Archive for the ‘federal government’ Tag

It Gets Better

The federal government agency I work for created an It Gets Better video.

Cat Tricks

So, the Republican House is keeping me a good Federal government employee from working this week. I think it’s time to teach my cat new tricks.

Push the toy until the chicken that is underneath is revealed! Maybe we can get on David Letterman’s Stupid Pet Tricks.
Lila Finding Chicken Under Toy Bird

Where's that Piece of Meat?

Progressives Active In US Congress

Yes, the Congress and President Obama barely got a bill enacted that actually lowered all income tax rates. The famous 99% of the population will not pay anywhere near as much in taxes as they were slated to pay after the end of the Bush era tax cuts. Fine.

What about the infamous 1%. Well, let’s see. They get to pay slightly less than 40% on their income. Ok. Sounds good, except that most of these individuals get their income through capital gains. Unfortunately, that income will be taxed at significantly less than the tax rate for the money earned by the 99%. The rate will be a paltry 20%, or a grand increase of 5% over what they paid under the Bush era.

This will certainly hamper the amount of revenue that the federal government will bring in. That might make it harder to run the government in general which raises the next issue to fight over, how much and where will the federal government spend its money. For all the talk about cutting federal spending, when specifics are mentioned, different groups of people start yelling that the cuts will hurt them so go cut somebody else’s because they don’t deserve it like my group supposedly does.

Fortunately, Representative Keith Ellison came on The Young Turks and offered some important specifics of what should be offered up as cuts. How about saving billions from cutting the tax breaks to oil and gas corporations, like ExxonMobil. How about making Medicare D Prescription Drug Plan open to fair market competition and save billions there too.

Tax The Wealthy

Let’s not forget that the “Fiscal Cliff” is around the corner. Obama has  toured the country and talked about the need to tax the wealthy. A former cabinet member, Larry Summers, completed an editorial that pointed out where the real tax gains can be made to increase the fairness of the US Tax Code and bring in more revenue for the federal government.

My one question after reading the piece: where were these ideas when he was part of the Obama Administration?

No, it is not the mortgage deduction. This helps homeowners in all classes of the country. It could be modified to limit the amount of money that one could write off so that the public is not financing some wealthy individuals McMansion. But, ultimately, we need to keep that deduction.

The changes need to come on capital gains tax rates. We’ve all heard that the wealthy don’t pay a fair percentage of their income but that is because so much of it is taxed at a much lower rate than earned income. So, first raise the tax rates on this income. Second, as Summers notes, get rid of the laws that have been added over the years that shield a lot of the income of the wealthy from being counted as money that they earn.

Summers writes: the numerous exclusions from the definition of adjusted gross income that enable the accumulation of great wealth with the payment of little or no taxes. The issue of the special capital gains treatment of carried interest — performance fee income for investment managers — is only the tip of a very large iceberg. Far too many provisions favor a small minority of very fortunate taxpayers. They effectively permit the accumulation of wealth to go substantially underreported on income and estate tax returns, which forces the federal government to consider excessive increases in tax rates if it is to reach any given revenue target.

There are many more inequitable items in the current tax laws that cry out for reform. Here is Summers again:

Current valuation practices built into the tax code make it possible for investment partners to end up with $50 million or more in tax-free individual retirement accounts when most Americans are constrained by a $5,000 annual contribution limit.

Our estate tax system is broken. Assets passed to relatives or other personal relations are often badly misvalued relative to what they cost on an open market. The total wealth of American households is estimated at more than $60 trillion. It is heavily concentrated in very few hands. An estimated $1.2 trillion, or 2 percent, is passed down each year, mostly from the very rich. Yet estate and gift taxes raise less than $12 billion, or 1 percent of this figure, annually.

But real estate investment operators, who sell properties whose value is measured in the hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars, are able to take tax deductions for “depreciation” on their properties. They are then able to sell these properties at an appreciated price while avoiding capital gains tax through what is known as a “like kind exchange.” This is in fact a sale.

Paul Ryan: Reformist Conservative ?

Editorial writer Michael Gerson argues that Paul Ryan is not a Tea partyer. He is not like the Libertarians who want to remove all federal government. No, he is a Reformist Conservative.

What a load that is! He wants to reform like someone wielding an ax wants to do a surgical operation. Ryan’s proposal is to cut all non-entitlement spending (not Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) to 3.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The federal government in order to run all these other operations spends 12.5% of the GDP.

So what happens when you cut 9% of the federal spending on defense, law enforcement, national parks, intelligence operations, archives, and protecting the environment. Common sense tells one that none of these activities can be run anywhere close to effectively without the money. Therefore, endangered species do not receive protection. Strip mining operations can not be watched for illegal labor practices. Museums, archives and national parks can not stay open. Lawyers prosecuting cases, and police gathering evidence comes to a screeching halt.

The argument that the Republicans will make is that they are getting rid of government activities to remove the deficit problem. Half of the current deficit goes to health care, pensions, and paying interest on our debt. These are the areas where the budget is going to grow because of payments due to the increasing number of retirees.



That only leaves 44% of the budget to cut. Romney promises increased military spending so that takes that 24% off the cutting board. What’s left is 20% of the budget which would make only a small dent in the debt and not address the areas where government expenses are rising.

Instead, that 20% pays for many agencies and thousands of programs. This gets to the heart of the plan. Eliminate those agencies and their programs, regardless of how important federal expenditures in these areas are to maintaining state and local governments in education and social services. Get rid of those programs and you remove the regulations that keep companies and rich people from exploiting workers, ruining the environment, and providing opportunities for kids to receive strong education regardless of their economic class.

Death Valley National Park

For a long time I’d wanted to go to Death Valley. to see Badwater, the lowest point in North America. To see the colors of Artist Palette, the view from Dante’s Peak, the scale of Zabriske’s Point and the oddity of Scotty’s Castle.

We drove in through the town of Lone Pines and hit the long straight road. There was little to see in Panamint. The general store and motel comprised the village of Stovepipe Wells. We got out and walked around and felt the sun bask down upon our heads.

Happy to get back in the air conditioned car, we spotted the Mesquite Sand Dunesand got out to walk among them. Created from the blown sand off the neighboring rocks and the walls of rock that block the wind from taking the sand away, the dunes are huge.

These were the first of the amazing geological history and formations that exist in the park.

Next day, we got out early to do some hiking because the temperature would rise to 109 degrees.

We saw Badwater and walked amid the crunchy salt lake that is all but gone. The first picture hints at the scope of this land and the second shows you up close. You look up to the mountains from the salt bed and see a sign that tells you where sea level is–Badwater is 282 feet below sea level.

Ira and I jumped into the car and walked into a canyon.

After being outside for awhile we decided to stay in the car and drive the Artist’s Drive, which has the famous Artist’s palette. Built by the great work of the 1930’s federal government-sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps, the road bends through very colorful rock formations. Thank you to the foresight of the people behind that work so we can see this beautiful environment.

The artist’ palette contains rocks including exposed copper, iron, which accounts for the coloring.

The Park is huge and there are ruins from early twentieth-century mining operations in the Park and in some of the towns on the outskirts. We visited the town of Rhyoline, where the old bank and school represented the ghost town.

This far east section of the park housed the local spectacle of Scotty’s Castle. A former player in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, Walter Scott conned various people with claims of mining holdings in the area. When Albert Johnson came to see his mining operations, he found nothing but somehow formed a relationship with Scotty. He and his wife built a castle in the desert and for awhile Scotty lived on the premises.

We watched our second desert sunset from the Harmony Borax ruins near the Furnace Creek Ranch where we stayed.

Next day, we started early again and were amazed at the beauty from Dante’s View, over 5,700 feet above Badwater.

We left the park and ate at the sole location in Death Valley Junction. Now, we faced a new choice, stop at a date farm or a national wildlife refuge on our way to Las Vegas.

I’ve brought in electronic records from the Fish and Wildlife Service that show the geography of the wildlife refuges and also records that show threatened and endangered species, so I wanted to go to the refuge. Ash Meadow was, like much of the area, a water rich area. After a fair amount of time in the 20th century as a cotton farm, the federal government bought the land to preserve the 21 endemic creatures that only live in this area. They include the Pupfish and several different kinds of birds.

While walking along the trails we saw a jack rabbit and a road runner!

America Needs the Arts

Monday night, Kevin Spacey told a thousand people at the Kennedy Center that the United States needs the arts.

The arts, dance, painting, poetry, writing are the life blood of the nation. They are the culture, the culture that plays everywhere throughout the world. The movies that everybody loves. The books that they read. The television shows that keep them at home.

The actor quoted politicians ranging from Kennedy to Nixon, all of whom realized the importance of the arts. Winston Churchill when told that cuts needs to be made in the arts in order to pay for World War II, said, “Then what are we fighting for?”

Members of the audience went to Capitol Hill to talk with representatives and senators to argue for the importance of arts spending for the National Endownment for the Arts.

As the organization Americans for the Arts summarizes the events.

Congressional Arts Kick Off:

Who: Speakers at the Congressional Arts Kick Off include:

  • Hill Harper, film and television actor and author
  • Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts
  • Charles Segars, Ovation CEO
  • Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Committee
  • Kevin Spacey, Academy Award®-winning actor and Artistic Director of the Old Vic Theatre
  • Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Senate Cultural Caucus
  • Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will receive the 2011 Congressional Arts Leadership Award. In addition, there will be a special performance by James Schlender, 2011 VSA International Soloist Awar Recipient
What: The Congressional Arts Kick Off marks the official start of the Arts Advocacy Day events on Capitol Hill.  The Congressional Arts Leadership Award will also be presented at the Kick Off.   The award, which recognizes distinguished service on behalf of the arts, is part of a series of Public Leadership in the Arts Awards given annually by Americans for the Arts and The United States Conference of Mayors.
When: Tuesday, April 5, 2011
8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
RSVP is essential for press coverage.
Please contact Catherine Brandt at
Where: Cannon Caucus Room
345 Cannon House Office Building
Why: This high-energy event is always full of great, unexpected comments and sound bites.  This year will be no exception.

Special Hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee:

Who: Witnesses providing testimony at the hearing include:

  • Alec Baldwin, Emmy Award®-winning TV, film and stage actor
  • Elizabeth Kautz, Mayor, Burnsville, MN and President, U.S. Conference of Mayors
  • Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO, Americans for the Arts
  • Edgar Smith, CEO of World PAC Paper, Business Committee for the Arts Executive Board Member
  • Kevin Spacey, Academy Award®-winning actor and Artistic Director of the Old Vic Theatre
What: Special Hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on funding for the National Endowment for the Arts
When: Tuesday, April 5, 2011
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Press – Please RSVP to Catherine Brandt at
Where: Rayburn Building
Room 2359, 3rd Floor
Why: Witnesses’ testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior will focus on the importance of the arts to the nation and the need to retain current levels of funding to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  Their testimony will also underscore the importance of developing strong public policies for the arts and arts education.

Freedom From Choice

Devo sang Freedom of Choice is what we got, freedom from choice is what we want. As I read articles on health care yesterday and today, this seemed to sum up oour current predicament. We have so many choices, in insurance, doctors, medicines, procedures, technologies.

Yet, the US spends more per person and more as a percentage of personal and country GDP. Still, we’re lower in many of the care statistics than most industrial countries in the world.

We find ourselves facing the difficult choices and not able to make then: who is paying for all this care? when do you use life-sustaining technologies and medicines? “At the end of the day, when it comes to controlling health care costs, the enemy is us,” said Drew Altman, head of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “Americans want the latest and best in health care technology, and we want it down the street, and we want it now.”

Take one technological innovation: implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, the thing keeping Dick Chaney alive. Three years ago, a team of researchers calculated that putting an ICD into a heart-attack survivor added one to three years to the person’s life expectancy. The cost? Between $30,000 and $70,000 for every year of life gained. In the world of “cost-effectiveness analysis,” that’s judged to be worth it, the convention being that a treatment that buys an extra year of life for $50,000 or less is “affordable.”

Yes, but in whom? Only the wealthiest people? Only people less than 70 years old? We do not want to have to make those kinds of choices and are ignoring the cost factors because we can’t decide.

Still, everyone dies. There are no life-saving medications, only life-prolonging ones. To say that anyone chooses to die is, in most situations, a misstatement of the facts. But medical advances have created at least the facade of choice. It appears as if death has made a counter-offer and that the responsibility is now ours.

In today’s world, an elderly person or their family must “choose,” for example, between dialysis and death, or a feeding tube and death. Those can be very simple choices when you’re 40 and critically ill; they can be agonizing when you’re 80 and the bad days outnumber the good days two to one.

We have a health-care system that reflects our national values. It’s highly individualistic, entrepreneurial and suspicious of centralized supervision. In practice, Medicare and private insurers impose few effective controls on doctors’ and patients’ choices. That’s the way most Americans want it. Patients understandably desire the most advanced surgeries, diagnostic tests and drugs. Doctors want the freedom to prescribe.

There is no major constituency for controlling spending. We could charge the elderly more for Medicare. We could tax employer-provided health insurance as ordinary income. We could create a dedicated federal tax to cover government health costs — if health spending increased more than revenue, the tax would automatically rise. It’s our choice.