Friday, November 25, 2011

Republicans - "The Party of the Rich"

A well researched, illuminating article in Rolling Stone Magazine, "The Party of the Rich", shows how lopsided the tax policies have become, thanks to a new mold of Republicans devoted to the wealthy since Newt's bunch swept in to Congress in 1994. Author, Tim Dickinson, lays out a tax-history since Eisenhower years (1952 - 60) that shows every Republican president until Bush II, raising taxes as a necessary revenue ingredient to pay the bills. While Republicans regularly battled Democrats on the level of spending for social programs, most did not question the logic of progressive taxes, or closing loopholes. Dickinson also equates chapters of national prosperity with progressive tax hikes, and equates recessions and wild stock market speculation with big tax cuts for the wealthy and their corporations.

The "supercommittee" that failed to come up with a bipartisan plan to cut the deficit by cutting spending and raising revenues - were looking at choices such as: keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two per cent at a cost of $690 billion or cut $650 billion for special ed. student aid, and assistance to poor schools. Cut $100 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA, or get rid of $129 billion in subsidies for foreign profits. Cut $47 billion in energy grants to help poor families afford heat or remove $44 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies.

"With 14 million Americans out of work, and with one in seven families turning to food stamps simply to feed their children, Republicans have responded to the worst economic crisis since the Great depression by slashing inheritance taxes, extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and endorsing a tax amnesty for big corporations that have hidden billions in profits in offshore tax havens."

Rolling Stone Magazine continues to put out some of the best political reporting around.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Palo Alto Measure E

a photo I took at Bixby Park

It's the morning after Election Day and I'm thinking of Emily Renzel, the loser in a bitterly fought, divisive community battle pitting passionate environmentalists against each other. Emily, a septuagenarian, who has a local park named after her, is as passionate now as when she served as a city council member. She fought to save 10 acres of land that was supposed to be transformed from our landfill area into the adjoining Bixby park - near the bay. Peter Drekmeier, an equally passionate environmentalist and former mayor, (and good friend of mine) led the campaign to rezone the land for the construction of a composting and renewable energy facility. They are two leaders wearing 10 gallon white hats in my eyes - brought into an unlikely battle in large part because our community is so built out. Virtually any development from a homeless shelter to a childcare facility face huge opposition here (on top of "NIMBY-ism). Some years back, the Media Center where I work was stopped from putting a digital arts facility next to a high school - even though the district had agreed to let it take the place of some temporary portable buildings. But the vocal opposition prevailed because that land was supposed to one day become part of the school's playing fields area. This time the development won out over the promise of open land.

I think for many of us who voted for it, it was because global warming has become a game-changer. Global warming has generated an urgent call to action, even for unproven ventures such as one of the possible composter technologies to be considered for the new development.

My job is to produce the videotaped debates that we have before every election. I spent an afternoon with Emily and an afternoon with Peter, editing the visuals into their respective debate statements. I didn't want either one to lose. I didn't want either one to feel the way they did about the "other." They are both heroes who answer the call "think global, act local." Emily wears her heart on her sleeve and these ten acres were virtually sewn into her big, exposed heart. This was one vote I did not look forward to making.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Deborah Turns 60

Today is our celebration of Deborah's 60th birthday (Oct 27). It's hard to believe we are reaching this "stage", when I can picture us meeting 34 years ago as if it were yesterday. I guess we were "kids" then - 4 years younger than our own kids are today, merging our happy hippy selves into a wonderful journey that will undoubtedly unfold to the end of our days. People are frequently surprised that we, who divorced over 25 years ago, have this best-friend-ness, but it surprises me that it isn't the norm among those who were married. The things we saw in each other in that blaze of coming together were true. Who better to co-parent with and share my inner self with than one who I respect, admire, and who knows me inside-out? In the scheme of things, our marriage was a chapter in our journey.

This afternoon we'll tell stories. I have so many to choose from. I remember the New Year's Day, when she thought we should mark the day in the way we wanted the year to turn out. She got to work baking delicious and healthy muffins and it was my job to go out distribute them to homeless folks. The fly in the batter was that the Manhattan homeless of 1984 were quite wary of strangers bearing food. One after another turned me down, no matter where I went. We had to bring all the bags full of muffins to a shelter instead.

The rainy day in Seattle when I ran from the car into a store and came back to find Deborah in the back seat and an elderly woman in the passenger seat. She'd been waiting without an umbrella at a bus stop and Deborah offered her a ride. After 45 minutes of looking for her destination, it turned out she thought we were in Manchester, England.

The terrible day that my Mom was killed in a crash with a drunk driver; Deborah and I were living apart and she was traveling in Mexico. I was subletting a farmhouse in Sonoma. We hadn't spoken in a month. I left for St. Louis. Deborah had a weird feeling and called the house that day. It should have just rang and rang in the empty place, but for some unfathomable reason, a friend of the woman I was subletting from had stopped by and picked it up. He had heard from the neighbors what happened. In those days before answering machines and cell phones there was no way for Deborah to reach me from Mexico and nobody would be answering the phone in my Mom's empty apartment. She rode buses, a train, and a plane for two days and walked into the St. Louis funeral home minutes before the service began. Now THAT surprises me, so much more than our enduring bond.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

"Hardly Strictly Bluegrass" hardly imaginable

The free 3-day music festival, "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass" is such an amazing gift. Five or six simultaneous acts - each in their own meadow area in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.....folk rock, blues, and even bluegrass. Lots of iconic performers and lots of lesser knowns. A zillion food booths; 5,000 Grateful Dead t-shirts sort of covering bulging bellies; a few million tattoos; hula-hoopers; ganja cookie sellers; beautiful youngsters in ecstasy-fueled eyeball-to-eyeball embraces; lots of young parents with little ones on their shoulders or in little bonnets and earplugs on their blankets; a 100,000 dogs of every size and color, 20,000 barrels for compost, recyclables, and trash - that everyone - even the grungiest street-people amongst us seem to use conscientiously.

And somehow it happens without any entry gates; without anybody checking through the backpacks that most people carry in with them. And with close to a million people together in very close quarters over three days, I haven't heard of any violence. What would the normal crime rates be over three days in a city of several hundred thousand? Thank you Mr. Warren Hellman for making this happen the past 11 years.

This year Sally and I only went to acts we knew....Allison Brown, Gillian Welch, Ruthie Foster, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Civil Wars, Steve Earle, and Blind Boys of Alabama. All absolutely wonderful. I'll post photos on my flickr site before long.

While walking out of the park on Saturday night, a man asked desperately if any of us had seen a six year old red-headed boy with glasses. Immediately, about a dozen of us started calling out the boy's name, back-tracking or walking up ahead - determined to find him. The dad was holding the hand of the 8 year old sister who was crying her eyes out with worry. Within five minutes a young man approached and asked the man if he'd lost his little boy. The little boy had made it to Lincoln Street on the edge of the park and was looking up at the faces of all the adults leaving the park to find his dad. We all walked up toward the street and when the sister and brother saw each other, they both ran into each other's arms - hugging for dear life. It was so heartwarming.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tax the Millionaires

photo from the movie, "Wall Street"

It's been awhile, but in demanding new taxes on millionaires and an end to the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250K, President Obama has stood up for something we can rally behind. If only he doesn't give in to the Republicans in the coming months. He can use his pulpit to dispel their hollow claims that taxes on the rich freeze economic and job growth.

If Obama and progressive Democrats speak honestly and forcefully about the lopsided distribution of wealth and income in the U.S., they may be wildly successful. In an article, "Wealth, Income, and Power", updated in July, 2011, G. William Domhoff points to a recent study (Norton & Ariely, 2010) that

"reveals that Americans have no idea that the wealth distribution is as concentrated as it is..... They did not come close on the amount of wealth held by the bottom 40% of the population. It's a number I haven't even mentioned so far, and it's shocking: the lowest two quintiles hold just 0.3% of the wealth in the United States.

Americans from all walks of life were also united in their vision of what the "ideal" wealth distribution would be, which may come as an even bigger surprise than their shared misinformation on the actual wealth distribution. They said that the ideal wealth distribution would be one in which the top 20% owned between 30 and 40 percent of the privately held wealth, which is a far cry from the 85 percent that the top 20% actually own. They also said that the bottom 40% -- that's 120 million Americans -- should have between 25% and 30%, not the mere 8% to 10% they thought this group had, and far above the 0.3% they actually had. In fact, there's no country in the world that has a wealth distribution close to what Americans think is ideal when it comes to fairness. So maybe Americans are much more egalitarian than most of them realize about each other, at least in principle and before the rat race begins"

Domhoff points to recent income studies that would knock the socks off most Americans if they knew......

"The rising concentration of income can be seen in a special New York Times analysis by David Cay Johnston of an Internal Revenue Service report on income in 2004. Although overall income had grown by 27% since 1979, 33% of the gains went to the top 1%. Meanwhile, the bottom 60% were making less: about 95 cents for each dollar they made in 1979. The next 20% - those between the 60th and 80th rungs of the income ladder -- made $1.02 for each dollar they earned in 1979. (Johnston, 2006).

But the increase in what is going to the few at the top did not level off, even with all that. As of 2007, income inequality in the United States was at an all-time high for the past 95 years, with the top 0.01% -- that's one-hundredth of one percent -- receiving 6% of all U.S. wages, which is double what it was for that tiny slice in 2000; the top 10% received 49.7%, the highest since 1917 (Saez, 2009). However, in an analysis of 2008 tax returns for the top 0.2% -- that is, those whose income tax returns reported $1,000,000 or more in income (mostly from individuals, but nearly a third from couples) -- it was found that they received 13% of all income, down slightly from 16.1% in 2007 due to the decline in payoffs from financial assets (Norris, 2010)."

Monday, September 19, 2011

How Do You Measure Progress?

a quote from Robert Kennedy that I read in Mark Kurlansky's book, "1968" that eloquently puts economic measurements in perspective....

"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage, It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. the Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads....

And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.....the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything in short except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America - except whether we are proud to be Americans.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Protest Movement in Israel

Photo by TheeErin

My old friends Michael and Gayle just returned from a month in Israel. They lived there for 15 years in the 70's and 80's. Michael told me about the social uprising that has been going on all summer with tent encampments in the medians along busy streets and in parks. Many thousands are part of it, frequently going to work in the day and returning to the encampments for the nights. The mass protest is against the high cost of housing that make it difficult - especially for young people - to cover rent - even when they have jobs. They are protesting the huge gap between rich and poor in the country, and policies that favor the rich and raise the cost of living. Michael said it's common to make about $400/month but have rent of $1200 in Tel Aviv for a one bedroom apartment.

There are numerous encampments with particular demographics such as single mothers. There are performances, workshops and speakers who come to particular encampments for public events open to everyone. It sounds like the teach-ins and campus building takeovers of the late 60's and early '70's. Michael heard it began when a young woman who was fed up told her friends that she was going to camp out along a boulevard in Tel Aviv. Facebook helped fuel a mass movement and within weeks, there were tents everywhere, and in several cities. On July 30th a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv numbered at least 150,000 in a country of 7 million.

Photo from The Adovcacy Project

Michael said the protesters are purposely not discussing the Palestinian issue and relations with Arab neighboring countries as that would enable the powers that be to divide them against each other. For now they have some support in the government. The police have let them be. The mayor of Rosh Pinna, joined the protestors there. Several of Michael and Gayle's Israeli friends now have kids who are very involved in the tent cities - yet another opportunity for us to comment on how quickly the years have passed.

This uprising may fizzle as the school term begins again in the coming weeks, but it has been huge and inspiring. Maybe something transformative will come out of it. I was hardly aware of it. I went to YouTube and found a few videos that provide some visuals and context.