Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who Deserves a Change in Capital Gains Tax Rate ?

One would have thought that before the National Republican Congressional Committee selected the “Change You Deserve” slogan , it would have asked If it will play in Peoria? But then, since the results of that interim election are already known, the Republicans must have figured that it was a fluke to lose Denny Hastert’s seat to a Democrat. But now after losing House seats in Louisiana and Mississippi, Marc Ambinder asserts, may be the slogan should be ”change or die.”

Bluestem Prairie has provided (as usual) excellent documentation of the co-opting of “Change You Deserve” slogan, but co-opting is not unusual in politics. Heck, the Democrats were proposing a program entitled Leave No Child Behind, that Bush co-opted to No Child Left Behind … so be warned that slogans are just marketing tools.

What we voters need to be concerned about is what the “Change You Deserve” program might include. Personally, I don’t like the slogan … it hits me as a declaratory sentence … this what You Deserve … not what you Want … or Need ... or what is Best for the country. Heck, I would like to see a change in our foreign policy, health care reform, environmental awareness, etc. but from what the Republicans are proposing, I won’t get what I want in a Republican agenda … but just what I Deserve.

So, what are they offering ?

How about HR 5908 which provide a permanent zero percent capital gains rate for individuals and corporations.

Great no taxes for passive investors … shift the focus to paying taxes on working wages.

But let’s examine what that could mean … after all, calculating the capital gains for my 2007 income tax return resulted in a $400 savings. Now, $400 may be a week’s take home pay for some … or a weekend getaway for others.

So, all investors would get some. And that seems to be the Republican philosophy … its share the wealth … as long everybody gets some, everybody wins … even if some may get more than others.

For example, not to pick on any individual, but let’s just look at someone who is in the spotlight considering the proposal for a gas tax holiday. Rex Tillerson is Chairman of the Board of Exxon-Mobil and has one outstanding equity award for 197,307 at a price of $37.12 ( oh, don’t worry, there are more awards he has... that just one .. plus he already owns 929,149 shares). With today’s market value in the $90 range, that would be a tidy capital gain of $52.78 per share …. or $10,432,607.
OK, so $400 for me and $10 million for you.

Some may say that this is an isolated example, but we should have a concern about what motivates legislative proposals. For example, one of the co-sponsors of HR 5908 is James Sensenbrenner (R-IL) who’s net worth is estimated to be at least $21 million and is a stockholder in Exxon-Mobil.

Somehow, I think some think they Deserve more than others.
Now, I am depressed ... I think I need a Venlafaxine.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Who do you want in your foxhole – A Republican or A Democrat ?

From Stars & Stripes is this most appropriate headline : Democrats press VA on suicide rate.

At a hearing entitled “The Truth About Veteran Suicides”, the ranking Republican, Steve Buyer stood alone.
While Democrat committee members Bob Filner (Chairman), Corrine Brown, Vic Snyder, Michael Michaud, Harry Mitchell, John Hall, Phil Hare, John Salazar, Ciro Rodriguez, Jerry McNerney, and Minnesota's First District Congressman Tim Walz all participated in active discussion of the mental health care for our veterans, the Republicans had one member show up ! Heck, even Democrat Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who sponsored HR 1424 Mental Health Parity , attended even though he is not on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Where were Republicans Cliff Sterns(FL), Jerry Moran(KS), Jeff Miller(FL), Henry Brown(SC), John Boozman(AR), Ginny Brown-Waite(FL), Michael Turner(OH), Brian Bilbray(CA), Doug Lamborn (CO), Gus Bilirakis (FL), and Vern Buchanan (FL) ?
They were AWOL from the committee hearing but did participate in roll call votes later that day. (Note : I have listed the states to signify that none were from North Carolina or Indiana that had primaries that day.)

Listening to Dr. James Peake’s (Secretary of the Veterans Administration) remarks, it was akin to hearing meteorologists discuss whether Hurricane Katrina was a #4 or #5 when it hit the coast without mentioning the human lives that were lost.
Peake offered all sorts of statistical analysis in an attempt to refute the concerns that suicides were now of epidemic proportions. Personally, I marveled at how the Secretary was trying to placate the Congressmen by boring them with statistical drivel.
Then when Committee chairman Bob Filner spoke, I knew Peake’s efforts were in vain. Filner said :“This is not a bureaucratic situation with numbers. This is life or death. I think there is clear evidence of a cover-up, and I think there is criminal negligence here.”

That’s what seemed so inappropriate.
While the Democrats were talking about intervention and outreach programs, increased access points, and veterans “losing faith in the system”, the VA seemed to be concerned with perception and numbers.
Researchers found about 1,000 suicide attempts among veterans each month, including an overall suicide rate among males using VA facilities of 37.2 per 100,000 patients. Worse yet, in the critical age group of young men 18 to 29, the rate was 53.18 versus 20.36 per the National Death Index.
These numbers are significantly different than what was presented at the December 12, 2007 hearing.
After the December hearing and reviewing the situation, VA Mental Health Director Ira Katz wrote an email with the subject line stating “Shh!” and asks “Is this something we should carefully address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?”
The awkward subject line of the email “Shh!” may have gotten the media’s attention, but Filner asked Katz the key question -- "Did you tell Dr. Peake of your concerns" – and Katz’s non-answer confirmed that he did not have any conversations with the Secretary.
All that was missing in this hearing was for President Bush to interject "Katzie, you're doing a heckuva job."
Why Dr. Katz is still employed is amazing !

Obviously to answer the question, I would want a Democrat in my foxhole … but specifically, Tim Walz.
When Congressman Walz had his opportunity to ask questions, he was passionate, concerned, irritated yet also able to extend “tough love” for the Secretary. Walz praised Minnesota’s Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota’s National Guard organization for implementing the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program. Countering Peake’s use of statistics, Walz pointed out that the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign involves 99% of the returning National Guard while the regular military is at 36%. Walz was frustrated that there was no planning for how to handle the returning servicemen (and servicewomen) before the Iraq War started. Walz was angry that the VA was so slow in providing information that he requested (getting only one hour before the hearing).
[SIDEBAR : At least Walz got his information, Congressman Mitchell (D-AZ) was told to file a Freedom of Information Act to get his data. Mitchell is concerned as Arizona has seen a 39% increase in suicides …. Why isn’t Arizona Senator John McCain expressing the same concern?]
Walz expressed concerns that the VA has not involved county service personnel and other groups to assist these returning vets. Republican Congressman Buyer interrupted Walz to praise Walz for his questions. I sense that Congressman Buyer would want Walz in his foxhole -- afterall who would want to be there alone.

The essential question that the Veterans Affairs Committee was asking is “How can we help?”
Is the VA under-funded, under-staffed, or under-utilized … and Secretary Peake and Dr. Katz never once responded.

The care for our military is not only affecting our veterans but also the active duty personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The condition of Army barracks made national headlines in recent weeks after the father of Sgt. Jeff Frawley, a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division, posted a video of his son's barracks at Fort Bragg, N.C., on the Internet. The Army immediately reacted when it announced Wednesday it would spend $248 million this year on eight bases in the USA that have serious problems with mold, plumbing and temperature control.

This revelation was made after the Washington Post reported in 2007 of mice droppings, mold and unlivable conditions in Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Building 18, a facility where outpatients stay.

Why isn’t the Bush Administration addressing these problems before they are brought to public light ?

This week, the House will probably vote on the FY 2008 war funding supplemental bill. One of the key amendments is an improved GI education benefit program for veterans.
No doubt the Republicans will show up to vote on that amendment as Republican Study Group's Brad Watson blogged that the Administration is opposed to because it may weaken the current, all-volunteer force.
That’s right providing incentives for people to join the military might weaken the current military !

No doubt during the debate, the Republicans will chant “We need to give the troops the TOOLS they need” … and that should be answered by the Democrats with “We need to give the troops the CARE that they need.”