Tuesday, June 27, 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Consent Of The Governed

By Nick Paleologos
June 27, 2017

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July, we keep being told that as a country we are hopelessly divided, polarized and siloed. That we are getting exactly what we what we want – indeed what we voted for. But the dirty little secret is this: our system is badly broken. It routinely gives us exactly the opposite of what we want. The simple, documentable truth is that Americans are remarkably unified on most key public policy issues – and have been for decades. Here are just a few examples:

Universal Healthcare
For the past sixteen years (half under a republican president and half under a democrat) the Gallup Poll asked Americans the same question -- eighteen different times:

Do you think it’s the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage, or is that not the responsibility of the federal government?

If you average America’s responses since 2000, it’s not even close: 

57% - Yes, healthcare is a federal government responsibility.
40% - No, healthcare is not a federal government responsibility.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Americans are increasingly aware that universal healthcare is a fact of life in Austria, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and even Croatia – for crying out loud. So the arguments that it’s too expensive, or that it can’t be done, or that we are deeply divided on the subject, are all just plain false.

Universal College Education
Last summer, in the heat of the presidential campaign, CNBC reported on a poll asking Americans the following question:

Would you support or oppose making tuition at public colleges and universities free for anyone who wants to attend?

62% - Support free public colleges
35% - Oppose free public colleges

This result should not be a surprise to anyone. Eight million fathers of Baby Boomers built the Great American Middle Class on the back of the GI Bill. We tried this idea already. It worked like a charm. And pretty much everybody knows it.

Universal Background Checks
Here again, the Gallup Poll has asked the same question eleven times over the last twenty-five years and America’s answer, on average, has been remarkably consistent:

In general, do you think the laws governing the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now:

58% - More Strict gun laws
32% - Same gun laws
 9% - Less Strict gun laws

Back in the fall of 2015, Gallup asked this question:

Would you favor or oppose a law, which would require universal background checks for all gun purchases in the U.S. using a centralized database across all 50 states?

86% - Favor background checks
12% - Oppose background checks

Call me crazy but that doesn’t look very polarized to me.

Social Security & Medicare
In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of these two laws, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a national survey asking Americans which government programs were very important to them.

Social Security (83%) and Medicare (77%) topped the list – followed closely by: Federal School Aid (75%); the Military (73%); College Loans (64%); and Medicaid (63%). Yet we keep being told that all but the military are “controversial” government spending programs. Go figure.

Tax Cuts For The Rich
Finally, the Gallup Poll asked this question no less than nineteen times in the last twenty-five years:

Tell me if you think upper income people are paying their FAIR SHARE in federal taxes, paying TOO MUCH, or paying TOO LITTLE?

This, on average, is how America has responded since 1992:

65% - Rich people pay TOO LITTLE
22% - Rich people pay their FAIR SHARE
10% - Rich people pay TOO MUCH

Americans clearly understand that the two most recent tax cuts for the rich (under Reagan & GW Bush) were the cause of, and not the cure for, massive annual deficits and an exploding national debt. Yet despite America’s sustained opposition to tax laws that consistently favor the rich at the expense of the working poor and middle class, ever more noxious tax cut proposals just keep on coming.

We are told that America is hopelessly divided on the bread and butter issues. That’s not true.

We are told that we can’t afford the country we want.  That’s not true.

Two of our last three presidents got the job after losing the election, most recently by a whopping three million votes.

When the policies most of us want, don’t become law, and the candidates most of us voted for don’t become president, the time is ripe to re-read that document we venerate on July 4th -- especially that second sentence about governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed:

“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”

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?