Monday, October 24, 2011

A Broken Promise

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt up to writing anything as I’ve been mired in a situation that so many others have found themselves. The situation of an elderly parent that has just been diagnosed with cancer and what it means to the remainder of their life. How this still terrifying news will affect my mom and the relationships that remain in her life is still unclear. I pray for her recovery but fear that she doesn’t much care how things turn out as she longs for the day she meets her Maker. Additionally, I find myself questioning my motivations for her recovery as being little more than selfish on so many different levels – all of which I will keep as personal at this time.

My mom and I have stood on opposite sides of the political divide for some time now. A split that threatened to end an already tested relationship due to the trials of growing up in a single parent home in the 70’s and my move across country more than 20 years ago. A bond between a mother and son that should never be broken but has nevertheless sustained some moderation in the recent past.

I was really surprised when she started to include her political commentary that was so contrary to what I thought was a shared belief – after all she did have a big hand in my development. We chose to work out our differences by focusing on the non-political aspects of our shared lives. Telephone calls that where once dominated by me touting a liberal/progressive viewpoint became more about how she was feeling and any news she thought I should hear about the lives being carved out by my brothers and sisters.
As I learned more about our divergent beliefs the less care I took with maintaining my relationship with mom. I was no longer a teenager being scolded over a curfew infringement or a profane sense of humor; I was a grown man with a family, responsibilities and a growing sense of my own self-importance. I stopped making as many calls as infrequent as they were, justifying my inaction by thinking that the phone lines worked both ways thereby making her an accomplice in the wreckage of our bond. A weakness I regret but I had been setting up for too many years.

Just a few days ago I was stunned as our political truce seemed to come to a sudden end when mom told me she was afraid that recovery wasn’t possible and it was going to be due to Obama-care. I truly had not seen this coming and found myself looking for the words that I could share to dissuade her from these fears. Of course I could spend the rest of this post knocking down all the reasons that this fear is totally unfounded but I will close with the following thoughts about my mother.

She has led a life in service to others and her children. She was brought up at times by her mother and other times in a Catholic orphanage. When it was time to leave the orphanage she tried life as a Catholic nun.  After leaving the convent she worked with kids and found herself drawn to a scrappy, recently discharged sailor. They soon started their family – 5 kids – before he died and left her to raise that family. She did not remarry or date until she was in her 70’s. She watched as her oldest daughter was left for dead in the street after a hit and run driver on Mothers Day– thankfully my sister is still with us but has lived with mom ever since. She has quietly supported each of her children as we traveled on our paths to the lives we have today. She has had good times but many more trying times – I am thankful for the way she shepherded me through my much less trying times.

My mother, whatever her secret desire is about her prognosis, doesn’t deserve a moment’s unrest about what Health Care Reform means to her future. This worry about the fictional death panels or the rationing of care is the fault of people that would prop up the current for profit model of health care over a more humane system of health care delivery. The likes of just about any Republican with (or without) a microphone and Tea Partiers that have linked patriotism with unfettered capitalism – all of whom have an aversion to progress and a love for the immoral status quo.  They have now set the stage for additional stress with which any person facing a severe health issue needs not to deal.

Sorry mom, I just had to get political one last time and I hope I get to keep my promise not to let politics enter our relationship for many more years.  I love you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sometimes it's what is not said...

I’ve been trying to shake off something I heard Bill O’Reilly say on his insipient show a couple weeks ago.  I almost had it out of my system but find myself wondering why what I heard didn’t seem to get any notice - anywhere.

According to Mediaite they cite this quote from Billo’s Talking Points segment originally aired on September 19, 2011:
“If you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in. Again, let’s take me. My corporations employ scores of people. They depend on me to do what I do so they can make a nice salary. If Barack Obama begins taxing me more than 50%, which is very possible, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I like my job but there comes a point when taxation becomes oppressive. Is the country really entitled to half a person’s income?”

Other than the obvious celebrations the thought of Billo taking himself off the air voluntarily caused in the world in which most of us live – one of common sense and a normal sense of self importance. Additionally - is he so out of touch that the current tax structure isn't oppressive to many at the lower end of the scale - perhaps they should quit and leave Mr. O'Reilly without a gardener, housekeeper or one of the other scores of people getting paid a "nice salary".

However, earlier in his lecture addressed to the President and Warren Buffett he states that he pays 35% on his take home pay and some of it is invested and the profits therefore should be taxed at a lower rate – currently 15%. (See the complete video at )

Well it would be a fine world in which to live if we all made enough to risk a portion of our take home in a financial market that has been proven to be a toy for the extremely wealthy to play with and manipulate. Those well off individuals are telling us through Mr. O’Reilly and the politicians they have bought that their risk or “gamble” deserves treatment better than the income those less fortunate need to make ends meet.

Some of us are still lucky enough to be partially and voluntarily funding our 401k or 403b for a future that may not include the entitlements we have been paying for throughout our work lives through mandatory payroll taxes – Social Security and Medicare. A burden paid on 100 % of our income at this end of the spectrum but vanishes after the first month of work by those making a mere $1,000,000 a year. The 0.2% and many at the top of the ever dwindling middle class may not have to worry about the golden years but most of us still do. 

“Over the past 15 years, there has been a major change in the way that American executives, particularly CEOs, are paid. For many executives, annual stock-option grants are now greater than cash compensation (salary and bonus). Annual changes in CEO wealth from revaluations of stock and stock-option holdings completely swamp cash compensation, and provide substantial pay-to-performance sensitivity. All of this is a dramatic change from the early 1980s, when the median stock-option grant to top executives was zero.”

This difference in tax treatment of income – either due to ones honest labor, good investment or compensation structure – should not be treated unequally. This inequity has led this country into the financial trouble we face today as more of the wealth generated migrates upwards to the high earners in remunerations that are more favorably taxed as investments instead of routine income – starving our Government of revenues needed to maintain services at current levels. So due to the lower rates the top earners have a playing field tilted to promote continued and ever higher accumulation of wealth at that end of the scale. This puts to lie the oft repeated charge of the GOP and Tea Party that we have a spending problem only. We have a series of issues that have found root in our country over the past 30 years (yes including the Clinton Administration) that were further exacerbated with the undisciplined spending of the George W. Bush years.

As President Obama has stated this is “math not class warfare”. There are many of our fellow citizens who for one reason or another choose to demonize the less fortunate and blame them for all the nation’s troubles. This is the same group that cries “class warfare” when a compelling but different view of our national finances are stated. Instead of reaching out to the more than gracious hand offered by the elected President to fix our problems they repeat their mantras and spin wildly untrue accusations imagined or based upon a twisted view of reality.

OK – so I’ve traveled a bit from where I started but will try to pull it all together. Sometimes it isn’t’ what Bill O’Reilly and his Fox colleagues  say over and over and over – it’s what they don’t say in a cynical attempt to mislead people. What I have just gone over isn’t what Billo said but what he didn’t say. That some income is more equal than others and that the US tax code should treat investment as something other than disposable income used to gamble in our over Capitalist society.

Hopefully we will be able to come together and re-elect a President who has done a lot and has more to do instead of electing those willing to pander to single issue voters or demonize their fellow countrymen or have made their fortunes by buying up companies and selling off the hopes and dreams of others.