#TaxScam ~ The Art of Confusion

Ok. I’ve been tasked with trying to disseminate information about the Senate Tax Reform bill which passed in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday.  I’ve researched different sources. I’ve waded through the minutia of conflicting facts and figures.  And here is my assessment.  I’m just not smart enough to know what the heck what the GOP has actually done.

Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself a pretty educated woman.  I’m a nurse so I frequently deal with fact.  So here is my hypothesis: if the GOP wouldn’t even provide the 500+ page bill to their colleagues in the Senate until 15 minutes before the vote, then of course the constituency isn’t supposed to understand the content! 

The Washington Post  reported on November 22 that the University of Chicago’s Initiative on Global Markets recently conducted a survey of academic economists.  They asked these economic experts if the Republican tax plan would exacerbate America’s debt-to-GDP ratio.  Of the 38 experts who responded, 37 said Republicans were wrong about the plan paying for itself.  The 38th said HE MISUNDERSTOOD THE QUESTION!  So, again, if the experts don’t understand it…..

But one thing is clear.  The bill is filled with perks for America’s wealthiest individuals and largest corporations, many of them paid by closing loopholes that benefit the middle-class people,  According to nonpartisan Tax Policy Center,  by 2027 the top one-fifth of earners would receive 90% of the tax benefits.  This will be done by: (source U.S. Senate: Budget senate,gov).

  • Slashing corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%
  • Creating a big new tax deduction for private school and homeschooling
  • Encouraging corporations to automate without any help for displaced workers
  • Setting the stage for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
  • Rejecting a proposal to expand a tax credit for families with children in order to reduce the corporate tax rate even more
  • All but eliminating the estate tax for the country’s wealthiest households

The Senate tax overhaul bill also served double duty.  For the fourth time, our Legislative branch of government has attacked components of the ACA, particularly the Healthcare Individual Mandate.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2019, 4 million people will lose insurance and by 2027, 13 million more won’t be covered.  Many healthy people would voluntarily opt out and go without coverage, and insurers would inevitably raise premiums to cover the remaining sicker population.

The tax bill the Senate GOP passed would give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000-$75,000 over the next decade.  For perspective, the median income for Sumner County is $56,193.  Diane Black, the Congressman for the 6th district and a resident of Sumner County, is worth $29 million.

Can you guess who’s going to make out better with this Senate Tax “Reform” bill?  Here’s a hint: it’s certainly not going to be the 99%.

Diane Black’s $25 million Gallatin home (Photo Jen Yamin Facebook)

 

 

The Story of Us

People often ask how our chapter of Indivisible started here in Sumner County. The story begins on November 9, 2016 at the Hendersonville Publix of all places.  The day after the election was difficult,  but like most people I got up, went to work, and made it through the day.  That evening I went to the grocery store for the typical last minute items: milk and bread.  It was late with just a few people in the store and only one checkout open.

I approached the register and overheard the cashier speaking with two ladies at the front of the line.  It was obvious that English was a second language for them and the cashier was finding it difficult to communicate with them as they attempted to pay for their groceries.  While the ladies finished gathering their bags the cashier turned and said hello to the next person in line, but was still visibly frustrated due to the language barrier of her previous customers.  As the ladies moved out of earshot the cashier turned again to the next customer and whispered with glee, “All I gotta say is, ‘Build That Wall!'”

This blatant demonstration of xenophobia dumfounded me. Having grown up in the south, I am well aware of the constant presence of these attitudes, but I have rarely encountered them so openly displayed in public.  One of my fears during the 2016 campaign was coming true.  The violent, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic language put on display by Donald Trump during the campaign was now making it acceptable to openly show these darker human impulses; to make those unfamiliar to us or different from us into an “other,” a “them,” a “thing.”

“All I gotta say is, ‘Build That Wall!'”

Driving home that evening I felt angry, felt afraid, felt isolated.  Those thoughts and feelings festered for several weeks until I had the good fortune to break my leg.  At the time I certainly would not have called it luck, but among other restrictions my injury prevented me from driving.  This led to countless long Uber rides to and from work.  Having long, sometimes incredibly deep conversations with each of these drivers gave me a bit of hope that maybe our community was not the haven of hatred that I experienced that night at the grocery store.  We did not always agree, but we were always able to have civil discussions and usually found more common ground than disagreement.  After a few weeks of this a funny thing happened: several of the drivers noticed my Bernie Sanders sticker and whispered to me, conspiratorially, “You like Bernie, too?  I thought I was the only one around here.”

January 2 Indivisible Groups

Over the course of the next few months I heard more and more of these whispers; people who felt just as angry, and scared, and isolated as me.  Around the same time articles and news stories began appearing talking about this new grassroots organization called “Indivisible” that had been organizing people to show up at town hall meetings around the country.  It seemed I was very much not alone.  Reading the Indivisible Guide, I learned about the backstory of Leah Greenberg, Ezra Levin and other former congressional staffers who got together in their apartments and, using the tactics of the Tea Party as inspiration, cobbled together a typo-laden Google Doc and hastily sent it out to a few friends and family.

January 12 Indivisible Groups

According to Leah, by the next morning they knew something amazing was happening.  The Google Doc crashed repeatedly over the course of the next few days and their inboxes were flooded with questions and comments – many pointing out the various typos within the Guide.  Two days after the Guide was posted to Ezra Levin’s Twitter account it had gone certifiably viral.  Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, shared it.  On December 16, 2016 the New Yorker published a featured article about it.  Suddenly groups around the country began to form, but not due to the urging of any of the authors.  People simply found the Guide, read it, and decided to put it into action.  Many of the groups returning from the Women’s March in Washington, DC formed Indivisible Groups during the long bus trip home.

By the next morning they knew something amazing was happening

February 14 Indivisible Groups

By February 14, 2016 a movement had begun.  On that day I started a Facebook Group, followed shortly by a Facebook Page as I was not really sure which was which or how any of this worked.  I registered with the Indivisible Guide webpage and waited.  People slowly started liking the page and joining the group.  By March when we had our first meeting about 10 people showed up.  We got to know each other, and the time was mainly used to vent all of the pent up negativity of the previous months.  We had several meetings after that and made plans for actions and coordination with other nearby groups in Nashville and Gallatin.  We held protests as congress attempted to repeal the ACA.  We made countless phone calls.  We organized and held vigil in the wake of the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We began to make ourselves heard at the local level, and that grassroots power has become a roar across the country.

Current Indivisible Groups

Today there are over 6000 Indivisible Groups in the US.  There are at least two groups in every congressional district.  Throughout the course of 2017 the focus of our group and others like us has been to #resist, but now as we look to 2018 we are becoming more.  We are focused on supporting our local people of color and LGBTQ citizens, on increasing voter engagement and turnout, on helping our towns and counties continue to grow into beautiful, diverse, inclusive communities.  We will stand together, and we hope others will stand with us, because in the end this is not the story of me, or the story of you, or them.  This is the story of us.

#MeToo – Leave No Woman Behind

Millions have rallied behind the hashtag #MeToo campaign exposing the sheer magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence that women everywhere suffer, everyday.  Breaking the silence is first step to transforming the culture of gender-based silence.  I’m a #MeToo.  

But why now?  Why is the seemingly teflon ceiling of exposing sexual power over women crumbling?

The advancement of our rights in the United States began in the mid-19th century when individual states allowed women to own property.  Around this same time women also began to be admitted into colleges and universities.  1920 saw advancements in Women’s Suffrage by the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving us the right to vote.  But here in the 21st century, we women still don’t have the expectation of true equality.

When the Harvey Weinstein allegations of his decades of sexual harassment exploded with 57 women currently accusing him, at first I was angry.  Angry at the women for keeping the Hollywood “secret” that everyone knew.  Why would WOMEN protect a sexual predator for years?   But then I realized I was participating in the societal norm of victim shaming.  As I began looking into what type of culture that would foster such secrets, I began to see a pattern.  Hollywood:  predominantly white men directors, producers & studio owners (82.4% according to 2014 Film Directors by Gender & Ethnicity report).  Corporate America:  In 2015 Fortune 500 reported 91.2% of CEOs were white males.  115th Congress:  around 80% white men represent the entire United States (Washington Post 01/12/2017). Whoa!

(Photo Credit: Twitter @cathymcmorris 11/17/16)

No wonder women have kept quiet.  The silent message from powerful men, “To move up in our world, you play by our rules”.  So, our bodies became a commodity.  

UN Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says, “Violence against women and girls is not inevitable.  There are many ways to prevent violence in the first place and to stop cycles of violence repeating.”  With 1:3 women and girls experiencing violence in our lifetime-that is one too many. And ending violence against women and girls is possible by resisting, empowering and rising. We can transform the culture by enforcing laws that protect women’s rights and changing attitudes that condone violence against women.  We saw Anita Hill begin to start the conversation during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nominations hearings in 1991 and we experienced the outcry of the laughable sentence the USC student athlete, Brock Turner, received for his sexual assault and rape convictions.  And after the election of this current president (who himself admits to sexual assault) we’ve come full circle in the culmination of the worldwide Women’s March on January 21, 2017.

Continue reading “#MeToo – Leave No Woman Behind”

What’s Reasonable About the Gun Debate?

Guns. This is a tough one. Or so they say.

My personal history with firearms is fairly long. I grew up with an interest in classic military weapons such as the M1 Garand rife my dad carried in Korea.  (General George Patton called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised”.)  Over time, my interest expanded, I earned my carry permit, and I built up a small collection of firearms. I even became a state-certified handgun carry permit instructor and earned various NRA certifications.  I’ve shot everything from a tiny .22 you can fit in the palm of your hand to a 20-something pound sniper rifle that fires a 50 caliber slug a distance of miles.  While I am not a hunter, I think I have more than a passing familiarity with firearms – and I think everyone who might encounter one should. Knowledge beats ignorance and fear every time.  However, there is more to this story than my experience. There is our national experience.

The statistics regarding firearms injuries and deaths paint an alarming picture. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 33,000 people die from gunfire each year in this country.  That’s a rate of about 11.5-12 per 100,000 people.  Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42% of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study conducted at the University of Alabama and reported in the New York Times.

This would seem to be a problem that is crying out for a solution.  And most Americans want one. According to Gallup,  there is a multi-decades history of a majority of Americans favoring stricter gun control. For example, large majorities of Americans -both Republican and Democrat- favor strong criminal background checks for firearms purchases.  Even 72% of NRA members support background checks!

The Supreme Court is even on the side of this majority. In the landmark “District of Columbia v Heller” decision, the court ruled that Americans have the right of self defense, but like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon any time for any reason. For example, concealed weapons prohibitions are legal, as are various prohibitions on who may carry arms, where they may be carried and what type of arms the right applies to.  Pp. 54–56.

In sum, guns are clearly a problem. The majority of Americans agree, want something done, and legal precedent clearly allows some regulation of firearms, even for self-defense.  (In fact the Tennessee Constitution specifically allows the regulation of arms for the prevention of crime.)

So, what’s the problem? Why can’t we fix this? What about the United States forces us to have one of the highest firearm-related death and crime rates in the developed world?  There are many causes, but our politicians and our system of election financing are two big ones.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a very strong lobbying organization boasting millions of members and millions of dollars in campaign contributions. The NRA spent between $55 and $70 million in campaign expenditures in 2016, with the overwhelming majority of funds supporting Republicans or attacking Democrats. An “F” rating by the NRA, seen as a badge of honor in liberal circles, can be a death knell to many politicians as the NRA will fund attack ads and opposition candidates to anyone who does not toe the line.  Many elected officials are scared of the NRA’s money, even if the NRA advocates positions many of its own members do not support.

In addition, the NRA has turned from its historical mission of gun safety and marksmanship to one of dismantling gun laws. This benefits the firearms manufacturing industry, who want to sell more guns. The relationship between the NRA and the industry is simply harmful to the health of Americans.

Where do we stand? We stand for reason. We believe the Supreme Court is correct when they say the 2nd Amendment is a not a free-for-all. We stand with the majority of Americans in favor of common-sense gun laws. We want background checks on 100% of firearms purchases. We want “bump-stocks’ outlawed. We want possession of military assault-style weapons and ammunition out of civilian hands as they are not designed for self-defense or hunting. We want stricter limits on who can own firearms.  We want firearms regulated like any other consumer product. We want the government to not be prohibited as it is now to conduct academic research on firearms issues. We want better training for carry permit holders.

In other words, we want what you likely want.