.S. compared to other countries. 

Republican David Camp, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently proposed a way to stop this arm’s race: by not allowing corporations to deduct from their taxes CEO pay in excess of $1 million. That’s a good start. But how about going a step further and imposing an “excessive pay” surtax on corporations whose CEO pay exceeds 100 times that the average American worker?

When I worked as a real estate salesperson and, like an idiot, figured my own taxes, I totally screwed up on the self-employment portion. Eventually, I was audited and told by the IRS that I owed over $7,000. That included the original under-payments plus penalties and interest for three years. Up to that point, I'd never made as much as $30,000 in any year of my life so of course, I didn't have a quick $7,000 to pay them. They put a lien on my house. Not only on my house but on my ex-in-law's house as well. (My husband and I had owned the original land and had given them a life estate on the acre where their home was located, which meant my name was on the deed). My in-laws were of that generation of by-the-book Americans who believed in working hard, buying only what you could afford to buy for cash, paying your bills promptly, obeying even the most minor laws. They were, to put it mildly, horrified and humiliated to be notified that there was an IRS lien on their house. This was made worse by the fact that they'd always lived in this small rural county and knew almost everyone here, including the people at the Courthouse who would know of their shame and gossip about it behind their backs! They felt as if they had been branded with a red D (for deadbeats) on their foreheads.

So I was being hounded by the Internal Revenue Service on one side and by my ex-in-laws on the other and I honestly don't know which was worse.

Eventually, the IRS garnished my wages and as soon as I was able, I sold the house to get out from under my crushing debt.

Here is the point of this blog though - I had contacted a couple of tax attorneys during this terrible time to see if anything could be done to ease the situation. (I primarily wanted to know whether, if I could somehow pay half, would they release the lien on my in-law's home. Answer: no. It was all or nothing.) But, it turned out that if you owed the IRS big money, there was lots of room for negotiation. Sometimes, they'd settle for as little as 10 cents on the dollar. I knew a restaurant owner who owed $80,000 but his attorneys got him out from under the IRS by paying $8,000.

The tax attorneys shrugged me off. They could do nothing for me. If you owed under five figures, the IRS wanted a dollar for a dollar. End of story. In other words, the guy who owed them $80,000 paid $1,000 more than I had to pay for owing $7,000.

If that isn't favoring the rich over the poor, I don't know what you'd call class warfare.

Another case in point - student loan debt. This is probably the harshest kind of debt you can owe and it impacts the poor the most....and most newly graduated students probably are poor. The government/banks are oh-so-generous about letting students pile up debt while they are getting their education but unless you are able to go out and get a high-paying job right away, it becomes a giant millstone around your neck, often for decades. And there is no way out, ever. You can't go bankrupt on it. It just sits there, piling up interest. It will still be with you when you're at the nursing home.

The government can take any tax refunds you get to pay toward your student loans. It can garnish your wages. It can attach federal benefits, like social security (which is judgment proof for most debts) but it has to leave you $9,000 to live on! Big whoop, huh? There is no time limit on when you can be sued for student loan default (even the IRS has time limits on how far back it can go on income taxes). There is no statute of limitations (again, there are conditions under which back tax debt fall under the statute of limitations.)

And then there is the tax code itself, of course. If you're single and earn between $36,900 and $89,300, your federal tax rate is 25 percent. The rates go up from there, depending on your income, topping out at 39.6 percent, although you'll only pay 20 percent on your dividend and capital gains income, which for many wealthy people is the bulk of their earnings.

Of course, I'm not a tax expert so I'm not going to delve to deeply into all the various breaks and loopholes and deductions that are available but it is a lot, and the richer you are, the more apply to you. It is these that would have allowed Mitt Romney to pay an effective nine percent tax rate on his extremely high income. (He neglected to take some of the charitable deductions he qualified for so it wouldn't look so bad when he ran for president but what do you want to bet, he amended his tax forms after he lost?)

Who originally came up with the idea that some income is more worthy than other income? Who decided that millionaires should pay less on their favored dividends and capital gains than the poor schlump who works in the factory pays on his hourly wage? Well, I expect it was the very ones who'd end up benefiting the most, don't you? And, of course, they also happen to be the ones with the money to hire lobbyists to "persuade" politicians to pass their desired legislation.

The saying, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" has been around forever but it is certainly true today, especially in America, where the rich are getting richer at a whirlwind pace while the poor and middle-class are sliding downward like Alice through the rabbit hole.

And yet it is us at the bottom who are accused of stoking class warfare if we happen to notice how we're getting fucked over by our betters. We are admonished that we are showing unappealing "class envy" if we say it isn't fair.

And what amazes me most of all is how many of us agree with them! We'll fight to save poor Mitt Romney from having to pay more taxes. We'll go to the mat for Exxon's right to pollute our water. We'll go for broke to help get the Keystone Pipeline approved and worry about the damage it might do to our land and water later, like those resources are renewable and unlimited. We'll turn on our own and talk against a minimum wage increase or an expansion of unemployment benefits or equal pay for equal work. We'll excoriate the same unions that made a middle class possible in the first place (and you can do research to see how membership in the middle class is going down in correlation with union membership.) Mitt Romney can say right to our faces (well, he didn't know he was saying it to our faces, which makes it even worse) that he thinks half the country consists of lazy moochers but I guess many of us can believe, "oh, he isn't talking about me." But yes, he is. He's talking about you. You may consider yourself his peer but I can assure you, he doesn't.  

On the list of Forbes 400 richest Americans, 35 percent were born in lower or lower-middle class circumstances. The rest all inherited various degrees of wealth or had substantial help in starting up their businesses. It's nice to know that one/third of America's richest started from scratch so it is still possible to go from rags to riches, and we all hope that will be us, but who is surprised to discover that the other two-thirds began with a significant head start.

And that will continue all along their way as they coast down their glide path to ever-greater wealth because of the rules, laws, regulations and legislation that ensure it.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Green Eggs and Ham - Liberal Version


I do not like these Republi-Can'ts. 
I do not like their negative rants. 

I do not like their world of doom or how they lie and spread their gloom.
I do not like being berated for deficits that they created. 

I do not like fiscals cliffs or government shutdowns.
I do not like vicious humor that goes far out of bounds.

I do not like how they are anti-Latino and women and gay and black.
I do not like how they want to stop progress and take our country back.

I do not like how they give subsidies to the rich and cuts to the poor
and when oil companies ask, they vote - "more, more, more!"

I do not like how they pooh-pooh science and scorn learning
I do not like how they refuse to act to keep the economy turning.

Sarah said she does not like Obama's kind of hope
but in Tea Party World there is no hope, nope.

I do not like their world of sunless gray
where everyone's a user and grim pessimism rules the day.

I'll take Obama's brand of hope if it's all the same to you.
I prefer life with a more optimistic view.