Friday, January 6, 2017

What's America Worth To You?

Can You Spare A Quarter For Your Country?
By Nick Paleologos
January 6, 2017

I grew up in Woburn Massachusetts. My grandfather settled there from Greece in the early 1900’s. He labored in one of those tanneries the city became famous for. So proud is my hometown of the prosperity those factories produced, that our sports teams are still called the Tanners.

It was mostly immigrants who actually did tannery work in Woburn because stripping animal hides and transferring them by hand - one at a time - into a series of increasingly toxic open baths was the best job Greeks and Italians could get. Every working day of his adult life, my mother’s father left his modest home on Conn Street - lunch pale in hand - walked a few blocks; donned a “protective” apron, rubber gloves; and inhaled poisonous chromium-sulfate fumes from dawn till dusk.  

And not once did he ever complain about paying taxes to his adopted country.

Donald Trump on the other hand is a billionaire. As a reminder, a billion is one thousand million dollars. Which is an awful lot of money. Donald Trump loves billionaires. His cabinet is lousy with them. You know what they all have in common – besides not having to sweat the price of gas?

They can’t stop complaining about the taxes they pay to their country.

These are some of the richest guys on the planet and all they can do is whine incessantly about how rough it is to make a buck in America. About how much it costs to live here. About how paying a living wage for an honest day’s work will put them out of business. About what an unreasonable burden it is for them to make products that don’t kill people. About how no self-respecting entrepreneur can get rich in a country with such an oppressive personal tax rate of 39% for billionaires and 35% for corporations.

That’s not even the worst of it. Not one of these chronic cry babies or any of their crony capital companies have ever paid anything close to those tax rates. Consequently you would think they’d have the common decency of my immigrant grandfather and shut up about it already. But they just can’t help themselves.

In 2010, at the height of the Great Recession, General Electric Corporation reported worldwide profits of over $14 billion - five billion of which they earned right here in America. But GE didn’t pay $1.75 billion (35%) in taxes in 2010. They paid ZERO taxes - actually less than zero because they got a $3.2 billion rebate. In fact, between 2008 and 2013 - during a soul-crushing economic crisis for the rest of America - GE made $34 billion in US profits while their effective tax rate was negative nine percent. That’s right, the country gave them money.

But let’s not dump on GE exclusively. Bank of America, Boeing, Verizon, Citigoup, Pfizer, FedEx, Honeywell, Merck and Corning all made billions of dollars in profits during the Great Recession and all paid zero taxes to their country. Most folks with a decent upbringing would say thank-you, but not these bums. Bank of America, after snagging a whopping $1.3 trillion bailout from their country, showed their gratitude by paying zero taxes and eliminating 8,000 jobs. Real nice guys.

The other ingrates spent money they didn’t pay to their country to buy off sleazy politicians instead. You know the ones I’m talking about. That sorry collection of ventriloquist dummies who’ve been peddling the party lie that our country is way too tough on billionaires and way too generous to everybody else.

Pity poor Mitt Romney, who earned $14 million in 2011 but never paid his 39% ($5.46 million) in taxes – not even close. Mitt paid a grand total 14%, and then spent the entire 2012 presidential campaign decrying the unbearable tax burden on millionaires like himself.

I mean really, you don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to know when you are being hosed. During the height of the punishing Great Recession (2007 to 2013) corporate profits increased across the board by 21% while their tax bills dropped by 5%.

Even Warren Buffett was so embarrassed by the gross inequity of billionaires like himself paying lower tax rates than their secretaries, that he penned a New York Times op-ed piece which can be summed up in one sentence: STOP KISSING MY ASS!

But now comes Donald Trump to shove his own peculiar brand of patriotism down the throats of the 74 million Americans who voted against him. In Trump World our country is simply not worth paying for. The people who pay taxes to America are just plain stupid. The President-Elect had so little regard for his country that he reportedly paid zero taxes -- not for a single year, but for nearly two decades.  “That makes me smart,” he said.

Actually, that makes him a jerk. That, plus the fact that he tapped a half dozen Goldman-Sachs alums for his administration even though Goldman-Sachs was fined $5 billion just last year for lying to their investors during the financial crisis.

But I digress.

How much is your country worth to you? Or, put another way, how much are you willing to pay for the stuff you want in the country you say you love?

I graduated from Woburn High School in 1971. We had some pretty good math teachers in the days before trashing public schools became all the rage. So I thought I’d put some of my twentieth century arithmetic to work on this problem.

In 2015, total personal income in America was $15.45 trillion. And that’s with the average person’s wages being essentially flat for the last thirty years. US Corporate profits that same year were $6.44 trillion. That totals $21.89 trillion and includes everybody – Main Street, Wall Street, and everyone in between. So if we all kicked in a quarter for every dollar of earnings and profits in 2015, our country would have had revenue of $5.47 trillion. The entire federal budget in 2015 was $3.8 trillion.

Put another way, if we cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% and cut the top personal income tax rate from 39% to 25% - and everybody actually paid their 25 cents on the dollar - we could afford everything the country currently does for its citizens, and still have a $1.67 trillion surplus left over -- every year. 

But wait, you say. It's not fair for Joe Six Pack to pay the same tax rate as Richie Rich -- because the basic cost of living (food, rent/mortgage, gas, utilities, etc.) takes a much bigger bite out of Joe than Richie. And you are right. So here's how we fix that. The first $75,000 of everybody's income should be federal tax free. That shouldn't be a big problem since the top 20% in America already pay 87% of individual federal income taxes. By the way, that ought to tell you something, since few if any of them are even paying 25% right now (let alone 39%).

So you see if we all paid a quarter on every dollar we earned (over $75,000 per year): there would be no need for any deductions at all; we'd have a massive annual budget surplus immediately; our country would be debt free in just over a decade; Social Security would be solvent for all time; Medicare could be extended to every citizen from birth; and we'd still be spending more on our military than the next ten largest countries combined

But in order for that to happen, we would need a president who's a patriot and not a putz. We'd also need politicians who believe in a country that can keep us safe and secure, guarantee our healthcare and education, and treat us fairly so that every citizen can have the opportunity to be the most that they can be.

My immigrant grandfather was happy to pay for that country. Are you?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Who's The Turkey Now?

Eating Crow on Thanksgiving 

by Nick Paleologos

A week ago tonight, when the reality of what was actually happening started to sink in, I got a call from my daughter. She was crying. And I felt awful. She’s one of three millennials in our family. I had been confidently predicting that America would not let her down.

Boy was I ever was wrong.

Back in August I imagined a future in which Donald Trump, after losing this election, would take the worst of his backers and skulk off to a fringe (but lucrative) corner of our country – leaving the rest of his rational right-leaning supporters (including many members of my own family) sitting around Thanksgiving tables all over America wondering what the heck just happened.

Instead, Donald Trump is now the 45th President of the United States and I’m the one asking that question. Only twice in the last 125 years have the voters’ picked one candidate for president, and ended up with the other. In 2000, Al Gore beat George W. Bush by a half million votes, and lost. This year, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by more than a million votes. She also lost. I’m not supposed to complain about these outcomes because after all, rules are rules. If I still had a sense of humor, I’d say the election was rigged - by Alexander Hamilton in 1789.

But this isn’t about the Electoral College. It’s about my oldest daughter.

“President” Trump is a very tough pill for her to swallow because his victory flies in the face of everything we’ve ever taught her about decency, civility, empathy and tolerance. Even worse, many people she loves – who themselves have sisters or daughters – voted for a guy who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals because “When you’re a star, you can do anything.”

People she admires – who pride themselves on their patriotism – voted for a guy who never served this country, who unapologetically disrespected a Gold Star Family, and who publicly ridiculed a decorated Vietnam War veteran and POW.

Maybe there is no rational explanation for why one out of every four Trump voters readily admitted that their candidate was unqualified to be president, yet voted for him anyway.

But even with that, Trump barely bested Mitt Romney's vote total from four years ago. So how then to explain, without crushing my daughter’s faith in democracy, that a guy who is a million votes less popular than Hillary Clinton, is now President of the United States?

For starters, we need to take a long hard look in the mirror. It certainly is true that – as between Clinton and Trump this year – a clear majority supported Hillary for president. But under our system, that (plus four bucks) will get you a grande cafĂ© mocha at Starbucks. Of all people, Hillary should have known that.

So how does she manage to lose (albeit barely) Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and maybe Michigan? Let’s start with Hillary’s first significant decision as the Democratic nominee: her choice for Vice-President. Don’t get me wrong. I like Tim Kaine. But America’s middle class is hurting. Big time. In eight short years, the federal budget surplus and booming economy that Bill Clinton handed over to the GOP in 2000 (the year Bush became president after the voters chose Gore) deteriorated into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. That’s what deregulation, dumb wars, and welfare-for-the-rich gave us.

Yet even as Obama slowly and methodically dug us out from under the Republican rubble, the crooks who caused it walked away with all the money. Millions of democratic voters who lost their jobs, homes and pensions watched with increasing anger as tax dollars meant to help them went instead to the very people who screwed them.

If you’re the Democratic nominee who accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from this corrupt crowd, you damn well better pick a running mate who can speak convincingly to the pain they caused.

Bernie Sanders spoke to that pain. Elizabeth Warren spoke to that pain. But Hillary simply lacked the boldness to pick either one of them. As a result, this election was reduced to a choice between Trump’s sexism and Clinton’s emails. Is there any doubt now that if Bernie were on the ticket, Hillary would have won the Electoral College in addition to the popular vote? I don’t think so.

In the end, her caution killed her.

Did she trade on her celebrity to earn obscene speaking fees from institutions I can’t stand? Yes. Did she make a bad (but not illegal) call using a private email server? Yes and she owned up to, and apologized for it – many times. Has anyone, anywhere – republican or democrat – found anything wrong about her handling of Benghazi? Absolutely not.

At the end of the day, she is a woman who - over the course of a distinguished public career - has been accused of everything and convicted of nothing. On her worst day, her public behavior has been infinitely more honorable than his.

So this is what I told my daughter.

The good news is that the American people did in fact chose the classier, more qualified candidate. The bad news is that our system gave us the other guy.

Unfortunately, Hillary spent her entire campaign relentlessly hammering home a single message: Trump is a despicable human being. Congratulations. Mission accomplished. What she failed to do was to give voice to the justifiable rage of middle class Democrats who filled football stadiums for Bernie Sanders.

The result? President Donald Trump.

Does his election mean the end of the world as we know it? No.

Trump’s first act as President-Elect was to change Steve Bannon’s official title from Racist Fearmonger to Senior White House Advisor. Not a great start.

On the other hand, in his first exclusive interview with 60 Minutes, the priorities he outlined to Leslie Stahl included: huge infrastructure spending; preserving the popular elements of the Affordable Care Act; and avoiding costly, stupid wars. If you closed your eyes, it sounded an awful lot like a third Obama term.

I’ve closely watched and grossly underestimated this guy for the past two years. He cares about one thing. Ratings. He wants to be popular. Squeaking out a late-night Electoral College victory will never cut it for The Trumpster. Being President of a country in which Hillary Clinton is over a million votes more popular than he is, must kill him. Only one thing will satisfy him now - convincingly winning the popular vote that he lost so embarrassingly in 2016. He’s now got four years to make that happen.

Taking health care away from 20 million people won’t get him those votes. Sending American boys into Syria won’t get him those votes. Privatizing social security, cutting taxes on the rich, and letting Wall Street run wild, won’t get him those votes. Continuing to disrespect women and minorities won’t get him those votes.

So maybe, just maybe, the folks who should be worried are Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Because if we’ve learned anything about the President-Elect, we know he cares about one thing, and one thing only – Donald J. Trump. And his breathtaking narcissism may end up being unexpectedly good news for Democrats. We’ll see.

In the meantime, as I eat my crow this Thanksgiving, I don’t want to hear anything more about the Comey letter. The numbers speak for themselves. Trump didn’t win this election. Hillary lost it. And the only question left is this.

What will he do with her mandate?