Monthly Archives: January 2013

“Say No to Wind Turbines” — and Yes to Global Warming I suppose?

Although this as published in June, it still is prescient.  Currently there exists a small contingency of folks in the Western part of New Hampshire protesting wind farm proposals.  Already some windmills can be seen from far and wide in that area, perched as they are on the tops of mountains in the area, such as ones on Tenney Mountain.But, as unsavory and violating that the wind-farms may be on the mountain tops, the protests must provide alternative areas/locations for the development of alternative and renewable energy.  Otherwise, the campaign simply amounts to a gimme for the oil, gas, hydro and nuclear industries that wish to stall any development or support for any renewable energy projects.

In that vein and while doing research on this topic, we stumbled across this very cogently written opinion by Bradley Dibble, MD from his blog Comprehending the Climate Crisis.

Enjoy.

Posted on June 18, 2012

If I were to propose a new product for the marketplace to be used for human consumption, it would need to be rigourously assessed to confirm its safety first. If I described my new product as having the following properties, what do you think would be its chances of getting approved?

—it’s addictive, not just habit-forming
—it’s known to cause or aggravate the following health conditions: heart disease, oral cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, bladder cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma, and low birth weights in children
—all of these occur when the product is used exactly as intended, not just when abused in excess. In addition, non-users who are exposed to it secondarily are also at increased risk for these same diseases

It’s no secret I’m describing cigarettes. Simply put, cigarettes have no redeeming features. My patients who smoke describe that it relaxes them, but that’s misleading. What they’re truly experiencing is going through nicotine withdrawal when they feel that relaxing effect, essentially getting their next “fix.” Nicotine is a stimulant, not a sedative. Anyone who’s addicted to a substance suffers when they go without it too long.

It’s fair to say that if cigarettes were introduced today, they’d never stand a chance of being approved for public use. But since they’ve been around for centuries, we’re stuck with them for now. There’s a certain degree of regulation (e.g. kids aren’t supposed to smoke them), but despite the jobs associated with the tobacco industry and the taxes generated from the sale of cigarettes, none of that will ever compensate for the costs to society in health care alone with so much death and disease that they cause. New products introduced into society are forced to prove their safety before they’re approved, even though other products out there are clearly unhealthy for us.

We face something similar with wind turbines. This weekend my family and I drove to Priceville, Ontario to get our new puppy. (You don’t know where Priceville is, you say? Well, it’s just on the other side of Flesherton!) On the way driving through Grey County, I was amazed at the number of signs protesting wind turbines. Most farms we drove by had signs on their properties urging people to “Say No to Wind Turbines.” They often had other comments too like “Foul Wind” and “Say Yes to Turbines, Say No to Visitors.” They all listed a website at the bottom of the signs for Wind Concerns Ontario.

I checked out the website when I got home. It’s amazing to see how many references they have listing how bad wind turbines are for society. I wanted to check some of the information out and given that I have some expertise in health care as a physician, I clicked on the health tab on the website’s home page to see what was listed there.

There were a number of categories for health concerns listed including noise, mental health, stress, and sleep disturbance. I checked out the first six links I could click on that were meant to elaborate on these topics and was surprised to see that none of them worked. They all had “Error 404 – page not found” errors. The next two links worked but both went to the same slide show and without the words of the speaker to go along with the slides, it didn’t provide much useful information.

The next ten references were to articles in a peer-reviewed journal, the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society (August 2011 31 issue). In fact, every one of them referenced this particular issue. As someone well-versed in science, I can tell you that having some variety in scientific references is a much more robust way to support an argument rather than having everything coming from one particular issue of one particular publication. But I guess they have to get their sources where they can and this particular journal does it for them. (According to the webpage, it seems the current issue is from December 2011. I don’t know if that means they’re on hiatus or only publish intermittently. I’d never heard of this journal before so I’m not sure.)

There may well be some health concerns with wind turbines, and I appreciate that further study will be helpful to elaborate those further. But can they really argue that the health concerns from using fossil fuels aren’t a problem? (Later this week I’ll have a blog post dedicated to this very topic, so stay tuned.)

Even if we ignored global warming and the future climate crisis we’re destined to experience if we continue with business-as-usual, do they not realize that smog, pollution, acid rain, and ozone depletion create havoc with our environment and our health? Many of the diseases caused or aggravated by these problems are cardiovascular so as a cardiologist, perhaps I’m more sensitive to the issue than other physicians might be.

The health concerns about wind turbines are on par with the health concerns about any new product being introduced into the market today. They’re like a new pharmaceutical agent that could prevent heart attacks and strokes. But if that new agent leads to an increase in liver cancer, for example—even a small one—it might not make it to market. It’s often a forest-for-the-trees situation.

I started out this post by describing how cigarettes would never be approved for use if introduced into society today, but because they’ve been around for centuries, they’ve gotten away with it. Fossil fuels are like cigarettes in our society. Long-entrenched, they’ve been in use for hundreds of years. So despite the known health concerns with fossil fuels, they’re too much a part of our civilization to do away with very easily.

I guarantee you if both wind energy and fossil fuels were being introduced today, wind energy would win out over fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have the advantage of having been introduced long before regulations would ever explore their risks, or anyone ever expressed safety concerns associated with them. And now it’s too late to do so, and yet safer options like wind turbines will have a lot of people protesting against them.

These protestors simply can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s a fact those who argue against wind energy conveniently forget.

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Northern Pass Makes Largest Land Purchase Yet

Sylvestres sell to Northern Pass for record $5 million; Thompsons donate conservation easement to the Forest Society
Northern Pass Makes Most Expensive Land Purchase Yet
By Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
1/18/2013
As 2013 unfolds, Northern Pass continues to make land purchases in Coos County and recently made its most expensive purchase yet, according to property records.
The transaction posted Jan. 11 shows that Northern Pass, through its land-buying subsidiary Renewable Properties Inc., paid $5 million for 320 acres of land in Clarksville.
The land, along the north side of Clarksville Pond Road, was sold by Chad, Corey, Rebekah, Gabriel and Derek Sylvestre, of Clarksville, and Tyann Sylvestre, of Newmarket.
On Thursday, representatives of the New Hampshire Forest Society, which is currently buying land in Coos to block Northern Pass, said they expected the Clarksville purchase but said it does not move the company any closer to its goal.
“That particular transaction does nothing to help them solve their problems, the gaps that they have, the permanent gaps, in their intended route,” said Forest Society spokesman Jack Savage. “It doesn’t bridge any gaps for them where we have them blocked.”
Savage believes that Northeast Utilities (NU), partner in Northern Pass with Hydro-Quebec, made the purchase in an ongoing effort to maintain its agreement with Hydro-Quebec.
“Every time they spend money like that it is a big show to suggest to their project partners in Canada that they are making progress,” he said. “It’s an expensive way to do it.”
In the big picture, however, $5 million as part of an estimated $1.2 billion project is not much, said Savage.
To date, Northern Pass has made about $30 million in known land and easement purchases in Coos as it tries to piece together the 40-plus miles of new transmission line right-of-way needed in the county.
The new right-of-way would connect with 140 miles of existing right-of-way owned by Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), parent company of NU.
As currently proposed, the Northern Pass Transmission line, which would import 1,200 megawatts of mostly hydro power from Canada, would entail more than 1,000 steel towers at least 85 feet high, with a 10-mile segment going along the existing PSNH right-of-way through White Mountain National Forest.
NU/PSNH would make its money by leasing the lines to Hydro-Quebec and collecting land-based payments. Hydro-Quebec would make its money by selling its power on the New England power grid.
On Thursday, NU/Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray declined to comment on the Clarksville purchase or say specifically if the company is seeing landowners asking more for their land, if it predicts it will pay more for land as the route develops and if it has an alternate plan or strategy if it runs into any landowners refusing to sell needed pieces of land.
“We have been working successfully with a number of property owners to acquire the land or easements necessary to propose a new route in the area north of Groveton where there are no existing transmission lines,” Murray stated in an e-mail.
Murray noted the specific questions asked will be addressed as part of Northern Pass’s forthcoming announcement regarding the new proposed route that he said the company has identified.
Northern Pass said several times in 2011 and 2012 it would soon be announcing a new route only to postpone it.
Savage, on Thursday, remained skeptical.
“Their intended route as we mapped it out is what they hope to pursue,” said Savage. “There is no other secret route. They just spent $5 million to complete a transaction along that route and are no less blocked than they were before.”
In August, the Forest Society announced a $2.5 million Trees Not Towers blocking campaign that involves four landowners who refuse to sell to Northern Pass but are willing to work with the Forest Society to put their land in perpetual conservation easements.
One of those landowners is Rod McAllaster, of Stewartstown who refused to sell 362 acres after an offer of $4 million.
In December, the Forest Society closed on one of the four properties it needs to block Northern Pass and has three more closings to make.
“We’re halfway there, at $1.25 million with $1.25 million to go,” said Savage. “We are still fundraising, and assuming we raise the money, will be closing on the others over the course of the winter.”
The Forest Society is also speaking with other landowners and has recently completed a transaction for an option to acquire a donated conservation easement of 366 acres around Bear Rock Road in Stewartstown owned Brad and Daryl Thompson.
“Essentially, we have stymied [Northern Pass’s] attempts to go around the McAllaster property,” said Savage.
On Thursday, Brad Thompson said, “We feel some things you can’t put a dollar value on and one is the property we purchased in Stewartstown to put our retirement home on.”
The easement donated by the Thompsons forever guarantees that no transmission lines will cross their land.
While Northern Pass land purchases make news, not reported on as widely are those landowners refusing to sell, said Thompson.
“I know a good amount of people who are saying no,” he said.
In a statement regarding their easement, the Thompsons said, “We are not only concerned for our scenic views in the North Country, but equally concerned for the rest of our state.
“If we don’t take a stand now, more projects like Northern Pass will be proposed and New Hampshire will be criss-crossed with power lines,” they said. “If we can play a small part in blocking this project, it will be well worth our efforts.”
Northern Pass needs at least two dozen state and federal permits to go through. Murray has said the permitting will be completed in 2014, but project opponents, such as the Conservation Law Foundation, said the permitting for a project the size of Northern Pass is a process that will take about five years.
As the Northern Pass proposal enters a new year, Murray declined to say if NU as a vendor has an exclusivity agreement with Hydro-Quebec.
With NU and Hydro-Quebec executives refusing to provide specifics about the project, it is unknown if Hydro-Quebec in the future would look at another vendor or at an alternative to Northern Pass.
NU is pushing clean energy, competitively priced power and construction jobs as among the project’s benefits.
Opponents, many of whom are pushing for burial of the lines, argue Northern Pass as proposed would destroy the region’s scenic resources, reduce tourism and property values and pose a health hazard to those living near it.
A call placed Thursday to the Sylvestres was not immediately returned.

Hostage Standoff Ends in the Sahara

19/01/2013 Paris, France- Algerian special forces have stormed the last militant-held buildings at a BP gas installation in the Sahara desert seized this week by Islamist fundamentalists. The Algerian Interior Ministry says 11 militants were killed today but also says seven hostages were executed by their captives. Officials said that 16 foreign hostages were freed today, including two Americans, two Germans, and one Portuguese.

Earlier today, Algerian security forces found 15 burned bodies at the gas complex. It was not clear whether they were hostages or militants. The Algerian government also confirmed that 12 Algerian foreign hostages were killed during a rescue operation, two days ago – including one American and one French citizen. 18 kidnappers were reportedly killed in that same raid, which allowed over a hundred hostages to escape.

The man behind the hostage crisis is reportedly Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed former bandit known as “the Uncatchable” or “Mr. Marlboro,” in recognition of his career as a brutally violent cigarette smuggler. Belmokhtar is also an arms smuggler who specializes in murder. His gang, called the “Signed in Blood Battalion,” makes millions of dollars in kidnapping foreign nationals throughout North and Western Africa. His terror organization became a sub-unit of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb desert. Before the current Algerian hostage crisis, the group numbered about 500 fighters.

 

Nick Vazzana

Paris

France PM Hollande Decides to Intervene in Mali

Paris, France – 18/01/2013 French President Francois Hollande has come out in full support of the Algerian Army raid to rescue hostages being held by Islamist Fundamentalists in the Algerian desert. The army used helicopters and tank artillery to attack the hostage takers who held more than 100 Algerian and foreign nationals.

Details of the attack remain uncertain with the number of slain hostages in doubt. The kidnappers claim that over 35 foreign nationals were killed by the Algerian military raid that came after the Islamists asked that they be granted the ability to leave the country.

In a poll released today, 75% of the French people said they support President Hollande’s decision to intervene in the African nation, of Mali, located south of Algeria. The purpose of the French intervention was to prevent a takeover of the nation of Mali by Islamist rebel troops that had already taken over half the country.  The Islamists said they took the hostages in response to the French action of intervention. In their demands, they had asked that the Algerians refuse to let French military use Algerian air space in their intervention.

The intervention in Mali by the French is being supported by the British and American governments. The United States is providing logistical support and has sent at least one unarmed drone over the BP gas facility in the desert. Neighboring African nations of Niger, Togo and Nigeria are also sending about 5,200 additional troops to help the French and Mali military.

Nick Vazzana

Paris

Gorilla Sales Skyrocket After Latest Gorilla Attack!

Excellent article from The Onion on Gun Gorilla Violence and the related debate about controlling gun gorilla ownership across the country.

gorillas

News • animals • News • ISSUE 49•02 • Jan 10, 2013

Statistics show sales of gorillas often spike sharply in the immediate aftermath of a major gorilla attack.

SAN DIEGO—Following the events of last week, in which a crazed western lowland gorilla ruthlessly murdered 21 people in a local shopping plaza after escaping from the San Diego Zoo, sources across the country confirmed Thursday that national gorilla sales have since skyrocketed.

“After seeing yet another deranged gorilla just burst into a public place and start killing people, I decided I need to make sure something like that never happens to me,” said 34-year-old Atlanta resident Nick Keller, shortly after purchasing a 350-pound mountain gorilla from his local gorilla store. “It just gives me peace of mind knowing that if I’m ever in that situation, I won’t have to just watch helplessly as my torso is ripped in half and my face is chewed off. I’ll be able to use my gorilla to defend myself.”

“Law enforcement and animal control can only get there so quickly,” Keller added. “And you never know when you’ll need to use a gorilla to save your life.”

Reports confirmed that gorilla sales have historically risen sharply in the immediate aftermath of a major gorilla attack, most notably after the 2010 tragedy in the small town of Logan, NM, where 14 people, including two 5-year-old children and a 92-year-old woman, were viciously beaten to death by a 12-year-old gorilla who spontaneously attacked patrons of a crowded grocery store.

The latest attack marked the fifth of its kind in the United States within the last six months and has reignited the explosive national debate over gorilla control, with thousands of outraged Americans reportedly demanding that their government representatives act immediately in order to prevent further bloodshed.

“We’ve had to deal with too many gorilla-related tragedies, and we’ve had to bury too many innocent, feces-covered victims,” said Nicole Simmons, president of the Mothers Against Gorillas coalition, who herself lost her 16-year-old son in the infamous Baker High School gorilla rampage of 1997. “It’s time to put an end to this. We need to get gorillas off the streets once and for all. Enough is enough.”

“The answer to this systemic problem is not more gorillas,” Simmons continued, her eyes welling with tears. “The answer is fewer gorillas.”

As evidence, Simmons pointed to a 2011 University of Maryland study, which found that 98 percent of Americans who own a gorilla have never used them for defense against a home invasion. Simmons also cited widely reported studies confirming that people who keep gorillas in the home are 12 times more likely to have their arms torn off, and children in those households are 19 times more likely to be picked up by the legs and bashed repeatedly into the ground.

Furthermore, many gorilla control advocates have reportedly called for statewide limits to the number of gorillas one can purchase and a federal ban on the ownership of silverbacks, referencing as an example the tight gorilla laws in countries such as Japan, England, and Australia, where the annual rate of gorilla crimes is virtually nonexistent.

“There is absolutely no reason—not for hunting, protection, or otherwise—that an ordinary citizen would need to possess a 600-pound silverback,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), one of the most outspoken gorilla control advocates in Congress. “The general public frankly has no business owning apes of this size, and the only people who do are zookeepers who are trained to properly handle them. Otherwise, they are nothing but a threat to society and only serve to perpetuate more violence.”

Opponents to gorilla control legislation, however, appear to be fervent in their defense of their gorilla possession rights. A spokesperson for the powerful yet controversial national gorilla lobby told reporters that a ban on gorillas would not end incidents such as that in San Diego, as those who want the large primates could simply buy them from illegal dealers who smuggle them into the country from the jungles of sub-Saharan Africa.

Many gorilla owners also told sources that the creatures are primarily used for legal hunting purposes and that the overwhelming majority of gorilla enthusiasts are completely responsible with their apes.

“Listen, it’s my God-given right as an American to have the freedom to own a gorilla to protect myself and my family,” said Nashua, NH resident James Harrington, 46, adding that he personally owns 12 different gorillas of various sizes, but keeps them “safely locked away in [his] home.” “And the government has another thing coming if they think they can come into my house and take away my gorillas.”

“What happened in San Diego was horrible, but that doesn’t mean all gorillas are bad,” Harrington added. “In fact, if every person at that mall had a gorilla, then the tragedy probably never would have even happened in the first place.”

At press time, following the increase in national gorilla sales, four isolated gorilla attacks had just been reported across the country, with the overall civilian death toll currently estimated at 37.

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Burn for a Buck

A wildfire in Australia crosses the Princes Highway on Tuesday. No deaths related to the fires have been reported in the country.
HELL ON EARTH: AUSTRALIA FACES UNPRECEDENTED WILDFIRE “CATASTROPHE”

Proving that the in-your-face reality of unfettered climate change is not about to recede in the new year, a national disaster is unfolding only days into 2013 in Australia, where rampaging wildfires are burning huge swaths of the country. Australians are used to the annual “bushfire season,” but the recent string of massive fires that have charred millions of acres and killed dozens of people are unprecedented and only getting worse thanks to climate change. Now the nation faces a fire “catastrophe”; not just a lurid term of description, it is an official designation of the most destructive and serious level of wildfire. This year’s violent eruption of blazes are fueled by temperatures quite literally never seen before in Australia, with all-time record heat baking the country.

(Mother Jones)

`

SCIENTIFIC PREDICTIONS OF SEA LEVEL RISE MAY HAVE BEEN “SERIOUSLY UNDERESTIMATED”

Holding nearly 100 percent of the world’s glacier ice, Greenland and Antarctica are the “air conditioners” of Earth and also a ticking time bomb of potential devastation. This is because of climate change and the rapid polar warming now being recorded that has surpassed many previous estimates of what was possible. With temperatures rising faster and instances of massive ice melt already experiences this past year, scientists now say that global sea level rise from ice loss in these two regions has been “seriously underestimated.” The total melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice would boost global sea levels by over 200 feet. While no one expects that apocalyptic catastrophe, experts now confirm a sea level rise of several more feet than previously anticipated is likely by 2100, causing immeasurable damage and disruption across the world.

(UK Independent)

(All via Principled Progressive)

Of course where the picture comes from (CBS News online), the Australian weather change is referred to “milder”.  Obviously that’s an understatement as we can see here.

Of course here in New England, in the middle of January, the one layer of snow fall we’ve had is already melting down to reveal soft, unfrozen earth underneath and we’re expecting higher spring-like temperatures this weekend:  5-day

Yes, there are idiots who will chime in, “Well I’m just enjoying the good weather!”  apparently completely oblivious to the natural life cycle up here that depends on freezing ground, snow cover and long term cold in order to prepare for a good spring and summer season following.  It seems that the average American has begun to think that the earth and seas are as solid and dead as a slab of concrete or asphalt, but they aren’t.

Not only could (or does) climate change radically change environments by killing off species of animal or insect life, it also dramatically changes agricultural production and existing plant-life because of the lack of the old “killing frost”, as biologists said in an abstract for an article available here, “The main effect of temperature in temperate regions is to influence winter survival; at more northerly latitudes, higher temperatures extend the summer season, increasing the available thermal budget for growth and reproduction.”

The intro to a World Bank sponsored report on climate change and its effects on world agricultural production are telling and this was written in 2003:

“Climate change is widely agreed to be already a reality, and its adverse impacts on the vulnerability of poor communities are superimposed on existing vulnerabilities.  Climate change will further reduce access to drinking water, negatively affect the health of poor people, and will pose a real threat to food security in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  consequently, the World Bank is moving towards mainstreaming climate risk in all its work, and integrating climate-change adaptation, where appropriate, in projects, strategies and policies. We believe this is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of our investments in poverty eradication and sustainable development.”

This report ironically was written in America by mostly Yale academics; America, where we still consume nearly the majority of the world’s resources and participate in the global financial machinery that runs the consumptive engine that drives global warming.

Here in New Hampshire, as reported often, but not often enough for people to listen, such projects as the Northern Pass electrical line project and the proposal to sit windmills on the western mountains do not feed existing need.  They exist to provide the forecast infrastructure that will arise out of increased global warming.  Yes, that’s right.  The power lines and the windmills all will exist to provide for anticipated increased demand in electrical service.  (Read here for extensive information and research documentation or our past article on Northern Pass) Increased demand specifically anticipated for the “cooling season” when people will be baking under the increasingly heated earth.

What happened to the idea that capital will make us all safe and sound? Where’s the invisible hand to sweep in and save us from burning up slowly, starving to death, watching our towns drown in the sea or scrambling with thousands of fleeing refugees?  At what point will capital come in and bring some sense to the shareholders who sit at the boards of these corporations who decide that their dividend share means more to them than the public welfare?

While the majority of the world lives on a small fraction of what the developed world lives on and while we know that most of what we use and consume we really don’t need, we continue on our path.  We have been sold a bill of goods; that mindless consumption feeds our economy and that our economy feeds the economy of other countries because we put people to work.  But the facts tell a different story; that our needless consumption in piles of plastic throw-away goods, needless travel in individual gas-powered vehicles and the northeast’s stubborn refusal to give up fossil fuel based heating are killing billions of people and the planet.

But of course the money pumped by capitalists to provide disinformation campaigns serves to obscufate and confuse the issue and the people who will suffer the effects of global warming if nothing is done to change the current trajectory.  The bleating of the combined efforts of the oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy consortiums usually go something like this headline and tagline from a article out of the Spectator on 1/04/12:

“Wind farms vs wildlife: The shocking environmental cost of renewable energy

Why is the public not more aware of this carnage? First, because the wind industry (with the shameful complicity of some ornithological organisations) has gone to great trouble to cover it up – to the extent of burying the corpses of victims. Second, because the ongoing obsession with climate change means that many environmentalists are turning a blind eye to the ecological costs of renewable energy.”

Because of course, renewable energy hurts more than the fossil fuel consumption now currently in use.  Again, where is the invisible hand?  Locked behind someone’s back and wrapped around a bundle of currency we’d hazard to guess.

Capitalism represents an outdated, outmoded and now nearly out-run system that threatens to slowly strangle us in our own capital based consumption, unless of course we as a people begin to take the steps to change their habits and their priorities.  Capital will not save us; we will.

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The Truth About Taxes

Mark Fernald

Now that Congress has punted most of the tough fiscal questions down
the road for a couple months, we can be sure in the weeks ahead there
will be a lot of discussion about who pays how much in taxes, and what
is fair.

Below is an excellent analysis of the distribution of the tax burden,
state, local and federal. It’s from September, but I just stumbled
across it. To Ezra Klein’s analysis I would add two points. First, the
federal income tax should be progressive because state and local taxes
are regressive. A significant part of federal revenue is distributed
to the states, where those revenues help offset the regressive state
and local taxes.

Second, low income people should pay taxes at a lower overall rate
because the first $10,000 or so of a person’s income is subsistence,
the bare minimum cost to provide that person with food, clothing and
shelter. Assessing income tax on that income could mean that the
government would gain a few hundred dollars in revenue, but the
low-income taxpayer would be forced into starvation or homelessness.
(This a good argument for increasing the personal exemptions from
income tax.)

Food for thought in the coming months.

Mark Fernald

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/09/19/heres-why-the-47-percent-argument-is-an-abuse-of-tax-data/

*The one tax graph you really need to know*

Posted by Ezra Klein
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/2011/02/24/ABifXwI_page.html>
on September 19, 2012

At the heart of the debate over “the 47 percent” is an awful abuse
of tax data.
This entire conversation is the result of a (largely successful)
effort to redefine the debate over taxes from “how much in taxes do
you pay” to “how much in federal income taxes do you pay?” This
is good framing if you want to cut taxes on the rich. It’s bad
framing if you want to have even a basic understanding of who pays how
much in taxes.
There’s a reason some would prefer that more limited conversation.
For most Americans, payroll and state and local taxes make up the
majority of their tax bill. The federal income tax, by contrast, is
our most progressive tax — it’s the tax we’ve designed to place
the heaviest burden on the rich while bypassing the poor. And we’ve
done that, again, because the working class is already paying a fairly
high tax bill through payroll and state and local taxes.
But most people don’t know very much about the tax code. And the
federal income tax is still our most famous tax. So when they hear
that half of Americans aren’t paying federal income taxes, they’re
outraged — even if they’re among the folks who have a net negative
tax burden! After all, they know they’re paying taxes, and there’s
no reason for normal human beings to assume that the taxes getting
taken out of their paycheck every week and some of the taxes they pay
at the end of the year aren’t classified as “federal income
taxes.”
Confining the discussion to the federal income tax plays another role,
too: It makes the tax code look much more progressive than it actually
is.
Take someone who makes $4 million dollars a year and someone who makes
$40,000 a year. The person making $4 million dollars, assuming he’s
not doing some Romney-esque planning, is paying a 35 percent tax on
most of that money. The person making $40,000 is probably paying no
income tax at all. So that makes the system look really unfair to the
rich guy.
That’s the basic analysis of the 47 percent line. And it’s a basic
analysis that serves a purpose: It makes further tax cuts for the rich
sound more reasonable.
But what if we did the same thing for the payroll tax? Remember, the
payroll tax only applies to first $110,100 or so, our rich friends is
only paying payroll taxes on 2.7 percent of his income. The guy making
$40,000? He’s paying payroll taxes on every dollar of his income.
Now who’s not getting a fair shake?
Which is why, if you want to understand who’s paying what in taxes,
you don’t want to just look at federal income taxes, or federal
payroll taxes, or state sales taxes — you want to look at total
taxes. And, luckily, the tax analysis group Citizens for Tax Justice
<http://ctj.org/images/taxday2012table.jpg>
keeps those numbers. So here is total taxes — which includes
corporate taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes, state sales taxes, and
more — paid by different income groups and broken into federal and
state and local burdens:
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/files/2012/09/state-local-federal-taxes-income.jpg>

As you can see, the poorer you are, the more state and local taxes
bite into your income. As you get richer, those taxes recede, and
you’re mainly getting hit be federal taxes. So that’s another
lesson: When you omit state and local taxes from your analysis,
you’re omitting the taxes that hit lower-income taxpayers hardest.
But here is really the only tax graph you need: It’s total tax
burden by income group. And as you’ll see, every income group is
paying something, and the rich aren’t paying much more, as a
percentage of their incomes, then the middle class.
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/files/2012/09/total-tax-bill-income.jpg>

That’s really what the American tax system looks like: Not 47
percent paying nothing, but everybody paying something, and most
Americans paying between 25 percent and 30 percent of their income —
which is, by the way, a lot more the 13.9 percent Mitt Romney paid in
2011*.
When politicians try to convince you that half of Americans aren’t
really paying taxes, it’s usually because the real data undermines
their preferred policies. For instance, you wouldn’t look at these
numbers and think tax cuts for the rich need to be a huge priority.
And that’s one reason people who want more tax cuts for the rich
don’t like to show you these numbers.
* Romney’s 13.9 percent rate only counts his federal taxes. He
hasn’t released his state and local returns for 2011, so we can’t
say how that would change his total tax rate. But given the state and
local averages for someone in his income group, it’s likely to
remain well below the 25-30 percent that is typical.

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And No One Gives a Damn About Glenn Grothman

Grothman wearing his tribal chieftan hat.

Grothman wearing his tribal chieftan hat.

Demonstrating once again the awesome level of stupid that seems a prerequisite for serving in any state legislature across the country, Wisconsin State Senator (R, West Bend), as according to a report in Huffington Post, has now made his thoughts known on Kwanzaa.

Somehow Grothman doesn’t get the irony of a patently racist white guy railing at ‘white’ lefties for apparently paying too much attention to holidays invented by African-American folks for African-America folks.  We can understand how that might get under the skin of someone like Grothman who actually lives in the invented binary world of ‘white’ and ‘black’ invented in fact, by the kind of racism people like Grothman like to say doesn’t exist.   We can understand that it probably rocks his world a little bit when his so called “white” brethren go all out and support some non-‘white’ sanctioned and approved holidays.  Sort of like running to close too the horizon; there’s a real fear that possibly you just might fall off the edge.

But really, first off anyone who knows anything about Kwanzaa, or knows how to use a computer (or has a six year grandchild who might teach them) and the Great Google Machine can learn in about three seconds what Kwanzaa represents, who started it and who celebrates it.

Secondly, if Grothman had any clue of American history he’d know that his ancestors (we’ll say his since he likes to use “white” as his identifier which lumps him in the group of the slaver) profited from, supported and used slavery and the associated social construct of racism for his and his ancestor’s own social advancement.  So, considering such we can understand how people like Grothman might get a little prickly when they see the people they’re used to walking all over and feeling on top of go and have the temerity to assert themselves as a people and assert that they have a right to their own customs and traditions, even going so far as to make new ones to match their own unique struggles and history in this country (that Grothman again wishes to not remember).

We can see how people like Grothman also might have a hard time understanding that their opinion of what people do with, about, on, or around Kwanzaa is really none of his damn business.  Contrary to what a lot of “white” guys like him think, the people who celebrate Kwanzaa didn’t ask his permission to celebrate it, don’t need his permission nor will they most likely ever care to have it.

Likewise, many of us left-wingers of European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, American Indian or (name another ethnicity — see how complicated thinking gets?) origin don’t really feel that Grothman has any business lumping us all in his group of “white” folks.  Since many of us on the left feel its time to recognize all traditions and allow those whose traditions were stolen so many centuries ago, to have them back or make new ones, we’re fine with Kwanzaa or whatever else African-American folks want to celebrate; we want to celebrate with them and support them, not criticize, belittle or dismiss like Grothman, because really unlike Grothman and his ilk, we realize we have no right to do so and thus we’d prefer to keep our mouths shut, which is something Grothman might do well to practice as his first step to recovery from ignorance.

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Our Phantom Debt Menace

Is the game rigged?

Nick Vazzana

No matter where we look these days, we find an obsession with debt and the deficit. We hear on a daily basis that the deficit will ruin our economy, turn us into Greece and drown our grandchildren in crushing debt. How true is this understanding?

I am not an economist but I was founder and C.E.O. of a successful corporation for over 25 years. From a business point of view, debt is merely an obligation or liability to pay or render something to someone else. A problem emerges when investors lose faith in the debtor’s ability to repay the obligation. A company, similar to a country, sells bonds to provide working capital. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a bad thing for Chinese or European investors to buy U.S Treasury bonds. It demonstrates confidence in our nation’s economy.

Furthermore, the country’s wealthiest 2% tell us that any day now investors will lose faith in America’s ability to pay its bills. They warn of a run on Treasury bonds similar to what happened in Greece and see inflation skyrocketing. These scare tactics fail to recognize that the United States is not Greece and we have many safeguards in place since the Depression of the 1930’s. In addition, we overcame the Great Recession of 2008-9 thanks to a strong Federal Reserve, a competent President and a Congress that actually did its job.

Unlike Greece, we have our own currency and all of our debt, both public and private, is denominated in dollars. These dollars are not backed by gold but the full faith and credit of the Federal Government. Theoretically, our government can never run out of money because currency is physically manufactured on an hourly basis. Most citizens are unaware that currency printing began in 1861 to fund the Civil War and has always kept our economy solvent. This fact of life often leads to the following question: “If the government prints money to pay its bills won’t that lessen the value of the dollar and lead to runaway inflation?”

Economists tell us that when the government prints more money, investors may start to expect higher inflation down the road and this may push down the value of the dollar.
However, if these results do take place that would actually help rather than hurt the U.S. economy, right now. The fear of higher inflation would discourage corporations and families from sitting on cash, while a weaker dollar would make exports more competitive.

Generally speaking, our deficit is the result of higher spending and reduced tax revenue, caused primarily by a drop in personal income and the cost of two wars and necessary social programs. It is ironic that the scare-mongers of the debt menace are the very people who have benefited the most from our existing economic system.

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