Wednesday, November 14, 2012


You really can't believe everything you read? Even on Facebook?

So I was going through some of my nightly Facebook reading Tuesday night and I see that one of my friends has "liked" a group on Facebook called "Defend My Dividend". Okay, it's obviously a conservative group, and they're against taxes, which they have every right to do.

At least, they're against one particular kind of taxes. This group is taking a bold stand against any increase in the rate at which dividend income is taxed. You see, unlike taxable income that you work for, dividends are taxed at a much lower rate. If you receive taxable dividends and your general tax bracket is 15% or 25%, your tax rate on your dividend income is 0%. If you are taxed at any higher tax rate (and remember, your income has to be over $87,000 to hit that rate) your dividend income is taxed at 15%; it never goes higher than that.

As you can see, dividends are taxed much lower than income that you work for, apparently because your investments get tired so easily that it isn't fair to tax them the same as a working person. President Obama has proposed to tax dividends the same as ordinary income for individuals earning over $200,000 or couples earning over $250,000. As you know if you've been paying attention, 98% of your fellow Americans have incomes below these levels and about 2% have incomes above. In other words, this proposal would apply to hardly anybody.

But let's go back to Facebook. Somehow this group on Facebook already has 95,000 "likes". Here are some of the comments:

We just can not have that. Baby Boomers are the life of rbis country. We deserve our reward.
Many seniors depend on the dividends to help make ends meet. They worked hard to save money and invest. That includes me. Now our elected Savior that is trying to take that away from us. It will also hurt our economy since people will not invest in the companies to expand their business. And why should they invest when Obama's gov. is taking away income that helps them make ends meet.

Please stop we hurting alot now. Please stop

You have to feel for these people, right? After all, they are so concerned that their $250,000 income might be hit by a tax they don't want to pay that they've banded together, created a group on Facebook, and recruited many of their fellow dividend-getters to join them.

It really makes you wonder: Who are these selfless people who would go to all that effort to set up a group on Facebook, with no motive but to improve the tax system for all of us?

Well, looky here:

Defend My Dividend is a national grassroots advocacy campaign dedicated to stopping a dividend tax hike. The campaign is sponsored by various associations, organizations, and companies, with the support of members, employees, retirees, and shareholders. The Defend My Dividend Web site is maintained by the Edison Electric Institute, in partnership with the Alliance for Savings & Investment and the American Gas Association.

Surprise, surprise! It's not real people at all. In fact, Defend My Dividend is just an astroturf front for the electric and gas industries.

So that would make the people who sign their web page, and "like" it, and post ignorant comments as though they really stand to lose (because they have over $200,000 in income, remember?) what?

I believe the technical term would be "dupes".

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lost Memory of SkinLost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It's a little tricky to rate this book, whether one star because of what I viewed as serious shortcomings, or somewhere in the 2-3 star range, which would indicate that I appreciated some of what Banks does here, although with some misgivings.

I'll start by what I liked. You may know that the story is based on the fact that there are places in the United States, such as Miami, where the hysteria about sex crimes is so severe that there is literally no place a convicted sex offender is allowed to live, aside from a rough settlement under a highway overpass or similar setting. Banks effectively explores the lives of men, not all of whom are convicted of serious crimes or pose a real danger to the public, focusing on a 22-year-old convict who prefers to be known only as The Kid. In this narrative we learn of The Kid's disastrous upbringing by a mother who could only aspire to being grossly neglectful, as well as how he and his fellow convicts try to live under the Causeway in fictional Calusa, Florida.

Our entree into this underworld is The Professor, a secretive, morbidly obese sociology professor who forces himself into The Kid's life to study the existence of these men and to test his theory that by providing them with a sense of autonomy he can cure them.

Unfortunately, The Professor is also the most glaring flaw in the novel. Slapped onto the story of the Kid and his fellow convicts is an ultimately ridiculous sidetrack into a world, possibly imaginary, of the Professor's history as a spy or counterspy, leading to visits from shadowy characters, possibly from unknown spy agencies, a flight across state lines literally in the eye of a hurricane, and a resolution that leaves most questions unanswered.

I don't demand that an author answer every possible question, but the Professor's spy plot is so intrusive that it seems as much of a distraction from the real story as if someone had decided to add a zombie war into a novel by Jane Austen.

I chose the book, and I was probably the only member of my book group with such a negative response to it, but even though I've liked Russell Banks in the past I cannot recommend this one.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Did you notice this?

Just a little point of comparison here.

Here's a picture of what Occupy is doing now.

 As is now being reported in the Detroit Free Press:

  NEW YORK -- The social media savvy that helped Occupy Wall Street protesters create a grassroots global movement last year is proving to be a strength in the wake of Superstorm Sandy as members and organizers of the group fan out across New York to deliver aid, including hot meals, medicine and blankets. They're the ones who took food and water to Glenn Nisall, a 53-year-old resident of Queens' hard-hit and isolated Rockaway section who lost power and lives alone, with no family nearby.

And in the Times:

ON Wednesday night, as a fierce northeaster bore down on the weather-beaten Rockaways, the relief groups with a noticeable presence on the battered Queens peninsula were these: the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Police and Sanitation Departments — and Occupy Sandy, a do-it-yourself outfit recently established by Occupy Wall Street.

 So the response from Occupy: We Got This. Go to the page and you'll see link after link of ways the Occupy movement is helping people hurt by Hurricane Sandy.

 And it doesn't stop there. Occupy Wall Street has been making headlines again thanks to its new role as the main source of mutual aid to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. In addition to supplying blankets, food and clean water to those who are still without power and shelter, the OWS movement recently announced a new plan to bolster the 99%. 

 Through a new effort called the”Rolling Jubilee,” Occupy Wall Street plans to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. This brilliant idea has been in development for months, and it has the power to mobilize the power of crowdfunding to help those who are struggling in a way that has never been seen before. 

And the response from the Tea Party? This is Obama's Katrina. We should be trying to hit him hard on this!

Ask me if I'm surprised.

Monday, November 05, 2012

2000 all over again?

It wasn't possible in 2008, but it appears that the Republicans are trying to steal Florida again.

 It's mainly being reported at the Huffington Post: hundreds of people waiting on line for early voting, spending hours before they can get in, and in one case even having their cars towed away.

 The chaos is the direct result of new laws enacted by the Republican legislature to curtail early voting, and when the crowds that appeared were too large to be accommodated, did Medicare defrauder Rick Scott extend the hours? Just the opposite:

Miami-Dade attempted to deal with the problem on Sunday by allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in person between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. However, after just two hours, the Miami-Dade elections department shut down the location after too many people showed up. People outside the locked doors were reportedly screaming, "We want to vote!"

 There is no mistake here. What is happening is, once again, a deliberate effort to suppress the Democratic vote and give Florida's electoral votes to Romney.

 Which makes Frank Bruni's column in Sunday's Times particularly ironic. Bruni calls for amity following the election, a hope that bipartisanship will reign.

  There’s an opportunity here, as we hit the reset button, for Obama to begin a second term by lavishing his attention on areas of general bipartisan agreement or for Romney to begin a first term with a focus on that same territory.

Then, predictably, Bruni descends into the MSM's favorite rhetorical construct: the false equivalence.

The Obama and Romney campaigns have already signaled that they’ll be sending lawyers, thousands of them, to polling places on Tuesday to gather information for possible legal challenges to the results, should the campaigns feel that there’s some justification for challenges and — perhaps just as important — some way to sway the outcome. They’re poised, in other words, to reject the integrity of the tally.

 What's happening in Florida is proof that we need to send lawyers to challenged states, and to bring in international monitors, not to file challenges after the election is over, but to bring lawsuits while the election is going on, and before the Republicans have the chance to steal it.

 I surely hope for a legitimate Presidency, but the Republicans are doing everything they can to prevent it.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A personal note

I've spent my entire legal career as a Legal Aid lawyer. After I graduated from law school in 1979 I worked at Legal Aid of Western Michigan for four years, and I've been working at Vermont Legal Aid since 1983. I've loved not necessarily every day of it, but definitely every year, and it's mainly because the work and the Legal Aid movement makes it possible to bring about positive change both for individual clients and for large segments of the population touched by poverty, neglect, and injustice.

Working in Legal Services for so long I know that we don't make our achievements alone, and I'm proud not only of what I can accomplish but when my colleagues are able to accomplish great things.

This is one of those stories. At Vermont Legal Aid we have a project that provides legal representation to Medicare beneficiaries, and recently we had an individual case in which a client had been denied reimbursement for rehab services because they weren't helping her get better. No surprise because lots of people have chronic conditions that will never get better, but rehab services will help them live independent lives in their own homes, giving them the maximum level of self-direction possible, and saving society a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on nursing home care into the bargain. By good lawyering my colleagues were able to keep the independent living services coming and one Medicare beneficiary was able to preserve her independent living situation.

But it didn't stop there. You may have read about this in The Times. Vermont Legal Aid cooperated with the Center for Medicare Advocacy and filed a class action seeking to change the policy not just for our individual client, but for Medicare beneficiaries across the country who were in danger of losing the home-based that were enabling them to live outside of nursing homes. Last week it was announced that the government had agreed to settle the case, and to continue providing these vital services.

As The Times reports:

Federal officials agreed to rewrite the Medicare manual to make clear that Medicare coverage of nursing and therapy services “does not turn on the presence or absence of an individual’s potential for improvement,” but is based on the beneficiary’s need for skilled care.

The case also attracted an editorial from The Times, which said of the settlement, "It is clearly the humane thing to do for desperately sick people with little hope of recovery." and "The solution to Medicare’s cost problem is not to deny needed services but to make the delivery of care more efficient and less expensive, and to ensure better management of care for the chronically ill."

I didn't work on the case, but I'm proud to be part of an organization that was able to see the need for this change and was willing to support the excellent work needed to carry it through to success.

As I said, the work is hard, the days can be challenging, but the rewards are great.

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