Nel's New Day

April 15, 2014

Enjoy Tax Day!

Every year, April 15 brings moaning and groaning amid complaints about taxes. Yet if progressives suggest greater equity in taxes for the wealthy, as billionaire Warren Buffet has, Republicans tell us that we can make a gift to the U.S. Treasury. New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, said, “He should just write a check and shut up.” A letter-writer to our local newspaper sneered at me for claiming that taxes went to help people and gave me the address where I could send my money.

Somehow, conservatives don’t mind sending their money to the wealthy hedge-fund managers from Wall Street or the bankers, but they resent contributing to a badly-needed safety net for the poor. They ignore the facts that people in the United States pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than almost all other wealthy Western nations and that taxes as a share of GDP are at a 50-year low. Wealthy people claim to give money to charities, but these are usually places where they can look important such as museums or other forms of the arts.

When former hedge-fund manager John Arnold and his wife did donate $10 million during last fall’s government shutdown to keep Head Start programs open in six states, the general belief of people is that nonprofits can solve the problems of society. Only 56 percent trust the government to do that. Arnold admitted, “Private dollars cannot in the long term replace government commitments.” Press coverage, however, makes people believe that they don’t need to pay taxes for these programs because wealthy people will.

Scientific research is also moving into private hands, frequently the hands of corporations that will reap the benefits. This practice also puts research into the hands of donors’ personal preferences. Conservatives want lowered government funding of science along with “selective science.” The proposed House bill, The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act, would reduce funding in the sciences by 22 percent while removing a general allocation for the National Science Foundation so that lawmakers can use their personal ideologies to cherry-pick favorite science areas.

People in the United States have been levied a permanent income tax for the past 100 years. The current system came from a tax to pay for World War II. In the mid-20th century, voluntary giving helped support the morality of paying taxes. Tax revolts came with the highly conservative era of President Ronald Reagan who maintained that taxes were not a representation of democracy.

One idea of reviving an understanding of democratic tax-paying is to permit taxpayers to allocate part of their income taxes to a choice within the discretionary federal budget. Another is to educate people about their fantasy that charity can solve the immense problems of the nation.

Sister Simone has TPPSister Simone Campbell, the nun is trouble with the Vatican for her focus in caring for the poor, has another idea. She invites people to show their pride in what their taxes do:

“What do schools, parks, roads, firefighters, clean air and water, and the social safety net all have in common? You helped pay for them with your taxes! Why? Because what makes our country great is our commitment to everyone having enough and no one getting left behind.

“Many of our faith traditions call us to pool our financial resources for the common good. But fiscal extremists have made ‘taxes’ an ugly word.

“So this Tax Day, April 15th, the nuns and friends at NETWORK are celebrating #TaxpayerPride Day by taking selfies with things our taxes pay for that make us proud. Check out the selfies below and submit your own here!

Photos are available here.

Other solutions to the tax-complainers is education in what their taxes provide. When they complain about the safety net for foreign aid, they need to understand that food stamps, TANF, and foreign aid comprise 3 percent of their taxes. For those who pay $20,000 a year, that’s $600. On the other hand, military is at 25 percent–$5,000.

The $3.7 trillion federal budget is divided into mandatory spending required by Congress and discretionary spending that can be cut. Last year, over half of the discretionary spending went to defense. Some of the interest on the debt can also be attributed to defense spending because George W. Bush’s two wars cost at least $1.5 trillion, a sum that was all borrowed and went above the budget.

spending bubbles

No one knows for sure where the money for the defense budget goes because the Pentagon is too big to audit, despite a 1997 mandate that federal agencies have annual audits. We do know that the Pentagon supports 170 golf courses around the world.

Making the wealthy pay their share would even reduce taxes for most of the complainers. A sales tax on Wall Street transactions like those on clothes and food for most of the people in the nation would bring in hundreds of billions of dollars. The London stock exchange has had a tax of 0.5 percent for over 300 years; U.S. proposals are for only 0.025 percent. The wealthy also game the system by making sure that their income is at the 20 percent rate of capital gains rather the 39.6 percent income tax rate. This and other loopholes have made people like Mitt Romney wealthy.

There has been some discussion of limiting mortgage deductions which most people fight. If the amount of deductions were capped at $400,000, it wouldn’t hurt most of the complainers. Switching the deduction to a credit of 15 or 20 percent would level the playing field between the so-called middle class and the wealthy.

Another way to drop taxes for the complainers is to bring military expenditures back to the United States. The U.S. Navy has just spent $4 billion to create a stealthy destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, to patrol the coast of China for a lot more money required from U.S. taxpayers.

At the same time, President Obama’s budget for 2015 spends 55 percent of federal discretionary funds for the military.The Pentagon Overseas Contingency Operations (aka war funding) is a budget with no caps or sequestration caps. This $85 billion in 2014 was for “whatever” use by the Pentagon. The president’s 2014 budget includes $28 billion to enable the Pentagon to “accelerate the schedules for developing and buying new or upgraded systems.”

Justification for paying all this money is jobs. Last month Sen. Angus King (I-ME) wrote that cuts in defense would hurt his state’s industries. His complaint isn’t unique; senators and representatives around the country make the same justification for the ballooning defense budget.

Taxes don’t have to go to the Pentagon to create jobs. People can get jobs in working construction from light rail for public transit to energy-efficient. Reparation of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure would create jobs and bring home war dollars. Infrastructure spending would benefit the economy far more than defense spending would. The GOP reduction on infracture spending by 20 percent under President Obama will cost businesses $1 trillion in sales and lose people 3.5 million jobs.

Complainers about Social Security need to note that most of America’s wealthiest citizens stop paying Social Security taxes two days from now on April 17. Because the payroll contribution cap is $117,000, millionaires and billionaires don’t pay into the system after this date. Most of the people in the nation pay the entire year, with a higher percentage of their salary.

SocialSecurityTaxCaps03152012 The Reagan standard for payroll taxes was that 90 percent of wages are covered by the Social Security tax, bringing up the cap to almost $200,000. Instead the taxes cover less than 83 percent of wages. Four years ago, the New York Times reported that this one change would produce $50 billion in revenue in 2015. Keeping the cap constant at 90 percent would put it at $230,000. That would be an additional cost of $7,000 at the most and help reduce the deficit. That $7,000 doesn’t hurt as much for a person making $230,000 as it does for those making under $100,000.

The poorest 20 percent of families pay almost double the share of their income to state and local taxes as the richest one percent.

shares of taxes

Dreams: increase Social Security, decrease defense, fix the infrastructure, close tax loopholes for the wealthy, and enjoy what your taxes provide. Oh yes, take away subsidies from undeserving corporations and make them pay taxes. You can demand that here.

November 11, 2013

Help Veterans, Cut Defense

Most people know today is Veterans Day because the post office doesn’t deliver mail, and the television is inundated with war movies. There are also a few ceremonies and newspaper articles about old men who survived World War II. Most people have forgotten that the day was originally called Armistice Day with the intent to celebrate peace—not war. It commemorated the ceasefire of World War I at 11:00 am on 11/11/18.

Since the draft ended over four decades ago, people in the United States have become more and more detached from the people who fight the frivolous wars declared largely on the need for oil. Without the draft, most decision-makers have no military experience, and the diplomatic process is losing to declaration of war on a whim. The military is also becoming more and more divided by social classes: those who can afford to attend college and can get jobs largely avoid enlisting. When the U.S. had a draft, almost all young men face the possibility of military involvement, possibly during a conflict.

With people’s detachment from veterans has come the country’s ignoring the needs of veterans:

 Housing: 13 percent of the homeless population in this country is composed of veterans, and more than half of them have a disability. Despite some veteran housing programs, more than 60,000 veterans become homeless each year, and another 120,000 are in danger of losing their housing. Veterans aren’t even exempt from home foreclosures. 

Jobs: The unemployment rate for veterans since 9/11 is 10 percent, almost 50 percent higher than the 7.2 percent rate for everyone else. Much of this unemployment is long-term: 34 percent have been unemployed for a year, and 17 percent have not had a job for more than 2 years.

Reliable Health Care: Nearly 250,000 veterans wait for longer than a year to even have claims processed, and the situation got much worse after the Department of Veterans Affairs had to shut down for over two weeks because of the GOP blackmail in October. Soldiers with mental health issues are also ignored, and PTSD is on the rise.

Suicide Prevention: The suicide rate for veterans is increasing at twice the rate as the rate for the general population, and almost 20 percent of suicides nationwide is among veterans although they comprise only 10 percent of the population.

Drug Counseling: Veterans are at greater risk after stresses in the military and subsequent return to civilian life. According to one study, 39 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had “probably alcohol abuse.” One in eight troops are referred to counseling for alcohol problems when they leave the military. At the same time, the military ignores excessive drug and alcohol use during active duty.

Incarceration: Almost ten percent of prison inmates are veterans. That’s one million of the ten million people incarcerated in the United States.

Food Stamps: 900,000 veterans rely on food stamps to feed their families. These are the people who will be taken off if the House of Representatives gets its way to move this money over to wealthy farmers. Last week, benefits were cut by an average of almost 8 percent to $133 per person per month. These are the people who Repubilcans describe as “lazy moochers” who need to learn independence.

Social Security: The government plan to establish a “chained CIP” would decrease the disability benefits for almost 4 million veterans as well as pension payments to another 500,000 low-income veterans and surviving families . Currently the Consumer Price Index measures changes in retail prices; chained CPI would use changes in consumer behavior by using the quantity of goods purchased as well as the retail prices. Some people think that those who spend less, for example going without meat, should receive less benefits because they don’t spend as much as when they had more money. The chained CPI method would decrease a raise of 1.7 percent in disability and pension payments by over 17 percent.

In 1944, Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, nicknamed the G.I. Bill. It gave benefits to the 16 million World War II veterans including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start businesses, tuition and living expenses for education, and one year of unemployment compensation. Every veteran on active duty during the war years for at least 90 days and not dishonorably discharged got these benefits. By 1956, about 2.2 million veterans benefited from the G.I. Bill to go to college, and another 6.6 million participated in training programs. Even more Vietnam veterans used education benefits.

As time went on, the G.I. Bill got watered down. For example, Korean War veterans didn’t get unemployment compensation. After 1985, members of the military had to contribute $100 monthly for their first year in order to have education benefits. If they didn’t use any benefits, they still didn’t get the money back. Now, veterans can get health care—although they may sometimes have to wait a few years for it—and burial benefits. Gone, however, are the days when they got other help.

Ten percent of veterans are in prison, ten percent are unemployed, 13 percent are homeless, and almost one million need food stamps. These veterans don’t have anything to celebrate today.

The GOP says that there’s not enough money to help them. If corporations that provide oil and useless defense equipment didn’t get welfare, there might be enough money to help veterans. And if the government controlled its defense funding, veterans could have the services that they need, and the deficit could be cut. For example, the following could be left out of the budget with no problem for the country’s defense.

Chronically-failing anti-missile rockets keep getting more funding. In exchange for millions of dollars in campaign funds, GOP politicians consistently give welfare funds to contractors such as Lockheed, Martin, Boeing, TRW, and Raytheon. Independent analysts like MIT Professor of Science, Technology and International Security Theodore Postol maintain that “ballistic missile defense” (BMD) can’t work, that interceptor missiles can never distinguish real incoming weapons from swarms of decoys, and should be cancelled. In March 2000, Postol wrote President Clinton, charging that the program’s officers were “most likely attempting to illegally use the security and classification system to hide waste, fraud and abuse” through faked test results. The GOP has paid $200 billion during the past three decades for the faked tests.

The GOP provides welfare to corporations for weapons programs that the Pentagon doesn’t want. Military leaders assert that the new Joint-Strike fighter jet bomber (or F-35) and additional upgrades to the M1 Abrams tank are unnecessary because the 6,000 completed M1 upgrades are enough.  Dumping the Abrams rehab program would save $3.5 billion. Pentagon chiefs have proposed savings of at least $487 billion over a decade including the following cancellations:

  • The Global Hawk drone, whose purpose is served by the U2: savings, $2.5 billion by 2017;
  • The C-27J Spartan transport aircraft: savings, $400 million by 2017;
  • 5,000 jobs in the Air National Guard: savings, $300 million a year;
  • Plans for an East Coast missile defense battery that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called unnecessary: savings, $3.6 billion by 2017.

The U.S. approved $645.7 billion in defense funding for 2012, the most recent year with available complete data. That’s 41 percent of total global military spending.

US military spending global

The U.S. budgets six times more than China, eleven times more than Russia, 27 times more than Iran, and 33 times more than Israel.

Military spending five countries

Military spending in this country is double that of all Asian countries. The U.S. is in the top highest spending countries as a percentage of GDP.

Veterans deserve to be saved from homelessness, hunger, prison, mental and physical illness, and joblessness. Changing the United States’ priorities from declaring war to helping veterans could accomplish this task.

August 27, 2012

Cut Defense; Leave NOAA, FEMA, Safety Net Alone

The GOP convention was intended to be the big story for this week until Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) brought abortion and rape into the dialog and dug up the GOP’s position. The biggest story, however, is Tropical Storm Isaac which probably will become a hurricane before landfall somewhere in the Gulf Coast states.

Gov. Bobby Jindal cancelled his speech at the GOP convention to get back to Louisiana because of the threat to New Orleans, and Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott dropped out of the convention to protect his state. Nobody knows Isaac’s actual destination when it’s predicted to his land early Wednesday morning. Governors of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have started evacuations in their states and joined Scott in declaring emergencies.

The irony of the Isaac story is that Republicans have received early warning after trying to drastically cut funds for disaster preparedness and response. Their continuing resolution 2011 budget shrank funding for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Operations, Research, and Facilities by $454.3 million. The National Weather Service, part of NOAA, lost $126 million; FEMA dropped $24.3 million with FEMA state and local programs losing $783.3 million. Fortunately, this budget didn’t stick.

As part of last August’s Budget Control Act, Republicans agreed to make it easier to fund disaster relief but then reneged on this agreement. This isn’t new. Back in his 2009 response to the State of the Union, Jindal ridiculed the stimulus for having “$140 million for something called volcano monitoring.” Jindal is governor of a state that has hurricanes, not volcanoes. Not everyone else in the United States is in the same situation.

NOAA warned Congress that Republican cuts would stop them from warning people about hurricanes five to ten days out because of its aging satellites. Without the funding, the United States could go up to 18 months or even longer without any satellites.  If that were to happen, the Republicans might not know a hurricane is imminent for their 2016 convention.

Even when NOAA doesn’t want extra money for a project, Congress refused to allow them to make their activities more efficient. Last fall, when NOAA wanted to reorganize its existing climate capabilities and services into a “single point of entry” for users, Congress said no. NOAA cannot be permitted to “more efficiently and effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate that helps people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses, and communities.”

The idea was that efficient, up-to-date information is important because of the likelihood of more droughts, floods, and storms; Republicans can’t admit that climate is changing. Since Congress turned down NOAA’s proposal, the organization has announced the last year and last half year are the hottest on record. The second half of this past June saw at least 170 all-time high temperatures either broken or tied. As of July 3, 56 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced drought conditions, the largest percentage in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor. During the June 2011-June 2012 period, each of the 13 consecutive months ranked among the warmest third of their historical distribution for the first time in the 1895-present record. The odds of this occurring randomly is 1 in 1,594,323.

When disastrous tornadoes hit Missouri, Republicans threatened to hold up any assistance until there were cuts in other places. The same for Virginia’s earthquake and the east coast’s Hurricane Irene.  A year ago House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) demanded that “that no more money be allocated for disaster relief unless it is offset by spending cuts elsewhere”—until he asked for FEMA money for his own district a month later.

If Republicans don’t get the FEMA aid that they request, they are angry. When FEMA refused a request for federal aid for wildfire victims in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin called a government agency’s rejection letter “bureaucratic” and “cruel.”

If anything is “bureaucratic” and “cruel,” it’s the Republicans’ refusal to allow states’ residents to get the health care from the federal government that costs the states nothing. Texas is a prime example: the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has now upheld Texas’s decision to deny women any health care through Planned Parenthood or other clinic that simply makes referrals for abortions.  The court decision will deny health care to at least 50,000 women.

Texas has also refused to accept the federal money that would provide Medicaid for people with salaries between one-fourth of the poverty level and one and one-fourth of the poverty level. Because of Gov. Rick Perry’s arrogance and indifference, families making between $5,000 and $25,000 will not qualify for Medicaid or any other remedy from the Affordable Care Act. That’s bureaucratic and cruel.

If Republicans want FEMA help for people who need assistance, they need to allocate funds for it. They also need to revise their position in denying all people any safety net except the wealthy—who don’t need it. And they need to stop using their personal morality to control women.

Where can the government get the money to help people? Defense expenditures went from $583.38 billion in 2003 when we were in two wars to $711.42 billion in 2011 when we were no longer in war. About a half century ago, Dwight Eisenhower said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” We are now living in Eisenhower’s nightmare.

If Republicans want small government, they should start with the defense budget. Support the programs that actually help people, such as the safety net and NOAA.

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