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Posts Tagged ‘taxes’

I expect that everyone would agree that in order for a country, state, or city to function it needs money.  For millenia these entities have obtained money, and still do, via a variety of charges imposed on the people in these locales. We usually call these charges “taxes”.  Over the centuries many types of taxes have been created: income taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, road use taxes, automobile taxes, boat taxes, sales taxes, poll taxes, Social Security taxes, value added taxes, financial transaction taxes, capital gains taxes, and so forth. There seems to be a semi-infinite list of the different types of taxes.  Why?

Indeed. Why do we need so many types of taxes? The fact is we don’t. The reason we have all these different types of taxes is that governments generally become corrupt and one special interest group or another gains an upper hand and uses their power to shift the tax burden to another, less powerful group of people. After a few centuries of this process we are left we a rat’s nest of taxes that manages to tax the some dollars over and over again, while other dollars never get taxed at all. There has never been a better demonstration of the power of special interests and oligarchs.

The solution is a single tax that is fair for all people and raises sufficient money so that the country, state, or city can perform its functions appropriately. The answer is not the so-called “Fair Tax” – a deliberate and viciously deceptive misnomer if there ever was one. That miserable concept is in fact one of the most unfair tax concepts ever created. It is simply another example of how the wealthy oligarchs of this country try to impose their merciless will upon the average person. The “Fair Tax” is nothing more than a national sales tax. The problem with this is that it taxes everything you buy: bread, milk, clothing, newspapers, gasoline, medical care, school supplies – everything you need to live – at the same rate as it taxes the playthings of the extraordinarily wealthy –  things like 10 carat diamonds, 100 foot yachts, thirty room mansions, and so forth. So what’s wrong with that? The problem is that even the fabulously wealthy don’t buy a lot of those items so these things don’t produce a lot of tax revenue.  Most of the budgetary needs of the cities and states have to be made up from the sales of bread and milk and so forth. In this way the poor and indigent, the vast numbers of people living paycheck to pay check, and the families struggling to just get by pay pretty much the same tax as the wealthiest billionaires on most days. It is, in fact, “The Unfair Tax”.

The fairest tax of all is the graduated income tax: it is a tax that taxes small incomes very lightly and massive incomes heavily. Those who can pay the most do so and those who cannot afford to pay anything don’t pay anything. Beyond being extraordinarily fair, the graduated income tax has another potential: it can, by itself, pay all the expenses of the budget of a state, city, or country. And that is a very good thing.

Consider our present situation. You have a job and maybe you make $1,000 a month. You pay $100 income tax per month. Then you take your money and you go out and by gas for you car. Suppose you buy $10 worth of gas. You only really get $9 worth of gas because the other dollar is for the gasoline tax – and really, it’s just a tax upon the money you have already paid an income tax upon! Then you go to the grocery store and buy food. Same thing. Then you buy clothes.  Same thing – you pay taxes on money that has already been taxed. Then you get your property tax bill in the mail. You’ve already paid for your house (with money that was taxed) and now you have to pay a tax again based upon how much you paid for the house. Your money that was already taxed is being taxed again – and it will be taxed again next year, and the year after, and the year after. Indefinitely.

Our entire system of commerce contains taxes upon money that has already been taxed at least once. It is the poor and middle class who suffer the most from this system because, proportionally, they have a much larger tax burden than the wealthy who have written all sorts of income tax, and other tax exemptions, for themselves into law and then pay only a small percentage of their income for the necessities of life – after all, they don’t worry about a sales tax on food because you can only eat so many hamburgers, even if you are a billionaire.

If the leadership of this country really wanted to give a boost to the economy they would scrap our present complex system of national, state, and local taxes and create a single, sole, nationally controlled graduated income tax – and then outlaw all other forms of taxation. The government would then distribute these tax dollars to various states and cities in a manner proportional to their population so they can perform their functions of government. Such a tax would be fair and useful for the common good.

But we will never do that because, despite the fact that we vote for senators and representatives, we live in an oligarchy. Even our now corrupt Supreme Court rules that wealthy, and inanimate, corporations have the same free speech rights as living people – a ruling that defies sanity but allows the wealthy owners of these corporations to drown out the voice of the individual citizen. We live in a society where lobbyists carry bags of money to our elected officials, and they, in turn, create legislation on demand – for a fee. We live in a society where the financial burden of paying for the expenses of the country is placed squarely upon the poor and the middle class while many of the most wealthy pay nothing – yes, nothing – in taxes. And our Congress likes it that way.

A single, fair, graduated income tax is all this nation needs to function. Furthermore, the lifting of all sales, excise, transaction, property and other taxes upon commerce would produce a gigantic stimulus for our economy. There is, however, only one problem with my dream of having only one truly fair tax for all.

It will never happen.

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Ask anyone who has ever bought a used car. Negotiation is an art, a skill. It is not something that is innate. It is not something they teach you at Harvard. It’s something you learn from experience, from buying and selling merchandise on a daily basis in a bazaar or other situation where the buying and selling is brisk. Just travel to Asia and the Middle East if you want to see how it is done. Most Americans who wander into these areas as tourists are prime targets for merchants who happily charge tourists ten times or more the usual selling price for goods.

Which brings me to President Obama. My advise to the President: don’t plan any vacations to the Middle East or Asia – unless you plan to bring a lot of money. The recent “deal” the President agreed to with the Republican Party concerning taxes is evidence enough – when it comes to bargaining, the man is a neophyte, a rank beginner, a bumbling, misguided, do-gooder who has no idea or stomach for tough negotiations. He says he got a good deal for the American people, but in reality all he got was exactly what the Republicans want.  Perhaps President Obama needs to be taken aside by one of his advisors and told the truth: “Mr. President, when it comes to negotiating, you just don’t have the right stuff. ”

I hear that Donald Trump is now considering a run for the Presidency. Would he make a good negotiator? Probably, but I would guess he would be a Republican negotiator and their lineup is already pretty strong. Just look at the implacable faces of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. (By the way, I know he pronounces his name sort of like “Baynor”, but shouldn’t it be “Boner”? Or is it more like the Germanic sounding “Burner”? Just a thought…) Look at the eyes of these people – their slack expressions – their humorless gaze. There isn’t an ounce of compassion or caring in either man. Obama is trying to deal with cold fish, sharks. He doesn’t realize that sharks don’t make deals with minnows –  they eat them. It’s amazing that a man can reach the Presidency and still be so naive. I’m sure George Bush knew the score – so did Cheney. They never, for a heartbeat, thought about deals or compromises. They just made up laws, declared emergencies, did whatever it took to get their way; and as for Congress, they were told to just get out of the way – and they did, without a peep.

Recently, Donald Trump said that he might consider running for President. Hey, we had a Republican movie star President already, right? Remember Ronald Reagan? He didn’t destroy the country’s economy – at least not totally anyway. So, if it’s a choice between Sarah and the Donald – who would you choose? Maybe, if the Republicans bring on the Donald, the Democrats should also turn to Hollywood. I’m thinking William Shatner here.  Would he make a good negotiator? Just listen to his Priceline commercials. What other qualifications would he need? He knows how the game is played – “No!” he shouts to foolish neophyte negotiators.  “Lower! Lower!” Shatner has learned to be a tough Negotiator, and he always wins! But our poor, polite, Harvard educated President doesn’t. He just doesn’t have the tough negotiating experience. He doesn’t know how to negotiate, and he doesn’t know when he is getting a really bad deal.

Negotiating is all about bluffing. Who will walk away? Who will give in? How much does the other side really want it? How much do I want to give up? It’s about risk. It’s about taking chances. Will the other side walk away from a deal? What if they do, can I live with that? Apparently, Obama was afraid the other side would walk away from the very first moment, and he was afraid of what would happen if they did – more afraid than the Republicans were. The question is would they really have walked away – or at the last minute would they have made a real deal? It seems we’ll never know now.

There is, however, one thing I do know: if I ever go out to buy a used car, I will never ask President Obama to come and help me negotiate the price – but William Shatner?

In a heartbeat.

 

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It seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, that’s where the money is.  As of 2007, 85% of all the wealth in America was owned by 20% of the population. Indeed, just 1% owned almost 43% of America’s entire financial wealth. Yet, to hear the Republican Tea Party talk you would think that these people are starving and just couldn’t bear to pay another penny in taxes. They say they are already taxed to the max and, instead, they say we should tax the poor because there are so many of them. Now, as the Bush tax cuts are about to expire, the party of the 1% is holding the country hostage refusing to do business with the President unless he caves in and agrees to extend the Bush tax cuts.

The question is this: will President Obama cave yet again? Well, if history is any indication the answer would be “yes”. Meanwhile, the party of the rich has just allowed the unemployment compensation for the poor people who have lost their jobs to expire. Just in time for Christmas. Can anyone spell Ebenezer Scrooge? Today’s Republican Tea Party is no longer the Party of Lincoln. It is the Party of the stingy, heartless, greedy, businessman who doesn’t give a rat’s behind about the common man, the poor, the starving, the immigrant, the sick, or the dying. They are the bankers and insurance people who created the worldwide economic catastrophe through their avarice and neglect for our country’s financial health. They are the destroyers of people’s lives, homes, and families – and they want EVERYTHING YOU OWN.

And yet, so many Americans vote for them, again and again – people who are not rich and never will be. People who, but for the grace of God, have not yet lost their home and income, rally for the Republican Tea Party. It is inexplicable. One can only believe that the ability of the Republican Tea Party to deceive American citizens is unrivaled in the history of this country. Their ability to convince the people to vote against their own best interests and their ability to maintain this support, even while they seek to destroy every effort the government makes to help these people, is difficult to comprehend. Why would anyone vote for a Party that almost destroyed the economy only two years ago? Why would any person who doesn’t make at least a million dollars a year vote for a Party that seeks to have millionaires pay almost no tax (or in some cases zero tax) and then shift the majority of the tax burden to people who make less than a million dollars?

But there we are. The Republican Tea Party has shown that they will use the power they have, even though they are in the minority, to prevent the government from helping the people unless they (the rich) get favored tax treatment. The Republican Tea Party cares little about the people of America – it is simply and solely and single mindedly, the Party of the wealthy. And, it seems, it is now the wealthy – the 1% who have an ungodly amount of wealth – who now call the shots. It is they who rule. We have become a true oligarchy.

If there is one thing we should ask President Obama and the Democrats to do, it is this: stand firm. Do not cave in again. Give the Republican Tea Party a taste of their own medicine and introduce new tax laws that would tax only the rich. Tax their wealth with massive property taxes, and tax their incomes with 90% tax rates. Write tax laws that say anyone who falls into the bottom 75% of income earners pays zero tax, and let the entire tax burden of the country fall upon the rich because they can most afford it, and they are the ones who have benefited the most from living in this country. Now, it’s payback time. And as for that old Republican Tea Party lie that says it is the wealth of these rich people that creates jobs, think about this: they wouldn’t have all that money if it was being used to create jobs. The simple fact is that the rich do not use their money to create  jobs for you; they use their money to make more money because that is their only true goal and concern. They are of one mind, and they do not care about you or this country enough to actually pay their fair share of taxes. In fact they will fight against it to their dying breath.

There is only one solution to America’s financial problems.

Tax the rich! That’s where the money is.

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There is an old Thai saying that goes like this: “When elephants fight it is the grass that gets trampled”.

There is a massive fight going on now in Washington D.C., and while many Americans might feel they have a stake in this battle, the fact remains that we are the grass in this battle of elephants.  On one side we have the strong and robust Republican/Tea Party – the party of the already wealthy. They feel they can take care of themselves and the less government, the better. On the other side are the weakling Democrats, traditionally the party of the working class, who believe that only a strong government can protect the average person from the avarice of the wealthy. This is not a new struggle – it is the remnants of a struggle that began in England before this country was even a glimmer in John Winthrop’s eye.

The old traditions of Europe: a small and very powerful wealthy class that owns almost everything and a very large peasant class that performs all the necessary labor so that the wealthy might live in luxury, were left behind when the Puritans sailed to Massachusetts. It was a new, virgin land (except for those troublesome Native Americans who really had no right to the land because they were not part of the Elect – and the fact that they mostly all died in battles with the early settlers (who had all the guns) proved that God was on the side of the Elect!!)

For a time, it all worked out. Anybody could just grab the land they wanted and they could live in total freedom. But with success comes more people, and more people, and more people. Pretty soon the people realized this total freedom thing wasn’t working for everyone, so they made rules. Then they fought a war against the English King and the English people because the English still wanted to play the old game of rich man, poor man. So, with the help of the people of France, who had recently overthrown their own wealthy oppressors, they created a new country styled upon the democracies of ancient Greece and Rome (which is why the architecture of Washington D.C. looks like it does).

Unfortunately, the rules didn’t cover a lot of things so it wasn’t long before the fox was in the henhouse – so to speak.  The wealthy people, not above stealing from the poor, soon owned the banks and the big businesses and went on to steal from the poor and the unsuspecting, which led to the Stock Market crash of 1929, not to mention all of the previous bank panics and economic catastrophes before that. The point was that the wealthy manipulators of the economy always enriched themselves based upon the power of their wealth, their connections with other wealthy people, and their inside information.

The Great Depression pointed out (to some people anyway) the need for reform of the system, and President Roosevelt went about that reform. In fact he named Joseph Kennedy to be the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission – perfect: who better to catch a fox than another fox? The country recovered from the abuses of the wealthy thanks to Roosevelt’s strong government that was genuinely interested in helping the people.

Now, many years since the Great Depression we are in the midst of the Great Recession – with the potential to fall off a cliff into a second great depression if the wrong decisions are made. However, unlike the 1930’s, we do not have a President with a mandate to save the country. We have a house divided. We have the Republican/Tea Party who wants to do nothing, except lower taxes for the wealthy (the source of all jobs, remember?) and then deregulate pretty much everything. Minimal government is best they say – all we need is a strong military to kill everyone who doesn’t like the way we do things. Are far as the poor and the sick and the homeless goes – well, they’re on their own – Will of God and that sort of thing, you know? (They seem to think that this is the teaching of Jesus. After all, they are the Elect.) They feel kind of sorry for those God-forsaken people – but, they say, why is that the problem of the wealthy who have only made their vast fortunes by honest means? Exactly.

Now for the Democrats – the voice of the working man – where do they stand? It seems they stand firmly in favor of compromise. They talk a good story but in the end they will cave – and the Republican Tea Party knows that. Like a lion waiting in the tall grass, they know the Democrats have no teeth and no stomach for a battle. And why should they – after all, every Senator in the U.S. Congress is already a multi-millionaire, so really – just who do these people represent? And just why should they fight for the working man? After all, they’ve already been elected, so who cares, right? As for the Congressmen, they know where their bread is buttered. Sure some poor working class man might have scraped up $10 to make a campaign contribution – but can that compare to the vast amounts contributed  by major corporations to the campaigns? Of course not. Who would you listen to? And now that the fools in our Supreme Court have declared that corporations have the same rights of free speech as living people, everything has changed. Would you want the corporations, with their semi-infinite resources buying unattributed TV ads against you in the next election?

Don’t look to the Democratic Party to save the country this time. They don’t have the stomach for a fight – they like the good life too much. But, if we only look at history we can see that we are heading for a fight. We are a polarized country – the haves against the have-nots;  and the polarization is deepening. The Republican/Tea Party people are too stupid to see this, nor do they care, and the Democrats are equally blind to the danger that is building. When the Republican Tea Party proceeds to heartlessly cut the lifelines of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare, and all other assistance to the poor – the fight will inevitably come. It has to. It will be a fight for survival. It won’t be the weaklings of this Democratic Party that lead the charge, but it will come anyway.  It always does when people refuse to learn the hard lessons of their own history.

And it is always the grass that gets trampled.

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It’s difficult to say when it began, but I am sure the seeds were planted on the very first day the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.  Surely the beliefs that allow such betrayals are contained in the essence of the Calvinist/Puritan teaching of the concept of the “elect”.  Surely such beliefs are made manifest in the wholesale slaughter of the native Americans who owned this land.  Surely such beliefs are made manifest in the enslavement of an entire race of people, all for the sake of the enrichment of private fortunes. They called America the land of opportunity. And who comes to a land of opportunity except opportunists?

Through the centuries there have been numerous examples of men who professed a love for this country and its people, and all the while they acted out of anything but love for either the country or its people.  These captains of industry and leaders of government, clever with words and even more clever with the manipulation of the populace, time and again took advantage of the people solely for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.   The use of slaves in the south, the use of child labor in the factories of the north, the ejection of native Americans from their homelands on which they had lived for over 10,000 years, are all the work of opportunists – people without a sense of honor, righteousness, or human sympathy. These people knew only greed for wealth and would say anything, do anything, and go anywhere to obtain it. As they would say, ” You gotta do what you gotta do.” And they called themselves Americans.

We should have seen it coming fifty years ago. That’s when the captains of industry began moving the manufacturing industry of America from the industrial northeast to the south in order to take advantage of the cheap labor and thus obtain even greater profits. It was an opportunity not to be missed. And over the years the northeast lost many, many thousands of jobs and once thriving manufacturing towns became empty as people left, looking for work somewhere else. Never mind that the captains of industry had been good citizens. Some had even held political office. All had claimed they were working for the good of their communities. And then they left – for the opportunity to make even more money. And what about the people left behind? Who cares?

We missed the signs, though they were obvious to see. Then it happened again, except this time the captains of industry moved their factories to other countries where the people would work for even less money – it was an opportunity, you see. And our government? Well, it was just fine with our elected officials. No need to erect tariffs to keep out the cheaply made goods that would compete with American made products. It’s competition – good for everyone. Right? But it wasn’t. Sure it was good for Wal-Mart. Sure it has been wonderful for China. But what about the American worker? What could he do now?

Ah! The government had an idea (with the help of the banking industry). The poor people could buy and flip houses! Let them become mini-Capitalists! They can make their fortune’s that way and so can the banks. And the government said, “Let it be so.” And it was.

As Americans now look at the smoking ruin that was once the American economy, there is a strong sense of betrayal. Look at the Tea Party. They are made as Hell and they aren’t going to take it any more. Sadly, they have no clue about exactly what happened to them. They just know that they don’t want to pay taxes anymore. Everywhere there is unhappiness. The government cannot be trusted. The people we elect don’t deliver. They promise to do things and then they never even attempt to do them once they are elected. Democrat or Republican – it makes no difference, because, you see, they are all opportunists in this land of opportunity.

We, the people, don’t get it. It’s not about community. It’s not about patriotism.  It’s not about helping your neighbor. It’s not about people helping people. At least those are not the concerns of our captains of industry or our captains of government. We have been betrayed, fooled, bamboozled. The Tea Party knows it. We are a nation of suckers, believing political promises and televised slogans from big business. Our Supreme Court, in its mind-boggling wisdom, has declared that corporations are like people and that they enjoy the same freedom of speech that real, living people do.  Really! So now corporations can use their billion dollar megaphones to drown out the voices of dissent from the people.  We are indeed betrayed. Our jobs have been moved overseas. Our wealthiest citizens pay almost no taxes while our poorest people are evicted from their foreclosed homes to live on the streets. Our banks have received billions of dollars from the government in order to cover their losses. Our industries have received billions of dollars from our government in order to cover their losses. All because our government and our industry leaders deliberately moved the key machinery of our economy to China, India, and the rest of the developing world – and all at the expense of the American citizen.

The people of America have been betrayed by the leaders of their industries and their elected leaders for many, many years.  And now, while the smoke still lazily drifts upward from the ruins of a devastated economy, the politicians prod the people once again. “Vote for me. Vote for me.” But Washington, don’t you see? The people are tired of your tricks, tired of your betrayals, tired of your promises that mean so little.  We know you are nothing but opportunists.

I fear that the time is near when the American people, like Estragon and Vladimir in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, will simply not move.

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