Tuesday, October 28, 2008
My daughter and I have been debating the issues of the 2008 election. It has been fun and arduous. We have come to different conclusions. I think that is ok. She is a wonderful, intelligent human being who cares deeply about other people and lives compassionately. She believes like you do, like you say in this video, "I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper."
We have talked the issues to death. I'm not going to talk about issues anymore. Here, though, in my final words before this long awaited election, I thought that I'd tell you why I would like for you to be president of the United States. It kind of has to do with issues, but not completely.
The video that I have chosen is one that talks less about issues also, and more about you as a person. It talks about a man who is introspective and understands what it is like to search for who you are and what your purpose is here in this world. I spend a lot of time wondering about that. I don't find precise answers as I search, but I try to be true to that introspective work. I would like for you to be president because you are introspective.
I would like for you to be president because you are intelligent. You have revealed over the last two years an intelligence that knows how to communicate, not always simply, in sound bites, but with clarity and depth. And, thankfully, you use correct grammar and pronunciation.
I would like for you to be president because you have consistently shown a deep love and respect for your family, your wife, your children, your mother, your grandparents, and even your long absent father. The image of your sweet family may do more for the healing of our American culture than any of the legislative initiatives that you may ever be called upon to sign while president. Michelle says, that when you were first getting to know each other, you took her to a community organization meeting. That reminds me of one of my first dates with my husband, now of 33 years. There is nothing more attractive than a person who is able to care for others.
I would like for you to be president because you are willing to dialog without preconditions and with kindness. You have maintained such a calm temperament in the face of much animosity. Oh, how our world needs such calm.
I would like for you to be our president, because you have come, not from a family of wealth and prestige, but from one like mine, where work was not an option or a pastime, but a livelihood. This, I know, helps you to understand one of my great concerns. You talk about a living wage and you know what that means. These words, "living wage" are important and should, in my estimation be the guiding principle for dealing with poverty and the economy. It is a touchstone. If I could tell you one thing as you enter the presidency, if I could tell you to do one thing, to get one thing right, I would say . . . "A living wage, Mr. Obama, a living wage." And I feel certain that you would understand.
"One person's struggle is all of our struggle," you say in this video. So it is. You say of injustice that you realized that "if you don't fix it, nobody else is going to fix it." I like that. "Empathy," you say, "kindness, faith." These are things that make me say, I would like Barack Obama to be the president.
May your road to the White House, reach it.
With respect and high regard,
Sunday, October 26, 2008
OK, so consider this my closing argument. This election has left me a bit tired and disheartened, but whatever the outcome is going to be, let's just rip off the band aid and get it over with.
I know that many have already voted, but I am going to recap here my top 5 reasons for voting for McCain. (in no particular order, except the first...)
#1--Pro life stance. I understand that using a "litmus test" for candidates is not always practical. But it is very important. As a woman and as a Christian this one of my core stances. But strip away these "labels" and I have so many other reasons for being pro-life. This is very important to me, so I had to get this out up front. I understand, however, that others have felt put into a situation where they have to go against long held views on this issue due to other issues taking precedence.
#2--Goals for energy Independence. John McCain has laid out a plan for this on his site. Read all about it. He is for alternative fuels, greater domestic production, development of alternate methods of transportation, etc. I think he has good plans in this area.
#3--Health care plan. McCain's health care plan makes more sense to me, when comparing the choices. It puts power and responsibility in the hands of the people of this country. I feel that the bureaucracy of a more nationalized, socialized system will become a huge, money eating behemoth leaving your every day person with less quality care. As stated by a doctor interviewed on the radio, better care that costs less is a great idea, but it is just not as easy as the politicians make it sound. I think letting the people choose is the best plan, and a tax credit is a great way to let people have more money to do so. BUT, with the current financial issues, I am doubtful that there will be money to give people this kind of tax break. But that goes for both candidates...
#4--Cutting spending. McCain stressed this a lot. But will it happen? He says it will, with a reduction in ear marks. McCain's record shows his desire for projects to be paid for and to end earmarks (he does not use them himself), so I believe he will truly work for this.
#5--John McCain's record. I think that the media has forgotten that up until winning the nomination for being the Republican candidate, John McCain really was a maverick to many republicans. He worked in a bipartisan way with others in the Senate, went against his party frequently, fought for what he thought was right regardless of what others said, and has a record of strength in the Senate. His votes back up what he says. Obama has a record of running for president, with the occasional partisan vote and vote of "present". I feel more comfortable with McCain's record of service.
I like this picture of John with his dog, but my favorite picture of McCain is of him before the nomination carrying his own bag and flying southwest I think. He ran in this race because he wanted to bring change, bipartisanship, and make a difference. I feel that this has gotten lost in these last days. This is an unfortunate aspect of "running for president". But I hope he has the chance to get into office and go back to being himself, making a positive difference in the history of our country.
My biggest request to both candidates, no matter who is in office, is please, let's balance the budget. Don't continue to spout the "chicken is every pot" mantra. Let's start saying, "you know what, it will be tough, but we can't spend more than we take in. So services will be cut and we will not being doing as much as before, but we will balance our budget for our financial security." There should be focus on using less credit (on all levels from personal to governmental) and being more disciplined in the use of out money. That is my wish, at least.
So in closing, VOTE JOHN MCCAIN!!!!!
And if you are also tired of all this politics, watch my favorite video found in my research during the campaign season. I watch it every now and again for a good laugh.
Special thanks to BRD for allowing me the freedom to post and engage in election discussion on this site. I am truly honored. But I am sure all of BRD's regular readers will be glad to go back to her informative commentary, erudite literary reviews, and or course entertaining flix of the Zorro family and Neb and Solomon!
Love you BRD!
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The Invisible Hand, Distribution of Wealth, Marginal Tax Rate, Economics of the Candidates, and Economists on the Candidates (Whew!)
I have been working on trying to figure out two things.
1. What the heck is going on with this economy?
2. What are the politicians going to do to pay for all the fixes they are promising?
Whenever I start to research, I get pretty confused. I get distracted and even trying to write to you, I keep going off on tangents in my mind. I can't stay focused on this. I certainly hope that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain taps me as next Secretary of the Treasury. I just don't think I could stay focused.
What was that you said? If I understand you right:
A natural force guides free market capitalism through competition for scarce resources. And in a free market each greedy person will try to maximize self-interest, and their interaction with other greedy persons will lead to exchange of goods and services, enabling each to be better off than when simply producing for himself/herself. You said that in a free market, no regulation of any type would be needed to ensure that the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services took place, since this "invisible hand" would guide market participants to trade in the most mutually beneficial manner.
So supposedly there is this hand, not the hand of God, but this other invisible hand that reaches in and keeps everybody doing what they should do economically. But "should do" for who? Did you ever imagine the New York Stock exchange? Or how about this?
I couldn't find fresher figures, but these are reflective of current realities and are from this website.
It seems to me that the invisible hand has lost it's touch or is working very hard only in favor of a very small elite group of people. If this is the best the invisible hand can do, I think we need some regulation. Here is my problem. I just don't believe that the top 1% of the population should hold and control 40% of the nation's wealth. If it were true that this top 1% had earned the right to hold that wealth, perhaps I would be convinced that they deserve this wealth and it's attending power. However, this elite has not, generally speaking, earned this wealth. They have inherited this wealth. The money that they have inherited has earned this wealth. But they, as a group, have not.
In addition, those who have earned this wealth have done so, not alone, but on the backs of working people, many of whom are working for minimum wage. According to an article from July by the Center for American Progress
Over the past year, a family of three supported by one minimum-wage earner still lived over $4,000 below the federal poverty line—earning just $12,168. That same family will now bring in $13,624 before taxes—well below the 2008 poverty line of $16,705. And when the wage reaches $7.25 in 2009, they'll earn a little over $15,000—still 18 percent below the poverty line. Minimum wage-earning households with additional members are likely to live even further below the poverty line.
What has the invisible hand been up to for these folks? Should people in the the richest nation in the world be in a situation that they work a full-time job, steadily, day in and day out, and they can't afford to feed themselves. They can't buy a dependable automobile. They can barely pay the rent on substandard housing. The working poor are further humbled (spell that shame for some) by being forced to go hat in hand and beg for food stamps, housing aid, and other assistance. This assistance comes at a high price to the broader community. We pay double or triple, for what the working poor should be receiving in a fairly earned paycheck. However, there has been some kind of sleight of invisible hand that keeps minimum earners under the very heavy thumb of employers (some wealthy, some not) screaming "I can't pay."
Meanwhile, in this very scattered letter, I want to talk about taxation. Now there is this term, marginal tax rate. I am not sure I really understand what it means. But someone said this:
The marginal tax rate is the rate of tax applied to the last dollar added to your taxable income. As your income increases more taxes are paid on this "top" level of income. For example, the income you earn from investments is added to your income from all other sources. As a result, each additional dollar of investment income is taxed at the highest rate applicable to your total income.
The average tax rate is calculated by dividing the total income taxes paid by your total income. The average tax rate incorporates taxes paid at all levels of income so naturally it will be less than the marginal rate, although a person’s average and marginal tax rate will be close to equal for very high-income earners (taxable income over $2,000,000).I kind of wish I understood what that means and how that affects my life. I'll keep thinking about it. Write and explain it to me. But from the Yale study that CaDh8 referred to in an earlier post, I learned this:
The reduction of marginal tax rates in the Reagan years was driven by a new policy consensus that still persists today. That consensus is that high marginal tax rates on the rich come with an unaffordably high price for the U.S. economy in the form of reduced incentives for the rich to work and to save, and increased incentives to engage in socially wasteful tax planning. And yet 1957, when Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged and the top income tax rate was 91%, falls in the middle of the period from 1951 through 1963. Those were the golden years of the U.S. economy, in which the average annual rate of productivity growth was 3.1% (compared with about 1.5% after 1981). Of course, the growth might have been even faster had the marginal tax rates been lower, but the coincidence of high rates and high productivity raises challenging questions for those who believe that high marginal tax rates carry an unacceptable cost.Somehow I think that is interesting and would support Senator Obama's Tax Plan, if I understand this correctly.
In the spirit of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) I have tried to collect some summary ideas. I've read different descriptions of the plans, but this guy Justin Tapp seemed clear and concise to me. Plus he referenced his ideas so go to his site for more info.
The Tax Plans
I. Obama would raise income taxes on the top two tax brackets to pre-Bush levels of 36.9 and 39% respectively. (The top rate is currently 34% for people who earn more than $250,000).
Obama would also impose an additional 2 to 4 percent tax on earnings for some over the existing Social Security wage cap, and bring back the phase-out of the personal exemption and certain itemized deductions for higher-income taxpayers. When added up, the top effective marginal tax rate rises by 12 to 14 percentage points, from 37.9 percent to roughly 48 to 50 percent.
Obama would also raise capital gains taxes on people earning >$250,000 to 20%, which is more than today but less than it was before 2003.
McCain would keep the top tax rates, dividends, and capital gains taxes where they're at.
II. Obama would raise corporate income taxes, but cut them for business that "invest in creating jobs in America" and eliminate capital gains tax for small businesses and start-ups.
McCain would lower corporate income taxes.
Note: Corporate tax rate is currently 35%. But there are a lot of loopholes in the tax code that keep corporations from actually paying the 35%. Obama says we need to close the loopholes.
III. McCain would double the personal exemption for families with children from $3,500 to $7,000.
Obama would give a $500 payroll tax cut to workers. He also would double the Hope credit for college to $4,000 from $2,000 and make it fully refundable.
IV. McCain would eliminate the tax exemption on employer-provided health care (raising taxable income) but would provide a tax credit of $2,500 (singles) or $5,000 (couples) to more than offset the proposed tax increase. Any of the credit not spent on insurance could be put into a health savings account.
Obama would give tax credits to businesses that provide health care to employees. Other aspects of his health care plan would supposedly reduce health care costs by $2,500 per family.
V. McCain wants to abolish the estate tax for everyone (this is a Republican plank).
Obama would eliminate the estate tax for 99.7 % of estates. He would increase the top estate tax rate ($3.5 million per person, $7 million for couples) to 45%.
VI. Obama's plan would add $3.4 trillion to the government debt over the next ten years according to the Tax Policy Center.
Senator McCain's plan would add roughly $5 trillion to the debt.
Lastly, here is a little chart showing the gut reaction of economists to the plans of the candidates. I'm wondering which plan you would prefer?
Economists on Economic Plans
Well, after all this, I can only leave you with the plea that you will answer and help straighten me out. I feel like I'm fading.
PS Do you think I'm a socialist?
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I'm trying to understand your writing. I want to hear the echos of the muse that you heard and analyze the colloquial phrasing of his voice.
I think that Richard Wright and Langston Hughes heard a different muse and gave voice to a disparate philosophic song. Richard and Langston took on themselves a responsibility that related to the future places that the Afrian American people as a group would have to go. But you, I think, couldn't let go of the grasp you had of where the people had been, not let go without writing it down, just once, writing it down. That, you said in your way, in your tongue, was worth writing.
That, you wanted people to understand, was worth saying in unvarnished speech . . . saying it like it had been said, over and over again by the pepole in the fields, by the people back to the cabin from the big house, by the people no longer owned but forced to sell themselves one day at a time, by those people who could still laugh and talk about the new shoes they got from the devil, who had the ugliest, who had the biggest, who had the richest soil, mule, hat, cat, master. Those words, those stories, those thinkings had to be preserved. That is what your muse said one day isn't it? Your muse said:
There once was a slave named Jack, and oh he could play tricks on his master. But that slave was going to die, so he set up a contest with the devil. The devil said he would give Jack a pair of brand new shoes and a mule to carry him to heaven if he would sprinkle a potion in the spring where all the former slave folk drank. That potion wouldn't make them forget, but it would make them hate to write that story down. Jack got a gourd and filled it with clear spring water. Then he fouled the spring with the devil's potion.Thanks for your work, making sure the last legacy of the era that a part of us wants so desperately to forget, will be passed on.
"Good job Jack," said the devil, and gave him his new shoes and the ugliest mule you ever saw. The last the devil saw of Jack he was astride that mule legs outstretched so not to drag his new shoes in the mud. Jack was headed for heaven, but what the devil didn't know was that he stopped by your house, Zora, and gave you the gourd and whispered in your ear, "Now write it down."
PS Did I tell you I named a racoon after you? Her husband was named Zorro so it seemed right.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
We still have not figured out who you are, I don't think.
For this post I want to compare two schools of thought when it comes to taxes. One side says "Tax the rich heavily because they have more money to give and then give more entitlements, goodies, rebates, etc. to the poor to help them out, and minimize the burden to the middle class."
The other side says, "Tax everyone less and give deductions and reductions in taxes to the richest so that it will trickle down to the poor in the form of jobs, employee benefits, and salary increases. Minimize pressure on the middle class, but recognize that the upwardly mobile in the middle class will pay more taxes through sales tax and income tax as the make more due to the cuts for the wealthy companies."
Which side is right? Well, lets explore.
First, a concern I have is that we know WHO the middle class is. Funny enough, Politifact.com says that "More than a third of Americans with incomes below $20,000 describe themselves as middle class. So do a third of people with incomes above $150,000". We all want to think of ourselves as middle class, "Average Joes or Janes" (six pack and hockey stick optional). And so the candidates want to pander to that larger group.
But that broad definition certainly does not match with what the candidates mean when they use the term in relationship to their claims about tax increases or reductions. Politifact looked at the middle class as the middle 20% of income earners. That is approximately those who make between about $37,595 and $66,354. When Obama claims the middle class will get three times the tax relief under his plan, he is referring to this abbreviated group and only for the first year of his tax plan. When one looks at other sections of the middle or 2-4 years down the road, the gap is not nearly so large. But this is just one example of how this definition colors the truth of claims, so just keep that in mind. PLEASE go to Politifact's tax claim page and see numerous claims and their level of truth from all candidates. It is so interesting with all the statements and attacks going around.
So we come back to who to tax and how. I found a very interesting article written by someone at Yale talking about the history of taxation and why taxing the rich could work. It was a review of a book called "Does Atlas Shrug?", which plays off Ayn Rand's book "Atlas Shrugged". But there was so much information in both the article and in Ayn Rand's book to really present here. I should do a post just on "Atlas Shrugged" sometimes, as I think that book is seminal to me in thinking about this issue.
So I kept searching for more "layman's" type information. I found an interesting article online, which inspired the title of this post, which is a quote from Mark Twain. There was some mathematical explanation before the writer got to the conclusion, so again, I recommend reading the article, but the conclusion stated:
"But one particular event comes to mind. During the Bush-Kerry election in 2004, each candidate staked out opposite positions on capital gains taxes. President Bush argued that the current 15% rate should be maintained and made permanent, while Senator Kerry advocated raising them on the top 2% of wage earners. An interesting thing happened during that election, as at approximately 2:30 PM EST on November 2nd, flawed polling data leaked to the press indicated that Kerry would win Florida and the entire election. Prior to the false news leaking, the Dow had increased as much as 125 points, or about 1.2% during the day. Afterward the market proceeded to fall 150 points (about 1.5%) from its peak. In other words the prospect of higher taxes immediately motivated investors to sell assets. As clear as the message the market sent about higher taxes was, it sent an even stronger and clearer message about keeping taxes low. Over the next 2 days, the Dow rallied approximately 3% or 280 points signaling its relief that taxes would remain low and capital would likely continue to flow into investments.
America faces a similar choice in 2008. Virtually every Republican has vowed to keep capital gains taxes constant or to reduce them further, while every Democrat has vowed to work to restore capital gains taxes for all (or at least the wealthiest taxpayers) back into the low 30% range. Because polls continue to indicate that no party has a clear path to the White House, the market most likely has not discounted the effect of potential tax changes on stock prices. However, should one side gain a clear advantage, prepare to make appropriate strategic changes in the composition of your portfolio."
Could Obama's apparent path to the White House paired with his desire to tax the rich at a higher rate (or at least not decrease taxes) be playing into the current crisis? From reading the above, one could come to that conclusion...
But many people talk about the need to increase taxes in order to have more revenue for government use. How else can we know we will have money to then budget out for necessary government programs? And this is a sore point for me. We must have a balanced budget, I feel.
Recently here in Tennessee, our governor wanted to fund education through a cigarette tax. This was very confusing to me, because a tax would actually discourage people from buying more cigarettes (not that this is bad), but then our education system was dependant on people buying MORE cigarettes. How can one know how much money will be obtained to then budget out? Granted, there will always be "estimated tax revenue", but I guess it seemed like a strange way to fund something.
So I guess the same would go for taxes on business. You are penalizing people for making money, so the basic behavioral principle is that after a certain point it becomes less reinforcing to make more money because you lose more of it. But if you make more, then you will engage in more of the behaviors (investing, growing business, hiring, saving, etc) that led to making money in the first place.
Now I feel like I am talking in circles. So I will go to another resource... Another link to a good article. Here is a quote from Pete Peterson, a newly minted billionaire who is now using his billions to set up a charitable foundation which will "increase public awareness of fiscal imbalances, Social Security deficits and nuclear proliferation." He feels that the taxes for the rich must go up. He said, "We are at a make-or-break point in American history...The entitlement monster is unfunded. We are dangerously dependent on foreign capital, our health care costs per capita are twice the level of the developed world. The goal is to integrate public policy and charitable giving and to answer this question: How do you educate a public that has become largely inert?"
But Peterson also recognizes that things must change in this country because our current course is not sustainable. From the article: "Peterson's ideas are many. One is organizing a youthful equivalent to the powerful lobbying group for senior citizens, AARP. Another is working with HBO on a documentary film adaptation of his book "Running on Empty," in the hope that the American public wakes up to the dangers of deficits and entitlement spending as it did to global warming after Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth." "
Deficits are a danger we must avoid. And economics are not as simple as I thought before now! And I did not even get into concepts of what government should be doing and how they are spending tax money once they get it...or pork barrel spending...or, well, so many things. Maybe in another post. But I learned a lot doing this one, so that is good.
All to all of you out there, if you want to know how to get through this turmoil, check out Dave Ramsey for how to live debt free. I am not there yet, but I would love to be!!Bye for now,
Saturday, October 04, 2008
I just finished watching Koyaanisqatsi*. As a long-time fan of Philip Glass, you can assume, correctly, that I did like it. As cult films go, this one, really is a valuable piece. I wasn't sure at first. Glass' music can be repetitive enough on it's own. To double that, double that, with images, images was, I thought, thought more than I could take. To double that, double that, with images, images was, I thought, yes I thought more, than I could, could take.
But not so. After a period of time, I became entranced. (I will tell you, though, I couldn't convince anyone to watch it with me, and now I have Powaqqatsi sitting on my entertainment center waiting for it's lonely viewing.) As I began to watch, I immediately realized, as with much of the Glass body of work, that one must open oneself to the experience of the whole. To judge the piece by its particulate parts is to miss the impact of the structure built line upon line, swell upon swell, measured measure upon measure. So, with this, I sat back and let it build, both visually and musically. It was worth the construction.
It's really impossible to identify a single clip from this film that communicates it's power. However, if I were to choose one, I think it would be this (though the copy I found online is not the best quality.) Still. . .
You said, in an interview, "This 1978 film meant to stir up an experience of the subject. It's a journey, and the journey is important, not the end point." And I guess that's so, although your end point was so pointed that it could hardly be ignored. What is amazing to me, in watching this is that it was put created before the 1986 Challenger disaster, so the climax is like a premonition, or like a Hopi prophecy**.
"A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."I discovered that in that final sequence from Koyaanisqatsi, there were two rocket launch films used. One is an ultra slow motion of a Saturn V launch from right at the launch pad level. The other is the first Atlas-Centaur from May 8, 1962. You can see a flapping liquid nitrogen line by the engine and the venting liquid hydrogen some seconds into flight.
I breezed around on your qatsi website to read what you had to say about your masterpiece. Your site says this was:
Created between 1975 and 1982. The film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds -- urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass. . . The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning.Can I ask you, candidly, what the heck Francis Coppola had to do with this film? Did his name get stuck on at some point to give it some kind of sales credibility? Too bad! Oh, nevermind, you don't have to answer that question, Wikipedia just did.
The film won the "Francis Ford Coppola Presents" endorsement at the 1982 New York Film Festival, and Coppola is now credited as an executive producer. In an interview, Godfrey Reggio says "...[Coppola] would like to do everything possible to make this available to the public, so he put his name on it"At any rate, I cannot talk about Koyaanisqatsi without remarking about two moments in the film. The first rocked me because of the financial crisis that we all have been watching play out over the course of the past couple weeks. My heart pounded at the images around about second 59. But the whole of this section (the Pruiet Igoe section) shook me. Perhaps the remembrances of 9/11, brought to my mind by later moments, I don't know, but I felt with this very deeply.
Then, of course, the final moments that I referred to above. Very intense.
I wanted you to know.
Thank you, and Philip, for your artistry. And to Francis, I guess, for helping keep it in circulation.
PS - It appears that the entire film can be accessed from this link at hulu.*From the Hopi language, (n.) 1. Crazy life. 2. Life in turmoil. 3. Life out of balance. 4. Life disintegrating. 5. A state of life that calls for another way of living.
**The lyrics from this piece are few. Many are just a repetition of the word Koyaanisqatsi. But those that are used are translations of these hopi prophecies.
"If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster."
"Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky."
"A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."
Friday, October 03, 2008
I don't exactly want to critique your debate with Sarah. I thought it was most entertaining. I do want to say that of the four of you, Barack, John, Sarah, and Joe, (may I call you Joe, as Sara said) you won, hands down.
I liked hearing you. Is that because I'm from a Pennsylvania railroad town, not unlike the areas where you grew up? I like the way you talk. Direct, yet friendly. I think you are authentic.
I don't want to belabor any points at all, but this was my favorite moment from the debate last night. I think Reuters liked it too.
My second favorite moment was this little exchange. I thought you were very strong, yet polite. You took your pot shot at Cheney (who deserves it).
That's all I wanted to say, but thanks for the good show last night!