Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

McCain calls it socialism; I call it opportunity, and there's nothing more American than that.--Senator Barack Obama, Raleigh, NC, October 29, 2008

Today I feel as if I've been to the promised land. I was one of 25,000 people who stood on Halifax Mall, the roof of a parking deck in the downtown Raleigh, North Carolina legislative complex, and listened to Senator Barack Obama talk about hope, change, and what we can do as a nation.

There were a lot of parents with children in the crowd. I asked a ten-year-old girl standing next to me why she was there. As her mother proudly beamed, she replied, "Because I want to see history being made and I like Mr. Obama."

Yesterday, the local news stations reported that the Obama campaign had indicated it was expecting a crowd of around 25,000. The State Highway Patrol stated that a more realistic expectation was 10,000. It is the State Highway Patrol that reported today's final number as 25,000.

I'm still on a high. There was electricity in the air. At one point the crowd broke into a chant of Obama's name. I found myself chanting and swaying with the group. But the people in this crowd are not mindless followers, not members of the cult of Obama as McCain and Palin have tried to portray us. We believe, but not in Obama; we believe in ourselves.

Senator Obama has been very clear since the beginning; he is not a solo act. His message is straightforward--We can, not I can or you can, but We Can. He reiterated that message today stating, "Government can't solve all of our problems, but it can ensure that each of us has a shot at success." According to Obama, the American way means that you "...should be able to make it if you try." No handouts; no taking money from one person to hand over to another, but a government that ensures that every person has an opportunity to access those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Much ado has been made by the McCain/Palin camp about Obama's economic policies and he addressed their criticism directly, speaking of his plans for creating jobs, decreasing taxes on the middle class, and returning the wealthiest 5% to the tax brackets that they were in before the George W. Bush tax cuts, back to a time when there was a federal budget surplus instead of an ever growing federal budget deficit. (If you are interested in the difference between the national debt and the federal budget, please check out an old post on that topic by clicking here.) His plans include tax credits for American businesses that actually do business in the U.S. and create jobs in the U.S., reinstating many of the regulations tossed out during the Reagan years to forestall any more missteps by Wall Street necessitating taxpayer bailouts, and eliminating capital gains taxes for small businesses.

Among my favorite moments was Sen. Obama's addressing of the McCain/Palin's scare tactics regarding his plans for the wealthiest 5% to pay their fair share of taxes. The McCain/Plain folks run around like Chicken Little shouting about the unfairness of not rewarding the wealthy for their hard work. The logic appears to be that if you work hard then you're entitled to your money. I don't have a problem with that and neither does Sen. Obama. However, he does question whether it's in our best interests to have a system that only rewards the holders of the wealth or to have one that also "...rewards workers who contribute to creating that wealth." 

Think about it. Suppose that tomorrow the CEO of every car manufacturing company disappeared. There certainly would be some confusion and discussion of what needs to be done, but the assembly lines would still be able to run because the rank and file who actually do the day to day work would still be in place. No doubt, someone from lower management would step into the CEO positions and production would continue. Now, let's imagine that all of the workers disappeared and all that was left were the CEOs. Can we say, work stoppage, boys and girls? Don't get me wrong, leadership is important but so are workers, the people who actually get their hands dirty, who have the skills to create the product. Those workers deserve a living wage and Sen. Obama wants to ensure that they receive it.

Today was an extraordinary day for me. I am high on hope. My only regret is that I couldn't call my mother and share my day with her, but I think that she knows all about it.

I do have a confession to make. I am not in the 5%; are you? If you are, I understand why McCain's plans may be more attractive to you. If not, well mama never liked it when I was rude, so I'll hold my tongue, but you know what I'm thinking.

The rally ended with the song, Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours) by Stevie Wonder. What would I do without YouTube? Turn it up and dance around the room.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The McCain Deception

I always read my comments and I thank my readers who take the time to leave their observations on my thoughts. I also thank the lurkers; you are also valued.

A comment on my most recent entry, "Erasing the Mark of Cain," caught my eye.

Sharing the wealth would also mean something like this: Say you and I were in college together. You turned down social invitations to events that you would have liked to attended to stay in and study. I, on the other hand, went to every shindig I could find and did not study at all. Come test time, you were prepared, I was not. I made a D, you made an A. But the professor, in an effort to share the wealth, gave me part of your A, and we both made a C, you a C+, me a C-. Acceptable? Not to me. If I work for it, I shouldn't have to share with those who won't work, and essentially that's what would happen.
While I appreciate Meg taking the time to comment, I take issue with her analogy. I understand it, but it's not valid. Sadly, I think that it's the thought process that happens to quite a few people when they hear the phrase, "share the wealth." The McCain/Palin campaign has clamped onto this issue like barnacles on a whale, so I think that it's worth addressing in more detail.

Fortunately, just as I was thinking about writing something in response to Meg's comment, I received a link from a friend to an article by David Sirota that was right on point, McCain Banking on a Confederacy of Dunces. It's a very thoughtful analysis of the McCain/Palin campaign's efforts to scare the socks off the American public by alleging that Obama is a socialist and wants to turn the United States into a clone of the former Soviet Union.

Nothing could be further from the truth and the McCain camp knows it. It's scare tactics predicated on the American public lacking the facts. You know me; I love sharing facts.

According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, the Bush administration has provided $715 billion in tax breaks to those making more than $342,000 per year. That's tax breaks for individuals. Corporations are in a special category. There are all sorts of loopholes that allow some of the most profitable corporations to pay zero corporate income tax. However, my favorite fact is that the government provides various subsidies to corporations that amount to approximately $93 billion annually, about three times as much as is budgeted for the food stamp program. Then there's that recent little $700 billion bailout.

What this adds up to is that the very wealthy often pay lower effective tax rates than their employees. (According to Sirota's article, billionaire Warren Buffet is one of the few who has admitted this.) In addition, corporations like Exxon Mobile that made record profit in its last quarter, don't pass any of that profit along via paying their proportionate share of corporate income tax.

So Meg, when Obama speaks of sharing the wealth, he's not talking about you going out and earning money and then giving half of it to me. What he is talking about is closing the tax loopholes (I think that the more accurate term is black hole) that allow those who are most able to pay to avoid paying their fair share. In addition, Obama proposes that the 95% of Americans who earn less than $250,000 per year, receive tax cuts. No one is proposing taking money out your pocket or mine and handing it over to anyone. No one is even proposing taking money out of the pockets of the 5% who hold the wealth; all that is being proposed is that they pay their fair share instead of being allowed to evade their responsibility through a series of tax breaks and loopholes secured from the U.S. Congress by very well paid lobbyists. 

What McCain counts on is that we do not understand that all of the things that we take for granted, the things that make our lives comfortable, are supported by the taxes that we pay. I like driving on decent roads. My friends with children want to have decent schools for those children to attend. When I turn on my tap, I want the water to be drinkable. I expect there to be law enforcement officers (in uniform because I like men in uniforms) to be there to serve and protect.

By the way, these wealthy individuals and corporations also have discovered a multitude of loopholes to avoid paying their proportionate share of state taxes as well. Ever wondered why so many businesses are incorporated in Delaware? They don't necessarily have offices in Delaware but that's the state where they filed their articles of incorporation. Some 50% of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware. The cost of incorporation there is the lowest in the country. You don't have to have any actual offices in the state, just a corporate agent to pay franchise fees and accept mail, so the business may physically consist of a post office box in Delaware. Oh, and the big lure is that as long as the corporation doesn't conduct business activities in Delaware, it doesn't have to pay any corporate income tax in Delaware. So, if a business has all of its offices in my home state of North Carolina, transacts all of its business outside of Delaware, but is Incorporated in Delaware, it doesn't pay state income taxes anywhere! That's a loophole that you could drive the space shuttle through!

The McCain/Palin camp is counting on us being dunces. They think that we can't figure it out and will continue to believe them when they tell us that sharing the wealth is going to result in the advancement of socialism. They think that we will continue to contentedly wait for the trickle down effect to kick in and provide the 95% with our share of the wealth. Well, so far, the only trickle has been upward. The richest one percent of Americans own "more of America's wealth than at any time since before the Great Depression." (Sirota)

By the way, these tax breaks and loopholes are not available to the other 95% of us. You have to have a great deal of money, in order to take advantage of these loopholes! Sending the $500 that I saved over the last six months to some offshore account isn't an option. If it was $500,000, well, then my lawyers could figure out perfectly legal options that would allow me to shelter that income and avoid paying my fair share of taxes on it or perhaps, avoid paying any taxes on it.

Meg, the issue isn't that these wealthy folks earned their money. I earned my money; you earned your money. But you, and me, and the other 95% of Americans have to contribute to the running of this country through paying taxes. Don't you think that the other 5% ought to have to do the same?

You know that I love music; so, I tried to find the perfect song to accompany this post. I initially planned to use Chain of Fools, but then I decided that another Aretha song was even better, Think (Freedom). I like to imagine singing it to John McCain. For the lyrics, just click this link.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Erasing the Mark of Cain

Work has been far less busy this week and I haven't been doing my usual hamster on a wheel imitation. I decided to start my day with a trip to the Board of Elections office in downtown Raleigh to engage in early voting. It was a great idea; there were no lines at 9:00 a.m. and I didn't have to wait. It took me about 15 minutes to complete the ballot. I don't like voting a straight party ticket; I like to read all of the names and then color in the appropriate oval next to each of my choices. That's how we do it in North Carolina, with a black pen we must completely and neatly fill in the oval next to our selected candidate. We cannot vote for the office of President or for judges by voting a straight party ticket. You have to vote separately for president and for judges (district court, court of appeals, and supreme court are elected positions and the races are nonpartisan).

I am happy to have voted, although I confess that it's a bit of a let down. What do I do now? It's sort of like opening your Christmas presents two weeks early. It's a lot of fun at the moment, but then there's no reason to look forward to Christmas day.

I'm not complacent that Obama will win. There is still plenty of time for the winds to shift and for voters to change their minds. I hope that he wins because I really do believe that he has the best plans for delivering us from this economic nightmare in which we are trapped.

It seems so clear to me. Obama proposes spreading the wealth around; McCain wants to keep the wealth in the hands of the few and enable them to accrue even more wealth. People keep bandying about the word socialism in reference to Obama's economic policies. If what Obama proposes is socialism, then I think that I like socialism.

Think about it this way. Halloween is nearly upon us (don't worry, I'm going somewhere with this). Let's suppose that you have three children, ages two, six, and ten. You allow the ten and six year old to go trick-or-treating with a group of neighborhood kids. When they come home, the ten-year-old has a bag filled with candy, but your six-year-old has a couple of packs of bubble gum and a whistle. What do you do?

Well, you could say to the six-year-old that he was lazy, didn't say trick-or-treat loud enough, and he'll just have to live with the consequences because it's his own fault that he didn't get five pounds of chocolate like his brother. Or you could explain the merits of sharing to the older child, and provide each child with some candy from big brother's bag. Even the two-year-old who didn't bother to go trick-or-treating in the first place.

I know that this is a simplistic explanation for a complex matter like redistribution of wealth but the premise is essentially the same, especially if you substitute resources for wealth. Essentially what socialism is in its purest form is a concept of ensuring that all of us have the resources that we need--food, shelter, health care, and economic security. Obama certainly is not proposing that the wealthy hand over their wealth to be shared among everyone else--the 95% of us earning less than $250,000 annually. Instead, he is proposing that those who can afford to pay a larger share of the tax burden do so. Why? Because it's necessary for the survival of the whole.

A society is only as strong as its weakest members. When we allow adults and children to live in poverty, we undermine their ability to contribute meaningfully to the society. Their potential is wasted and whatever benefit that they may have brought to the society in which we live is never realized. Our guilty conscience causes us to implement piecemeal approaches to alleviating poverty, but we never really address the underlying causes and so our problem solving efforts are as effective as dousing a 100 acre forest fire with a cup of water.

Somewhere along the way, we have become enamored with worshipping at the altar of capitalism; it's the national religion of this country. We conclude that anyone who struggles financially is unwilling to work, and that only lazy, shiftless people are poor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I really do wonder if there has been some collective loss of basic math skills in this country. Let's assume that you earn $10.00 per hour, which exceeds the federal minimum wage of $6.55 (effective 7/24/08) and highest minimum wage offered by any state, $8.07 in the state of Washington. Assuming that you have paid holidays and paid sick leave, then you gross a whopping $20,800 per year. That's gross (before FICA and state and federal taxes). On this $10.00 per hour job, it's doubtful that you have health insurance or any retirement benefits. Double the pay to $20 per hour and your annual gross salary is $41,600.  

So why not get a better job? Well, the service jobs that pay these low wages are necessary to the functioning of society. All those people who work in retail, or restaurants, or cleaning services, or transportation are doing honest labor, working hard and trying to support their families.

So yeah, I support Obama's plans for changing the way we do things in this country. I believe that there is sufficient wealth to ensure that no one goes without basic necessities of food, shelter, health care, transportation, and clothing. I believe that an honest day's work should pay a living wage, one that allows the worker to obtain those basic necessities.

I didn't get these beliefs from Senator Obama, although he espouses them well. I learned them in my catechism classes as a child where we studied from that great tome of socialism, where when Cain cried out, "Am I my brother's keeper?," the simple, unequivocal answer was, "Yes."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting My Groove Back

A colleague asked if I had watched the most recent Obama/McCain debate. I said that I had. She volunteered that she continued to be "concerned" about Obama and what he stood for.  The ensuing discussion turned out to be the best conversation that I have had in weeks. For twenty minutes, I didn't grieve for my mother. I became caught up in presenting to this single mother of two why Obama's policies on the economy, health care, and the war in Iraq would benefit her and her children much more than McCain's policies on those matters. I don't think that I persuaded her of anything. She is lying, not as much to me as to herself. She isn't undecided; she plans to vote for McCain. She is just uncomfortable admitting that to me. I'll get to the reasons why in a minute, but first I do want to thank her. My discussion with her pushed me a little more back on the path of being me before I lost mama.  

Mama was a woman of strong opinion and I certainly inherited that character trait from her. She was a great fan of Senator Obama. On the Friday before she died, I visited her in Wilson and we watched the evening news together. There was much about the elections and we discussed all the ins and outs of both campaigns.

I've been unable to find the motivation to write anything of substance since Mama passed away on September 15. I'm still an Obama supporter, but the only reality for me has been that my mother is dead; everything else has seemed surreal, a waking dream, and I've just been going through the motions. That is, until my co-worker expressed her inability to trust Obama and her fear of what he might do to this country should he be elected. I shrugged off the lethargy that has enveloped me of late, and I gave her all the reasons why in supporting Obama, she would be supporting her own interests.  

My efforts to sway her were pointless; in spite of her protests to the contrary, her reasons for not voting for Obama weren't about his policies but about his race. With fewer than three weeks to go until election day, I really think that it's time that we spoke with some honesty about the role that race has and is playing in this presidential campaign. I've never heard so many people speak of any candidate as being someone of whom they are afraid, don't know what he might do to the country, that he may be working with terrorists etc., as I've heard regarding Sen. Obama. Then there's the fixation on his religion--he's a Muslim; he sat in Rev. Wright's church for 20 years (that must have been his non-Muslim period) and listened to reverse racism; and my personal favorite, he's a sleeper agent for Al-Qaeda. 

I don't intend to address these claims; they are ludicrous and based in nothing but fear mongering. Anyone who believes this crap is going to be just like my colleague, totally content in clinging to their ignorance. Don't get your panties in a wad, I didn't say that everyone who supports McCain is ignorant. What I'm saying is that if the reason that you support McCain is because you believe that Obama is an Al-Qaeda supporting, Muslim terrorist, racist hater of white people out to destroy the United States, you are ignorant. If you also still believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and/or that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, you are also working hard to receive a blue ribbon in ignorance. Keep in mind, ignorance can be cured; the antidote is knowledge. 

Fortunately for my peace of mind, there are a great many people who actually care about the issues and are basing their choice of a candidate on his stance on those issues. For those people, I've created a little issues chart presenting McCain and Obama's basic positions on education, health care, stimulating the economy, and the war in Iraq. Check out their respective campaign websites for more details on their response to the issues. 

Issues      McCain    Obama

Upholds Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which requires public school students to pass standardized tests for the schools to get additional federal funding. Plans to enlarge a program offering school vouchers to families with an average household income of $23,000. Supports virtual schools (online education) and will invest $500 million to support virtual schools. Plans to make college more affordable by increasing federal funding on need-based grants and low-interest loans.                      

Critical of NCLB. Plans to reform law by funding it and tracking school progress. Plans to focus on combating high high school dropout rates by implementing mentoring and extracurricular programs. Wants to create a tax credit that will make the first $4,000 of college free--covering two-thirds of the average public college tuition. Plans to make community college free. 


Will provide a $2,500 refundable tax credit for individuals and a $5,000 credit for families. Wants to increase the number of walk-in clinics nationwide.Wants a national health plan to help citizens buy affordable health insurance. Will allow people to choose between the national health plan and private one. Will raise the age limit for children to be covered under their parents' plans to 25.
STIMULATING THE ECONOMYWants to drop the corporate tax from 35% to 25%. Opposes federal control of the minimum wage. Proposes to double the personal exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 for every dependent. Supports decreased spending except for job training and national security.Will inject $75 billion into the economy by cutting taxes for the middle class and providing workers with a tax credit. Will implement a higher payroll tax for those making more than $250,000 per year (5% of the U.S population make more than $250,000 annually). Plans to raise the minimum wage. Plans to provide $50 million to employment programs for groups facing employment difficulties, such as homeless veterans and children aging out of foster care.
WAR IN IRAQ   Hopes to release troops from Iraq by 2013. Disagrees with a withdrawal before Al-Qaeda is defeated, arguing that our troops must stay to prevent another terrorist attack.    Will implement a phased withdrawal of one to two brigades per month to get our troops out of Iraq within 16 months. Proposes to keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats, but is opposed to having a permanent presence there. Thinks that we need to re-focus our efforts on Afghanistan.
Okay Mama, I'm moving forward, one step at a time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Marc!

Today is a special day for my dear friend Marc Olmsted; it's his birthday! He gets to celebrate, have his wishes granted, and most importantly, he now qualifies for membership in AARP. This is very important because with his AARP membership card he can get discounts on hotels, airfares, and milkshakes at participating restaurants. He also now gets to say and do outrageous things because he can blame any faux pas on being 50. I know this from personal experience. Please drop by his blog and wish him a happy birthday!

I wanted a birthday song for Marc, so I went to YouTube. I came across a song that sums up the one lesson that I've learned in life, that friends are there for you and the greatest treasure that anyone can have. Thanks for being my blogami, my dear Marc.

You've Got A Friend
written by Carol King
performed by James Taylor

When you're down and troubled
and you need a helping hand,
and nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
and soon I will be there
to brighten up even your darkest nights.

You just call out my name,
and you know wherever I am
I'll come running, oh yeah baby
to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall,
all you got to do is call
and I'll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You've got a friend.

If the sky above you
should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud now
and soon I'll be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name and you know where ever I am
I'll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
all you got to do is call
and I'll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Hey, ain't it good to know that you've got a friend?
People can be so cold.
They'll hurt you and desert you.
Well they'll take your soul if you let them.
Oh yeah, but don't you let them.

You just call out my name and you know wherever I am
I'll come running to see you again.
Oh babe, don't you know that,
Winter spring summer or fall,
Hey now, all you've got to do is call.
Lord, I'll be there, yes I will.
You've got a friend.
You've got a friend.
Ain't it good to know you've got a friend.
Ain't it good to know you've got a friend.
You've got a friend.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Making Time to Cry

This post began as an e-mail exchange with my friend Marc. I'm publishing it as is, in an attempt to make some sense about the sense of loss and bewilderment that has enveloped me since mama's death on September 15.

I confess that I've never known this kind of emotional loss and I don't feel like me. I go to work and I go through the motions of what I should do; I smile, I talk, I try to be "fine." When people ask how I am, I always say, "I'm doing okay. I'm fine." But I'm not. Everything seems so overwhelming. I come home and watch hours of mindless television. I rarely turn on my home computer; I tell myself that I'll catch up on things tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. All that I know to do is to keep moving forward one day at a time until I find my rhythm again. I realize that this loss is personal but it is also universal. I am not the first person to lose a mother and people do survive the loss; I just have to get back in sync with living again.

I try to be honest with people whom I consider friends. I don't pretend to my friends that I'm not devastated. I am not functioning as me. I feel helpless, lost, and so alone. I think that my reticence to acknowledge my grief is a fear that I will not be able to contain it. There's a line from an Iris Dement song, No Time to Cry, that sums it up,
"I'm walking, and I'm talking, doing what I'm supposed to do; working overtime to make sure I don't come unglued, cause I'm older now, and I've got no time to cry."

I believe that grieving is necessary and healthy but all I really want to do is take to my bed and wail for days. I'm just not certain that would be in my best interest, so I keep focusing on getting through each day while allowing myself to feel sorrow and hurt, but remaining functional. I have wailed a bit, but I've been able to calm myself and get back to the business of living because I want to be a part of life, not on the sidelines, wrapped in sorrow. It's a balancing act, but the alternative--a complete collapse--doesn't seem healthy or useful.

I do believe that this utter emptiness will ease with time. I know that there will always be a sense of loss but I also know on a purely intellectual level that people can live with loss. My heart just needs to catch up with my head. I also firmly believe that what mama would want is for me to go on and live well. We went through so much to find each other, to reach a place of mutual love, that I feel cheated somehow to lose her in the blink of an eye. I'm grieving, but I'm also angry at the universe. All of my senses are raw and everything hurts. It is an interesting and new set of emotions for me. I've been saddened by other deaths but I've never before felt such a void inside over anyone's death. I've lost other people that I love, other family members, but I don't think that I've ever fully understood sorrow before. I'm trying to see what I can learn from this state that I find myself in, see how I can fashion it into something that will make me a better person. I think that mama would approve of that and be happy for me.

I wanted to include a video performance of Iris Dement performing No Time to Cry, but the only thing that I could find is an abbreviated version that she did in a live performance. I have my mother to thank for my love of country music. When I was growing up, she used to listen to Aretha Franklin and Patsy Cline. She also would sing along. I do that too. For the lyrics, just click on the song title.