Budgets, Deficits and Debt

Plans for What?

Reading time – 2:45; Viewing time  – 3:58  .  .  .

Healthcare is our current favorite distraction from the Russian cyber invasion of America and the possible involvement of Trump groupies, so let’s have a look at what the geniuses in Congress have proposed for the health and well being of all Americans.

It’s well established that the House and Senate attempts at delivering on the brainless “repeal and replace” mantra have little to do with healthcare delivery to Americans. Healthcare is simply the cover for an $800 billion dollar gift to already rich people. In the unlikely circumstance that you aren’t fully enraged by that, consider that part of the windfall for the wealthy is a reimbursement of taxes paid on financial transactions, money that was used to fund Medicare expansion for our poor under Obamacare.

That’s right: these plans dig a deeper hole of debt for America because the 1% need more money. I guess I missed that turn when Republicans stopped obsessing over debt. Nice to know that it doesn’t matter any more, so it’s okay to slather more cash on the rich.

Enough about the struggling wealthy. We’ll let them pull themselves up by their Gucci bootstraps and instead have a look at how the House and Senate plans will affect you.

Click me to see the 5 things to know about Mitch McConnell

If you’re poor, you’re screwed. The Congressional Budget Office”s analysis is that under the House plan 23 million more Americans will be cut out of healthcare insurance entirely, which will effectively leave them without primary healthcare; under the Senate version that number drops to an only slightly less cruel 22 million more Americans whose medical needs we’ll ignore. Either way, tens of millions of Americans will have nothing but a last ditch, begging for mercy trip to the emergency room as their primary healthcare. Those trips are always made well after medical attention is needed, so the conditions presented to emergency room staff are far worse and often irreversible. That means people who might have been cured will die.

Plus a visit to the emergency room costs more than any other way to deliver healthcare, driving our overall cost much higher. Be clear that every hospital is required to deliver healthcare to whoever shows up at their door, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. That means that the cost to care for a poor person who drags into the emergency room and receives that expensive care is passed along to all the patients who can pay, like you. That’s how slashing Medicaid will drive up your cost of healthcare.

Click me to link to the article

The Kaiser Family Foundation has crafted a nifty way to learn how the various cruel congressional plans stack up against the ACA (Obamacare). Access the comparison with the Senate plan (“BCRA”) here; link to the comparison with the House plan (“AHCA”) here. Just enter your age, income and the state in which you live. Then click on your county, review the results and decide which plan you like best. Be sure to look ahead to what these plans will cost you 10 or 20 years from now. Good chance you’ll be surprised – and not pleasantly so.

But that’s just you. Before deciding which plan to support be sure to consider the poor people who will have no place to go but the emergency room for medical care under either congressional plan. Also, don’t forget the rich people who need your financial support.

Click me to link to the article

The net of this is that both the Republicans in Congress and the president are so desperate to “get a win” that they are sucking up to the wealthy and abandoning our poor. That is to say, the win means more to them than life or death of our most vulnerable.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Intolerables – Redux

Reading time – 2:55; Viewing time – 5:24  .  .  .

A couple of months ago I wrote about the concept of intolerables – that which is intolerable to you and you’d fight it to the death. It’s critically important for each of us to know our intolerables, because they bring sharp focus to our North Star. As motivational speaker Les Brown makes clear, “You have to know what you stand for, or you’ll fall for anything.”

Trump tax plan to benefit the wealthy. CLICK ME

Amazingly, trickle-down, “voodoo economics,” is once again being shoved up our noses, this time by President Trump with his new tax plan (have a look at the 1-page “plan” here). He tells us that he’ll boldly reduce the top corporate rate from 35% to a miserly 15%. Further, he assures us that there’s no need to end any special interest loopholes. That’s because our economy will have a veritable explosion of growth. And the growth will be such a win – you’ll be sick of winning! – and companies will make so much more money that even at the new reduced tax rate, tax collections by the government will stay as they are. His magical thinking plan will be revenue neutral! Note that that’s what Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, promised Kansans 5 years ago. Instead, he’s driven his state into recession and borrowed from the state pension system just to stay afloat.

The best part of Trump’s plan, he tells us, is that the taxes saved will put so much extra cash into the tills of corporations that they will immediately start a hiring frenzy. JOBS! So many jobs you’ll be sick of jobs and there will be so much joy that CEOs and marketing executives and janitors will skip and sing merrily in the streets, hand in brotherly hand. There’s just one thing: reduced taxes don’t create jobs. Increased demand is what creates jobs and Trump’s plan won’t increase demand. I guess we can forget about the singing and dancing in the streets.

In order to get we rubes to go along with his cockamamie plan he’s going to buy us off by slightly reducing and simplifying our personal taxes. Of course, those tax reductions will apply to Trump, too, but with lots more digits to the left of the decimal point for him than for you. In fact, applying his new scheme to the one Trump tax return we’ve seen would put over $30 MILLION into Trump’s pocket in that one year alone. It’s a zombie tax plan, according to Forbes. Trump figures you won’t notice his self-aggrandizement because he thinks you’re dumb enough to be happy with a couple more bucks in your jeans.

George W. Bush pulled that same “buying your support” crap by sending you just a few hundred bucks as he put billions into the pockets of billionaires with his first tax cut. He, too, told us the government revenue shortfall would be made up through economic expansion and the extra taxes that growth would generate. How’d that work out for us? Mmmm  .  .  .  not so well.

Bush even had the gall to pull that tax reduction trick a second time, even though we were at war and we were spending money like a drunken politician. He’s the first president in our history to take us to war and reduce taxes at the same time, instead of raising taxes to cover the cost of his war. We’ll be paying for his fiscal stupidity for a hundred years.

“. . . major major conflict with North Korea” CLICK ME

Trump wants to cut taxes, build national infrastructure, build the damn wall, cut taxes (yes, I know I already said that), rattle sabres at North Korea, fire $30 million worth of missiles at Syria, do who knows what with his bromance buddy Putin, eliminate regulations and, of course, cut taxes. And it’s all being planned by his Goldman Sachs buddies. What could possibly go wrong for middle class and poor Americans?

Ronald Reagan started this trickle-down idiocy in our government nearly 4 decades ago and it has never worked. Let me repeat: It has never worked. Benefits from lower taxes never trickled down. If you were poor, you became poorer. If you were middle class, you stagnated. All that money poured instead into the pockets of CEOs and shareholders who stuffed that cash into their investment portfolios. All the job growth we experienced over the years can be attributed to other factors, like the technology boom of the 1990s and the stimulus program of 2009, neither of which was a trickle down gimmick.

I told you in that earlier post that one of my intolerables is lying, like Paul Ryan telling us that his plans for Social Security and Medicare won’t privatize those programs – except that’s exactly what his plans would do. Trump is now telling the same lie to us that Reagan and the rest of the free market radicals have lied to us about since 1980.

Is that intolerable? We have to know, or we’ll fall for it again. Are we that dumb?

Both Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli liked to say, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” How would you categorize trickle-down economics? How would you categorize nearly anything Donald Trump says?

In other news

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Big doings in Elgin, IL next Sunday. Come join us as our presenters give us the inside skinny on healthcare, the Canadian pipeline planned to go through Illinois and Money, Politics and Democracy: You Aren’t Getting What You Want. The sessions are free, open to the public and offer you an opportunity to learn without any of the all-too-common Washington spin. Join us.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The D. S. of A

What if our state and federal legislators were held to this standard?

What if our state and federal legislators
were held to this standard?

Reading time – 2:55; Viewing time – 4:39  .  .  .

At a time when a high school education is so often woefully inadequate for success in a global, interconnected world, where old time manufacturing skills have given way to computerized everything and where millions of employers are frustrated because they’re unable to find people with the proper training to do the jobs they have open, Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin continues to slash support for the formerly wonderful state universities in Wisconsin.

Rick Snyder, Republican Governor of Michigan, headed the drive to allow the state to take control of any municipal government in Michigan that the geniuses in Lansing deemed was in financial distress, the sanctity of the municipal voting ballot be damned. That led inexorably to the poisoning of the children in Flint, MI due to the diabolical economic decision to change the source of the drinking water for that city. Instead of the safe Great Lakes water they had used for a century, the Lansing imposed Flint dictator decided to provide water from the Flint River, water which is corrosive, and that resulted in the city drinking water becoming laced with lead. Nobody knows the human toll or the financial cost that ingestion of lead will exact over the long term, but it will be enormous. Snyder and his Republican legislature in Lansing are doing a tap dance around accountability and as of this moment they are still dragging feet on fixing their mess. Meanwhile, the residents of Flint are trapped in a water quality disaster and an economic squeeze of Rick Snyder’s doing.

Sam Brownback (R-KS) promised Kansans that if they elected him governor that he would slash taxes and that would magically result in increased revenue for the state because of the dramatic economic expansion that lower taxes would induce. So, they elected him governor. Instead of the results he promised, his plan resulted in way lower revenue for the now nearly bankrupt state and a depressed economy across Kansas. Who might have even guessed that reducing the state’s income might reduce the state’s income?

Bobby Jindahl is the Republican governor of Louisiana. His state is a financial disaster. It is ranked the worst in the nation in educating its children. There’s lots more – and none of it is pretty. Let’s just move on.

Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) is the titular head of the state with more real estate in peril as the oceans rise than anywhere else. The streets of Miami Beach are often under water and much of south Florida is at or only slightly above sea level, so it doesn’t take much of a wave or much of a rise in sea level to flood it. And Rick Scott, a former fossil fuel homie, denies global warming and the human imprint on it, so he does nothing.

And, of course, right here in Illinois where we have a bottomless pension debt, our governor is so out of touch that we’ll call him Bruce Rauner (R-Pluto). He hasn’t offered a thing to fix the pension crisis and he continues to govern by refusing every attempt to establish a budget. Yes, that’s right: Illinois has been operating without a budget for well over a year and Governor Rauner seems to think in the way of Ted Cruz, that if we just shut down the functions of government that somehow all the best things will happen. That hasn’t work out too well for Illinois college students, as threats of shutdown of entire institutions were imminent, nor did it work out for our mentally ill who, because of the governor’s draconian methods, were not even getting their meds. Let the games of the rich continue, because they aren’t affected by their restrictive policies, even as those who are most needy continue to suffer.

These are the D. S. of A, the Disaster States of America, although not all of them. The Republican leaders in these states proudly and self-righteously thumb their noses at our bloated federal government and the over-taxation of the public. Yet, oddly, as they fail their states, or their states face crises, like Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, they expect the federal government to bail them out of their catastrophes. Either that or they just do more of what doesn’t work and declare victory.

How are you feeling about that? Keep that in mind as you vote for your state legislators on November 8.

Thanks to Steve Sheffey for pointing out this video.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

It Isn’t About Your Message

Housefly.Reading time – 1:54; Viewing time – 3:17  .  .  .

The 2012 general election generated a lot of forward looking comments from pundits and political operatives, like:

The Republicans will have to change their messaging if they are going to appeal to Latinos.

“Severely conservative” Mitt Romney will have to pivot to the center in order to attract independents.

Republican candidates have to stop saying things like, “A woman’s body has a way of shutting that down [in cases of rape],” and “[Pregnancy from rape] is God’s plan.”

This year those statements are being modified only slightly by saying that Trump will have to change his messaging if he is going to appeal to Latinos and African-Americans. Like Romney, he’ll have to pivot to the center in order to attract independents. He’ll have to stop demeaning women and he’ll  have to refuse to align with hate groups if he is going to attract anyone but the hair-on-fire pissy people (my description, not a quote).

The important point, though, is that all that “how to win elections” word torturing is completely misguided, wrong-headed and even dishonest.  It seems to say that all that matters is the manipulation of the message and of voters.

To which I say, “Nuh-uh.” What is important is not the crafted messaging of an appeal to African-Americans or a pivot to the center or avoiding saying stupid stuff. What is important is what candidates would actually do. And however you dress up Trump’s piggy statements, it’s clear that even with lipstick, he will continue to be a pig and he will do what pigs do.

Charles Blow recently wrote, “Trump is an unfiltered primal scream of the fragility and fear consuming white male America.” Surely, there’s much we can learn from that. More critically, though, Trump’s frivolous comments about the use of nuclear weapons abandons common sense and even survival. In a real crisis, what would he do?

This election is about many things including what’s already been mentioned, as well as voter disenfranchisement, big money poisoning of our politics and the millions of good paying jobs that Congress continues to say “It’s all about” but consistently refuses to take action to improve. It is about these substantive issues and is not about focused-grouped, misleading messages.

TO OUR POLITICAL CANDIDATES (not just Trump) – News flash: It isn’t about your message.You need to understand that Latinos don’t care what you say about immigration reform; they care about what you would do about it. Americans don’t care how you flap your lips about Medicare, Social Security, jobs, climate warming and terrorism; they care about what you would do.

If you’re all about the hot air of your finely honed, misleading messaging, then all you are is a manipulator and we will sniff you out. You may have had your way with us for a while, but if you’ve been dishonest with us, we will swat you like we would an annoying housefly and flick you away.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Bruce Rauner and Us

9,000 Illinoisans demonstrated against Rauner at the statehouse on May 18, 2016

9,000 Illinoisans demonstrated against Rauner at the statehouse on May 18, 2016 – Photos courtesy of Karl-Heinz Gabbey

DSC_5953Reading time – 1:17; Viewing time 2:42  .  .  .

There probably wouldn’t be a budget crisis in Illinois – or at least it wouldn’t be as severe – had we not spent decades in Magical Thinking Land.

State workers, including teachers – you know, the people who teach your kids – really did need better incomes, but increasing taxes to fund that was not a politically clever thing to do. Politicians wanting to keep their jobs decided that what would be better was to offer a pension to state workers. It was a promise to underpaid state workers of retirement income at a later date. That way the state could defer the additional expense and let the job of finding extra money for that to be dumped on some later generation of legislators and governors.

But the day never came when politicians in Springfield had the courage to face up to the reality that the promise of those deferred payments to workers would actually have to be honored. They just waited, juggled budget line items and hoped for some magical solution to appear, even as state liabilities continued to pile up. All that waiting wasn’t a serious problem, right up to the point when the state went broke.

At that same time we found ourselves in the dungeon of Republican thinking, where all government is bad, where all unions are bad and all taxes are bad. Then Bruce Rauner rode into town on his mealy-mouthed promise of fiscal responsibility for the state. That meant eliminating unions so that workers would have nothing to protect them from people like Bruce Rauner. We could solve our fiscal problems on their backs and on the backs of teachers. Also on the backs of mentally ill patients and school kids. This makes sense if your name is Rauner.

So, shame on all of us for allowing our politicians to let us believe that there was a free lunch that extended for generations. Taxes were low – everyone liked that – but now we have a crisis of epic proportions, paired with an intransigent governor who seems to believe that he is an emperor and is above compromising with the pitiful representatives of the people.

We’re approaching a full year without a budget and Illinoisans – once again, these are real people – are suffering. It just might be that Bruce Rauner is monumentally wrong for Illinois, but we’re stuck with him unless he is found guilty of some impeachable offense. Sadly, being arrogant, mean and a tool for the 1% are not such offenses.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

What If It’s Worse?

Reading time  – 61 seconds; Viewing time  – 2:08  .  .  .

Hanion’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice”. Robert J. Hanion

I’m going around the country and presenting my program, Money, Politics & Democracy: You Aren’t Getting What You Want, and I never get push-back from audiences. Mostly, they tell me that they appreciated my program, that I did a great job and that they didn’t realize things were as awful as they are.

While I appreciate the kudos, I’m mostly struck by their realization of how they personally are being affected by our pay-to-play politics and that they are just beginning to get it. This morning I got chills, as it dawned on me,

What if it’s worse than I thought and I’m just beginning to get it? What if all I’ve been seeing is the tip of the iceberg of our legalized system of political bribery?

What I know is that freshman legislators are instructed by the RNC and the DNC to spend 4 hours a day dialing for dollars and another hour or two daily pressing the flesh of big donors.

What I know is that industries that invest a lot of money in our legislators get favored in our laws and regulations.

What I know is that you and I are not getting:

  • – the gun safety legislation we want
  • – the legislation to deal with global warming that we want
  • – the healthcare service delivery and outcomes we want
  • – the student debt reform we want
  • – the job training and job growth we want
  • – the reform of our prison-industrial complex that we want
  • – the voting rights we want
  • – the lead-free drinking water we want

And that’s just a small sampling of the list of things that we Americans overwhelmingly want and are not getting. It’s all because our pay-to-play politics makes otherwise good people in Congress vote contrary to the desires of we the people.

Vote for the reformers.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Question Still Haunts Us

Ed. note: This was my response to a letter from a friend, updated only very slightly, and was posted three months before the 2012 general election. Sadly, the question still haunts us.
 

Reading time – 3:34; Viewing time – 8:36  .  .  .

Thanks so much for your comments.  I completely and enthusiastically agree  .  .  .  You said we have bigger fish to fry and we certainly do have enormous financial issues.

We really have been living beyond our means for decades and our politicians (both R’s and D’s) have done a good job of protecting their jobs instead of doing their jobs and, in the process, they have led the public to believe that there is a free lunch.  We, the public, somehow went along with them when, to paraphrase Richard Pryor, the politicians said to us, “You gonna believe me or your lying good sense?” And we believed them. Go figure.

Notwithstanding the stupidity of all parts of that dynamic, my original comments that perhaps seemed polarized were and are intended to be focused on the broader issue. You used the word “reprehensible” and it is both apt and at the heart of my meaning. Here are a few data points, all of which raise a singular question.

The Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, held hostage the entire nation – even the entire world economy – to their fiscal demands. I understand that it was a leverage point, but the debt ceiling and a new budget are two entirely different things and the authorization to increase the debt ceiling should have been done as an independent issue. It should have been done immediately in order to declare our resolve to remain the standard for the world economy. Threatening financial disaster can be seen in another way: It is a statement of the kind of America the Republicans are trying to create. Is that really who we Americans are?

Conservatives Reagan, Bush I & Bush II, each in his time, ran up the biggest deficits/debt in the history of the world. Reagan and Bush I increased taxes to pay for their spending. Bush II instead both decreased taxes and started two unnecessary wars. All of that pushed us to the brink of financial disaster. Is that really who we Americans are?

Recall for a moment the Reagan-initiated frenzy for deregulation, a Republican mania that continues today. That led directly to the financial collapse of 2008 and, yes, D’s were complicit in that. All those trillions of bail out dollars are gone and with no accountability and nearly no mechanisms to prevent another round of “too big to fail.” Strangely, the Republicans are howling for still more deregulation which would put us at ever greater risk. Is that really who we Americans are?

A violent storm went through my area this morning and a power line was downed by a broken tree limb just a block from my house. The police were out in the violent storm within minutes, cordoning the area and protecting everyone from the continuous blast of 600 volt sparking and fire. Before heading to my basement due to a tornado warning, I saw more flames from another direction, called 911 and was connected to the fire department. I reported the situation and a bunch of guys saddled up and headed out in a fire truck, this while most of us were huddled in our basements from the continuing storm.

Consider, too, the school teachers to whom we entrust most of our kids’ education and those who drive snow plows through blizzards so we can go where and when we want. All these people protect and support us, including in dangerous situations and often in terrible conditions. They are also the people who the Republicans want to strip of some of their pay, their pensions, their right to bargain collectively and the Republicans want to lay off a bunch of them, too. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker wants to take nearly all of the savings from the heavy load put on the backs of Wisconsin cops, firemen, teachers and others and give it to rich people. Is that really who we Americans are?

Paul Ryan wants to kill Medicare, send everyone and their money to a few private medical insurers and leave millions of those who need health care adrift in their poverty. 70% of the savings from his plan to kill Medicare would go directly to rich people and corporations. Is that really who we Americans are?

In Michigan, the Republican controlled state government has decided that they have the right to take over any local governmental body in the state if the geniuses in Lansing decide that the locals need their help. [Update: Take a look at the Flint, MI lead-poisoned kids to get an idea of what a fine job those geniuses are doing.] They have effectively stripped voting rights from entire communities and imposed a dictatorship on the state. Is that really who we Americans are?

In Arizona, former governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio enshrined discrimination into the law and into desert concentration camps. Is that really who we Americans are?

Rand Paul says that it’s immoral that we helped the victims of Hurricane Katrina. That pretty much captures the America he and so many of the hair-on-fire R’s want us to become. Is that really who we Americans are?

The Republicans voted in lock step to continue to give tax breaks to the biggest oil companies which have the greatest profits in the history of the world. Huh?

Everything I see tells me that the Republican party wants to turn the clock back to the days of the robber barons. Life was very good then for the very rich. For everyone else, well, it wasn’t so good. The Republicans seem to be in favor of anything to kill those hated programs that help people who need help. Yes, I know there are plenty of dim-witted and even self-defeating programs that never should have been started or which have long outlived their usefulness. And don’t misunderstand me:  There is nothing wrong with being rich. The wrong is in excluding everyone else.

The financial burden from the past is enormous and vexing. The financial challenge of the future will look different from the free lunch nonsense to which we are accustomed. There is plenty of fixing to do. The key, though, is our clarity of vision of who we want to be – our national True North. That direction is being decided right now, in part, by people doing reprehensible things. The reprehensible behavior is not one-sided, of course. The bulk of it that I see, though, comes from the right.

I wish I could find one of those moderate Republicans you mentioned who has the backbone to speak what s/he believes, rather than what they thought would get votes from “the base” and who would offer reasonable centrist views. I’m hoping that you are incorrect about them being extinct, but instead find that they are in hiding, waiting for the chest thumping storm of temper tantrum insanity to pass. I will welcome an honest exchange that focuses on making a better America.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe we are right now at an important crossroads in the battle for the soul of America. We are in a defining moment of setting a vision – a self-image – of who we Americans really are.

In my Money, Politics & Democracy presentations I break the news about our American vision in this way:

We are crafting the America our children and grandchildren will inherit – and we’re doing it right now!

We better get about the task. We better speak up about the task, because:

If you don’t make your voice heard, people who want a very different America from the one you want will be heard, because they will be the only ones talking.

Speak up! In the Comments section below. With your friends, your family and, yes, even your crazy brother-in-law. Speak up or you and your children will have to put up with what you’ve tolerated.

 

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Those Feel-Good Commercials

Reading time – 88 seconds  .  .  . 

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the General Electric (GE) television ads with a lovely feel-good messages .  .  .

My mom makes trains that are friends with trees."

“My mom makes trains that are friends with trees.”

 

.  .  .  like the cute little girl who tells us that her mom makes trains that are friends with trees.

 

 

 

 

"I'll be writing software for planes, trains and hospitals"

“I’ll be writing software for planes, trains and hospitals”

 

.  .  .  and the software engineer who won’t work on trains, but who will write software so that planes, trains and even hospitals can work better.

 

 

 

Pick up the hammer

“Go ahead – pick it up”

 

.  .  .  and that same software engineer whose dad challenges him to pick up his grandfather’s sledge hammer and he doesn’t and maybe he can’t, but his mom says it’s okay because he’s going to change the world.

 

GE is spending a lot of money to air those commercials, yet they aren’t trying to sell you anything. Not a microwave oven, nor a ballistic submarine nor a nuclear power plant or any of the many things that GE makes. Why would they spend that money?

Perhaps the target market is young, talented people they want to hire. That makes sense in light of the fierce competition for smart, creative people, especially in the high tech sector.

Or perhaps it’s to burnish GE’s public image, as it has taken a bit of a beating over the past few years due to its avoidance of paying income GE's 10 Years of Negligible Total FITtaxes and its pitifully small share of tax paid as an American company. Just take a look at this chart (right – full article here) from the Citizens for Tax Justice.

From 2002 – 2011 GE made a cumulative profit of over $80 billion and paid just $1.467 billion in Federal income tax. Business lobbying groups like to say that America can’t compete in the global market place with our 35% top corporate rate, but GE has paid an effective rate of just 1.8% on its $80 billion in profit. Note, too, that the figures in red on the chart indicate years when GE got tax rebates from prior years’ taxes, even though they made billions in profit in those years. Got a problem with that?

Here’s the thing: GE is playing by the rules. No one appears to be suggesting that the people running GE have broken any law with their tax avoidance schemes; they’ve just gamed the system. That system was created by our legislators – it’s only administered by the IRS – which is to say that our legislators made a system that GE could game to its very lucrative benefit and to the detriment of our country.

In a well-referenced 2013 article, the Huffington Post reported that GE had $108 billion in profit squirreled away offshore specifically for the purpose of avoiding paying Federal income tax on that money. Of course, they aren’t alone, as HuffPost reports,

Sixty big U.S. companies analyzed by the Wall Street Journal kept on average more than 40 percent of their annual profits overseas last year.”

That kind of thing is made possible by corporate lobbying. Again singling out GE about their lobbying activity:

According to the report, GE lobbyists made contact with lawmakers or their staffs at least 863 times over a two-year period between 2011 and 2013 to argue for the loophole, known as the “active financing exemption.” [emphasis added}

Estimates are that there is a cumulative $2 trillion of un-taxed American companies’ profit hidden offshore and that’s pretty ugly stuff to those of us who pay all of our taxes (meaning just about all of we non-corporate entities – i.e. small businesses and individuals).

Note, too, that GE gave over $1.8 million to politicians in campaign contributions in the 2014 election cycle. Do you suppose that might help GE get additional legislation that allows them to game the system more and pay even less tax?

As this kind of information arrives in public view it’s a black eye for corporations like GE, so those companies have to launch PR campaigns so that we won’t think they’re the creeps they really are.

Clearly, the message is that you will need hundreds of lobbyists to twist the arms of legislators and the cash for very large campaign contributions so that you, too, can pay almost no Federal income tax. You say you don’t have the millions of dollars that would cost, the almost limitless wells of cash that the big corporations have? Too bad for you.

On the other hand, as you watch those television commercials, don’t you just feel all warm and fuzzy about GE? Maybe not anymore.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Letter to the Editor, Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune MastheadReading time – 52 seconds .  .  .

A recent poll showed that 96% of Americans deplore the influence of big money on our politics and want that changed. But that hasn’t happened and that big money is the mother lode that drives our national dysfunction.

After 20 little kids and 6 teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school nearly three years ago, 90% of all Americans and 80% of National Rifle Association members wanted universal background checks for all sales of firearms. We didn’t get what we wanted. The big money interests blocked the will of the American people.

Jeb Bush has raised over $114 million (“Jeb Bush, super PAC raise” July 9) and a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in Chicago cost $2,700 per seat (“Major donor to Obama, Emanuel to host Hillary Clinton fundraiser” July 21). Once they and other candidates receive these enormous sums, they are beholden to the wealthy who contributed and the candidates ignore the voices of regular Americans.

That’s why we don’t have laws to help small businesses and it is why our health care system caters to powerful insurance companies. It’s why we haven’t undertaken a critical updating of our education system and it’s why we wait for bridges to collapse and kill people before repairing our crumbling infrastructure. The list of serious problems ignored by Congress is long and ugly and our corrupt campaign finance system drives nearly all of them.

I’ve spoken to groups that span our political spectrum about our legalized bribery system that gives wealthy special interests an advantage and opens the door to corruption. Not once has anyone voiced any push-back. This is a bipartisan issue. We the People want reform.

As an Eisenhower Republican, my vote in 2016 will go to whichever candidates come out in support of fundamental election reform that truly puts government back in the hands of the people. In the 10th Congressional District, that rules out Robert Dold.

All candidates can show that they are serious about this issue by supporting the Government by the People Act (H.R.20). This bipartisan bill (with 160 cosponsors) will create a voluntary system of tax rebates and other incentives for small donors to have more of a voice in elections, including public financing of our elections. I hope the candidates campaign on this reform bill to ensure politicians are accountable to voters rather than catering only to a well connected few.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Get Government Out of Our Lives

ChaffetzReading time – 47 seconds  .  .  .

On April 15 Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed H.R. 1563, a bill that would require federal workers to certify that their tax records aren’t delinquent, this under threat of dismissal. Chaffetz wants to make sure that those hoards of federal employee tax evaders with debt so large and so delinquent that, ”  .  .  .   [it] may be collected by the Secretary [of the Treasury] by levy or by a proceeding in court,” are brought out of the shadows and put in stocks in the public square. Alright, Jason. You are one tough dude!

And his bill flies in the face of workers’ rights to keep their tax records private and wholly ignores the fact that another department of government – the Treasury – is already monitoring and collecting delinquent taxes. Chaffetz’s bill appears to duplicate efforts, burden citizens, violate rights and is punitive. So, why would he introduce such apparently lame brain legislation that appears to run counter to the Republican “less government” mantra?

It turns out that, “.  .  .  the bill’s requirements apply to employees of the executive and legislative branches, as well as to those in the U.S. Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission.” Hmmm, the U.S. Postal Service is included. Could that be a clue?

Just a few years ago our insightful and ever-vigilant Congress drafted a bill that requires the Postal Service to amass billions of dollars to ensure the pensions of postal workers. It projects the need so many decades into the future that the U.S. Postal Service is putting away retirement funds for workers who have not yet been born. That bill was designed to burden the Postal Service with such a crushing load of debt that it would become bankrupt; then the Republicans’ favorite free marketers could privatize it, cut services, raise rates and make lots of money.

Chaffetz’s bill is just another Republican effort to drive the privatization of all of our government functions in order to enrich their pals. Any time you want to understand this kind of stupid stuff, just follow the money.

And here’s the kicker: The rate of tax delinquency of postal workers is less than half that of the general public. These are solid citizens paying their fair share, but Jason Chaffetz, resolute soldier in the Republican war on government (this primarily for the benefit of rich people), wants to use government muscle to double up on efforts to humiliate and penalize these people.

Jason, your mother must be very proud.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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