October 27th, 2011 ~ My Wife came across Jake Lamar's "Not Disappointed by President Obama" on another site and having watched it, I wanted to share it with you.
Thank you, Mr. Lamar. I'm not disappointed either.
October 26th, 2011 ~ Is "self regulation" by America's corporations UNFAIR to those corporations? I think it is. Corporations should be free to focus on their primary profit motive without having to pretend to be "Good Corporate Citizens". We ALL know there is no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, and no "Good Corporate Citizen".
There ARE companies with laudable public outreach programs; supporting the arts and sciences, education, even the environment, but we all know those programs are expendable. We all know they're so much window dressing. David Koch may pump a small portion of his personal fortune into "NOVA" on PBS and have his name prominently plastered all over Lincoln Center, but that's just public relations. He and his Brother KNOW - as we do - that it's all "optics" (as today's spin doctors are so fond of saying).
So I say, let corporations do what corporations do best! Let them free themselves from the bullshit of self regulation and follow their true compass with vigor! Let our government, however, ALSO serve as We, The People, expect it to: Supporting a robust domestic economy and equally robust export policy to be sure, but also protecting us from being ground to a pulp under the wheels of BIG BUSINESS.
There ARE some (like the brothers Koch and their Congressional meat puppets), who vehemently deny this is a legitimate role of government; that the ONLY valid government is a laissez-faire government. Dave and Chuck, of course, have EVERY right to believe that. OUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES, acting as OUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES, do not.
They may hold their own, personal beliefs about the roles of government, but when they act in OUR name, allowing shadowy organizations like ALEC to quite literally rewrite OUR Social Contract, they go too far. American government DOES have a responsibility to promote American commerce, but NOT at the expense of the American People. America IS a capitalist nation. We ALL want our shot at the American Dream through hard work and good horse trading. That's WHY we expect our government to help establish a level playing field and prevent the flim-flam artists, the ripoff specialists, the bullies from tilting that playing field solely in their favor. Nothing personal, you understand. Just business.
OUR Commerce Department, OUR Agriculture Department, OUR Environmental Protection Agency, OUR Securities and Exchange Commission, OUR Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are ALL expressions of our common desire to have a robust economy tempered with wisdom and justice. Sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes our regulatory agencies become draconian and do NOT serve our nation's interests. We're only human after all. So OUR responsibility is to reform those agencies to serve their mandated purposes; not to dismantle them wholesale.
Let us allow OUR American commerce and industry do what it does best (our 401-K's make us interested parties to their success), but let our OUR democratically elected officials also be free of the K Street lobbyists so they may effectively "govern" those engines of profit before they - once more - run out of control and blow up in our faces. If you agree, I urge you to email your Senators and Representatives to approve our President's appointment of Richard Cordray to head OUR Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's a start...
October 23rd, 2011 ~ Besides my general enjoyment of being alive in "THE 21ST CENTURY", I take special pleasure in having been present as historic events unfolded around me. Such can, obviously, be a two-edged sword, but witnessing first-hand the Moon landing, the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show", the "I Have a Dream" speech, the birth of the PC and the Worldwide Web, the Berlin Wall being torn down, and certainly the election of our first President of African-American descent have made bearing the darker more horrific moments we have ALL endured, somewhat more bearable.
I thus feel especially fortunate to once more bear witness to history in the making. The "Occupy Wall Street" (or OWS) movement has redefined American political dissent as few movements beyond the Civil Rights movement have. Despite being in its infancy, I clearly see the power this movement has to revolutionize direct political action by American citizens. Despite the seeming chaos of so many voices, OWS has still managed to present the Wall Street banksters and their pet pols with a fairly coherent set of grievances:
~ End the corruption of our legislators and subversion of our electoral process by corporate money,
~ Address high unemployment and jobs shipped overseas,
~ Correct the unjust disparities of income and taxation, and
~ Fix unfair trade practices and our escalating national debt.
Yet, as Americans from all walks of life present these grievances in New York and in cities across the nation, the banksters continue to crank out usurious fees and interest rates, robo-foreclosures, and record profits while perpetuating the same black-box derivatives casino that got us into this nightmare in the first place.
Even with this set of grievances defined, OWS organizers (there is no ONE group in charge), have resisted calls for some sort of "official demands list". A member of the NYC General Assembly group went so far as to say, "demands are for terrorists. That is not who we are." Quietly, however, various solutions are being circulated online; foremost among them the "99% Declaration", put forward by that same NYC General Assembly group.
Some feel it is too early in the developmental process of the OWS movement to pin down specific goals; that it's more important at this stage to grow the movement and raise public awareness. I believe the movement's recalcitrance to crystalize a set of demands grows out of a pragmatic realization that the Corpocracy wants EXACTLY that; a set of demands they can focus their lobbying and media efforts on to legislate and "spin" out of existence.
The OWS protesters seem to intrinsically understand the threat of the corporate-controlled media creating a bunch of new Tea Party-ish "astroturf" organizations, like Cenk Uygur's "Wolf-PAC", which "sound like" they're in sync with the OWS movement, but which are intended solely as red herrings to subvert, dilute, and if possible, co-opt the movement altogether.
One thing is certain: 99% of the American People have finally awakened, in spite of the Corpocracy's media soporifics, to recognize the REAL enemies we face. We finally see the arrogant and omnipotent 1%, dictating through their K Street lobbyists and shadowy groups like ALEC the nightmare they yearn to replace OUR American Dream with. We the People may never see a perp walk of these "businessmen", but with OWS, another thing is certain: WE WILL see our American Dream reborn.
October 18th, 2011 ~ My Wife and I were just watching "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" on MSNBC where he highlighted the inane statements of Herman Cain about an electrified fence along our border with Mexico.
Lawrence invited Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to comment on Mr. Cain's statements and while Sheriff Arpaio reinforced Cain's claim that his statements were more hyperbole than policy, he also suggested we should take the fight over the border with U.S. troops working hand-in-hand with Mexican counterparts to bring the heat to the doorstep of the Coyotes and Drug Smugglers.
REALLY? We're ALREADY losing too many American lives in Helmand Province, Afghanistan because we're not just buying up entire crops of poppies at a FRACTION of the $300 million-per-day cost of our current "hearts and minds" strategy. Now, Arpaio wants us to lose MORE American lives in the shooting gallery just South of our border? REALLY?
My initial reaction was to say "Screw that! Let's just arm those Predator drones already flying along our Southern border with the same Hellfire missiles as Afghanistan and take out any vehicles moving across our border which haven't previously identified themselves as the good guys!" As usual, my Darlin' had a sobering and humanitarian rebuttal. "What if someone has been forced to come along against their will? What if there are women or children hostages in the motorcade? They shouldn't be killed, should they?"
I had to agree. But then, how do we STOP such incursions? My Lady Love had the answer, wrapped in a question. "What was that thing you told me about? Some electrical thing to disable a car?" "An EMP?" I asked. "Yes! An EMP. Why can't that drone drop an EMP thingy on that convoy and just disable all their cars? Then, they would have no choice but to walk back and leave all their drugs and hostages, or wait around for the U.S. Border Patrol to come arrest them."
A BRILLIANT solution. Of course, the sociopaths smuggling drugs and people across our Southern border might immediately murder their hostages or "customers" before heading back over the border, but then, they might figure "okay, the Gringos just fried all our vehicles AND communications in the dark. If we start killing people, what's to stop them from frying US as well?"
October 17th, 2011 ~ Questionable Acts. The Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, was passed by both houses in November 1999. To be sure, more Democrats voted against the bill than Republicans, but more Democrats, in both chambers, voted FOR the bill than against it and a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, signed it into law.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was another bill presented by Republicans, but supported substantially by both parties and again signed into law by William Jefferson Clinton.
Why are these two acts important? They're important because Gramm-Leach-Bliley effectively ended over six decades of the Glass-Steagall Act's regulatory firewall between investment banking (securities) and savings banks (depositors). Many attribute this repeal of Glass-Steagall with the beginning of the freewheeling credit and derivatives bubble culminating in the 2008 meltdown and massive resulting bailout of the "too big to fail" banks by American taxpayers.
Similarly, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 threw out over six decades of the Communications Act of 1934. The '96 act's wholesale deregulation was sold to the American people (if it was mentioned by the MSM at all), as a way to spur innovation and foster greater competition. We were told (when anyone had the journalistic integrity to ask), that we would have more and better services provided by a broader range of competitors, using cutting-edge technologies to drive down costs to the consumer.
Have you saved any of your phone or cable bills from 1996? If so, dig them out and be prepared for a shock. More shocking, however, is the relentless consolidation of telecommunications ownership into the hands of fewer and fewer Mega-media corporations; controlling distribution AND content of ALL media as seen only in the monopolistic corporate media holdings prior to 1934.
Fast-forward to September and October 2011. Americans, driven into unemployment or unable to find employment due to the recalcitrance of the bailed out banksters to invest in America, become frustrated by GOP Congressional stonewalling on behalf of their corporate puppeteers and begin the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. At first, the corporate-dominated Mainstream Media make every effort to blackout this movement. Ultimately, the movement spreads to so many other cities, the MSM can no longer avoid some sort of coverage without jeopardizing their self-described "journalistic integrity".
That coverage, of course, comes with a decidedly corporate "spin". The "99%'ers" MUST be portrayed as a scruffy, ragtag, mob, disrupting "normal" people's activities with no clear message and a somewhat ominous threat of mayhem if their demands - whatever they might be - are not met. Scary stuff unless you make a small effort to visit the "Occupy Wall Street" website and discover this peaceful movement is made up of Americans from ALL walks of life; PhD's and construction workers, union and non-union, teachers and students, people of all races and creeds. All demanding renewed regulation of banking and industry so their children don't face a repeat of this economic nightmare, or have their tap water catch fire from nearby fracking operations even as the ANGA pumps tens of millions into MSM advertising to convince us how safe those fracking operations are.
These two egregiously ill-advised pieces of legislation are DIRECTLY linked to what we're now seeing (and NOT seeing) of the Occupy Wall Street movement and whether Democrats want to acknowledge their share of responsibility or not, they had as great a hand in today's assault on America's Middle Class as the GOP. I don't say this to be petty. I say this because Rupert Murdoch's media empire would not have been possible without them. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin would not have been possible without them. AIG, Bank of America, Chase, and CitiGroup being "too big to fail" would not have been possible without them.
Now, reclaiming our American Dream of a fair shot and a level playing field may not be possible without them and if Democrats hope to remove some of the tarnish of prior acts, they MUST ally themselves with the 99% of Americans hurting as a result of those acts. We ALL make mistakes; we're ALL only human. But compassion for each other and the humility and courage to admit mistakes are also aspects of our humanity.
This past Tuesday, two Democratic Senators (Nebraska's Ben Nelson and John Tester of Montana), voted against President Obama's American Jobs Act even being allowed to come to the floor for consideration. Their voting against cloture was not decisive, to be sure. Even with their "yea's" the Democrats would still not have had the required 60 votes to thwart a GOP filibuster.
The American Jobs Act isn't going away, however, and there WILL be other votes (hopefully in the near future) where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will need ALL Senate Democrats - including Nelson, Tester, and Mary Landrieu - to vote in a block. Just as the GOP does. Party leaders in both houses of Congress are often referred to as Majority or Minority "Whips". The time is NOW for the Democratic leaders of both chambers to whip their caucuses into unity with the 99% of Americans who desperately need real champions on Capitol Hill.
We can forgive them their mistakes, but only if they're willing to correct those mistakes. If the Democratic party is truly on the side of the American middle class, they need to ALL step up to the plate and prove it. NOW.
October 10th, 2011 ~ Last week, GOP presidential hopeful, Herman Cain, announced his "999 Plan" for tax reform. In essence, the plan calls for a 9% across-the-board income tax for both businesses and individuals combined with a 9% across-the-board national sales tax. The plan would also do away with payroll, capital gains, and estate taxes (referred to by Cain as "the death tax"), as well as allow offshore profits to be repatriated with zero taxation. I'm not sure which "9" of the "999 Plan" those last little gems fit into.
One apparently key element of his plan (because it is endlessly repeated throughout) is the elimination of "double taxation of dividends". I wondered what he meant, so I looked it up. The premise is that a company earning a profit has already paid income taxes on those earnings, so if a shareholder is taxed on dividends, that tax is on money already taxed.
Sounds reasonable, ONLY if you don't accept the "personhood" conferred upon corporations by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. If you DO accept that ruling, then the corporate "individual" taxed on profits, is a separate individual from the one paying tax on dividends. You can't have it both ways. Either corporations are entirely artificial entities created to profit their shareholders, OR they hold individual rights and responsibilities totally separate from their shareholders.
I'll get to how this non-progressive plan blasts those in the low-income spectrum of our society in a moment, but first, let's look at one of the GOP's favorite poster children: The American Small Business owner.
Let's say you're the owner of Pop's Pizza parlor in Punxsutawney, PA. After deducting your operating expenses (including payroll taxes) for the year, your business pays income taxes on net profits and you pay personal income taxes on any salary you take out of your parlor's gross profits.
Under the 999 Plan you WOULD see some benefit with the elimination of Federal payroll (or FICA) taxes. Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Unemployment Insurance would, of course, all be gone and there's nothing in the plan regarding State-level payroll taxes. States' Rights, y'know.
That 9% cap on corporate and individual FEDERAL income taxes would be pretty sweet as long as your kids had already graduated college or have sports scholarships and your delivery guys never need any public assistance. Again, this plan has no effect on State and local income taxes. And if, God forbid, you suddenly keeled over into your sauce vat, your family would not have to pay an estate tax (sorry, "Death Tax"), assuming your total estate was worth more than $1.5 MILLION at the time of your demise. This IS Pop's Pizza in Punxsutawney, PA we're talking about.
Now let's look at someone holding 100,000 shares of Godfather's Pizza. Under current tax law, if the company disperses a $2 per share dividend to shareholders, Godfather's Pizza pays corporate income taxes on net profit, and that shareholder is now on the tax hook for $200,000 in dividends as well. Under the 999 Plan, however, BOTH Godfather's Pizza and our poor, overtaxed shareholder make out like BANDITS! The company pays a flat 9% income tax, ZERO Social Security, Medicare, or federal Unemployment Insurance taxes, ZERO capital gains tax (corporations can invest too), and ZERO federal taxes on profits earned outside the United States.
Even if the company decides to pass on some of the ENORMOUS resulting net profit as a dividend of, say, $20 per share to shareholders, our investor is suddenly sitting on a $2 MILLION pile of TAX FREE cash. Remember, Mr. Cain's "Plan" calls for elimination of BOTH the capital gains tax as well as the purported "double taxation of dividends". Result: $0 taxes on $2 Million.
Don't worry if our Godfather's shareholder suffers a massive M.I. of joy when he sees that $2 Million check. His family will still pay $0 taxes on the $500,000 they would otherwise have had to pay federal estate taxes on.
Finally, let's see how those below or barely above the poverty line fare under the 999 Plan. An American family of four (two adults and two children), earning $23,000 or less per year, is considered at or below the poverty line. Currently, such families pay zero federal income taxes. Even a family earning $26,400 per year with two children will have a standard deduction of $11,600 and four exemptions of $3,700 each, resulting again in zero federal income taxes.
Convoluted as our current federal tax code is, it is a "progressive tax system" which seeks to balance the tax burden so no American pays a crippling percentage relative to other essential expenses. Some are excluded from paying tax altogether to prevent them from being driven into poverty or deeper into poverty than they already are. This may seem altruistic, but it's actually a pragmatic acknowledgement that it's ultimately cheaper if more families can feed, cloth, and house themselves, than their ending up dependent on government assistance (other taxpayers) for those essentials.
Under the 999 Plan, the currently untaxed family of four above, earning $26,400 per year, first must pay a 9% income tax, driving them $2,396 closer to the poverty line. That leaves just $24,004 for food, clothes, housing, and hopefully nobody gets sick. But wait, there's more!
Since there are no exclusions mentioned in Mr. Cain's plan, we can only assume the 9% SALES tax applies to ALL expenditures; including food, housing, and clothing. I'll take a lowball approach to this family's expenses and estimate $600 per month for a modest two-bedroom apartment, $400 per month for a lot of mac-n-cheese, and $80 per month for clothing. That's $1,080 per month or $12,960 per year and I haven't even accounted for heating/cooling/cooking, medical, or transportation expenses.
Under our current tax laws, this family would still have $13,440 for other expenses after deducting the $12,960 in basic expenses. Under the 999 Plan, the government would take an additional 9% sales tax on the $12,960, or $1,166. Combining that $1,166 in sales tax with the plan's $2,396 in income tax leaves this family with $22,838; BELOW the official poverty line of $23,000. Factor in the $12,960 of essential expenditures and our family is left with $9,878 for the year for additional expenses. Well... Not quite.
We KNOW they will likely need to spend that entire $9,878 for any number of other non-frivolous expenses, but that $9,878 is ALSO taxable at 9%, so it's actually $8,989 in spendable income FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR. FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR.
It's clear then, that Mr. Cain's 999 Plan is just another flavor of the overall GOP "plan" for America. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and what's left of a dwindling middle class gets driven further toward extinction. Thanks, Mr. Cain, for your simple-to-remember campaign slogan to describe an unforgettably simplistic and awful tax plan. It's no substitute for the sort of serious tax reform we need; formulated by serious-minded people. I think I'll give your "999 Plan" a pass.
October 5th, 2011 ~ Updates! Since yesterday's posting, I've learned a great deal about Gen. Smedley Butler. Dale Wharton provides a succinct and fact-filled review of Jules Archer's "The Plot to Seize the White House". Mr. Wharton's review even refers DIRECTLY to the book "Seven Days in May", written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II and the basis for the Frankenheimer film of the same name.
There is a "Smedley Butler Society" website, named after his book "War is a Racket" as well as many other web references to the man and his amazing story. I must admit here I was incorrect when I stated that in the day, there was no news coverage of the plot. That would actually have been preferable to the ridicule heaped upon this hero by the Wall Street controlled papers of the day.
I've also learned today that if America's unions get involved in a social movement, the MSM have to (as Jon Stewart put it), "twist the dial from Blackout to Circus". That's exactly what happened today as ALL the MSM news networks stumbled over each other to cover the "Occupy Wall Street" activities. Naturally, each had to put their own spin; their own "brand" on what you were ACTUALLY seeing (as opposed to what you could actually see for yourself).
Finally, day four of the MSM blackout of the Bloomberg Markets Magazine's article on Koch Industries' sales to Iran. Perhaps there's some way we could get the unions involved.
October 4th, 2011 ~ Over two weeks have passed since the "Occupy Wall Street" movement by average Americans began. It has since grown into a nationwide event with demonstrations in Boston, San Francisco and other major cities. To date, I have seen this covered on ONE cable network, by FOUR hosts; Al Sharpton, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. There was a smidgen of coverage on other broadcast and cable news networks the other day when a senior NYPD Deputy Inspector, Anthony Bologna, pepper sprayed a group of totally peaceful demonstrators. Nothing before; nothing since. The Mainstream Media have been PROFOUNDLY silent on these demonstrations.
We have also heard nothing today about Bloomberg Markets Magazine's revelation of Koch Industries' sales to Iran. The importance of this story is the extraordinary 14 month effort, by a crack team of investigative journalists, across several continents, and with a depth seldom seen today versus the equally extraordinary efforts by Koch Industries to prevent their Tea Party meat puppets from learning how their political campaigns were funded with Iranian Rials.
Now watch this. It is a scene from John Frankenheimer's "Seven Days in May", screenplay by Rod Serling.
Scary, but it's just a movie, right? Such a coup d'etat could NEVER happen here in the United States of America. Not only COULD it happen here, it almost DID! Yesterday, I learned, on the Progressive Alaska blog, that in 1933, except for the patriotism of one General Smedley Butler, a group of Wall Street tycoons (including George H. W. Bush's Father, Prescott Bush) had every intention of overthrowing our government with a mercenary army.
Forget, for the moment, the gobsmacking fact that this historic conspiracy does NOT appear in any High School or College textbooks. CERTAINLY our contemporary MSM picked up on it immediately, right? Wrong! They can blast us 24/7 with O.J., Reverend Wright, Amanda Knox, Sarah Palin and every other piece of mindless drivel, but they can't give old Smedley his props. I guess their rationale would be "old news is no news". Except, in this case, it was NEVER provided as news; old or new.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. Our alternative media, like blogs, twitter, RSS, may be all over the map in terms of accuracy and veracity, but they often provide us with the initial "seed" of awareness about matters which we can then verify or dismiss as we choose based on subsequent searches. They may not always be accurate or unbiased, but they'll get you started and where you go after that is entirely up to you. Granted, the Bloomberg Markets Magazine article is one of those brilliant MSM exceptions, but more often than not these days it is a rare exception.
What can we do about the dumbing down and willful exclusion of critically important news stories by our MSM? Frankly, I don't know. I do know the massive consolidation of both content and distribution into the hands of a shrinking number of media mega-corporations is anathema to an informed democracy. It's an issue I think important enough to have emailed my Senators and Representative about and that might be a starting point for you as well.