Posts tagged ‘Politics’

Windmill farm.

Wind farm.

There’s plenty of wind energy in the Midwest, but to get it to the East where it could cheaply replace fossil fuel electricity would take some 20,000 miles of new transmission lines.

The Republican Supreme Court, however, has ruled that states, and not the federal government, control permission for building lines in their own territory.

What this basically means is that no such lines are ever going to be built. Which means that clean Midwestern wind electricity is not going to replace stinky East Coast coal-powered plants.

 

SCOTUS

How will the Supreme Court’s decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning affect democracy?

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

When Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals to be installed in February, it underscored the efficiency of a nondemocratic government. The elevation of Les Cayes Bishop Chibly Langlois (at 55 the youngest of the appointees) from Haiti, shows how much can be done very quickly by an autocrat, in this case, to implement Francis’s agenda of ministering to the poor of the world. Bishop Langlois’ youth makes likely he will still be around and under age 80 when the time comes to vote for the next pope. All this in less than a year since Francis became the pontiff.

I likewise saw how efficient the totalitarian government of China could be in clearing the roads blocked by a landslide after a great rainstorm in 1991, when Fred and I were stranded for an extra day in the Tibetan foothills while visiting the Panda Breeding Station.

With us were Charles Brown, Brian Aldiss, Brian Stableford, Malcolm Edwards, and a couple of dozen others from outside China for the occasion of the World SF meeting in Chengdu, Sichuan. The authorities were not going to let their honored guests be inconvenienced one more day than absolutely necessary!

It’s an old joke that at least Mussolini got the railroads to run on time during World War II.

Contrast this with our seemingly dysfunctional Congress in the United States where democracy rules. Well, actually we have a representative democracy, which means we have established checks and balances that are supposed to preserve the basic rights of minorities and prevent too hasty decisions from being implemented by well-meaning people who fail to see potential unintended consequences of their agendas. But for the sake of brevity, we call it “democracy” and are quite proud of it.

Democracy as we practice it is, undeniably, a much slower and more cumbersome way to reach decisions and implement change. And it’s an equally self-evident logical principle — sorry, those who want to maintain the old ways no matter what — that situations can not ever be improved without making changes. But democracy (we’ll call it that for shorthand) has one big advantage over totalitarian, top-down management. That is, when everyone can have his or her say before a decision is finally reached, the decision is likely to be fairer and last longer before it too needs to be changed. Americans don’t like having stuff shoved down our throats.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the question of whether the president has the right to make interim appointments to key positions, including judicial appointments, which in turn may lead to appointments to the Supreme Court itself. We do live in interesting times!

Kenneth Conrad Frey

    Kenneth Frey

 

(Re climate change.) “If it’s not the flavor of the day, elected officials can’t be bothered. Guess it’s up to us to make it the flavor of the day.”

Kenneth Conrad Frey

bag_of_money

 

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.

Elizabeth
Anne Hull

Tax season is a good time to assess your net worth.

Recently, I read that over half of the members of Congress of both houses are millionaires, which implies that they’re rich and so cannot possibly understand the problems of the average person, much less those living below the poverty line.

Perhaps. I’m not quite ready to believe that of all of them, because it depends on how you define millionaire. High net worth is not the same thing as high annual income.

According to the traditional definition, you’re a millionaire if you have a net worth of $1,000,000 or more — not including the value of your home. More recently, however, that term has been used to describe $1 million in annual income, which makes more sense today.

Annual income often is a great deal less than $1 million for “millionaires” whose net worth is above that figure. A net worth of $1 million isn’t far out of reach of upper middle-income Americans (as shrinking as that group is). Those who are lucky enough to hang on to a good job, who save regularly, invest wisely, live frugally, don’t run up their credit, live in a house that’s much less valuable than they could afford, drive a car for as long as they can, and teach their children to have modest tastes as well, may amass at least $1 million, maybe even several millions in net worth, while having an income under $100,000 annually.

Taxes on that income are divided in two different ways: Taxes as a percentage of overall income, and types of tax per types of income.

For example, FICA taxes — the ones that fund Social Security for the elderly and disabled — are paid by every wage earner (unless they’re covered by a state pension system that usually costs those individuals more than the tax would). Minimum-wage earners pay the highest percentage of their earnings for FICA. Those making over $113,000 per year don’t pay FICA on any amount above that, and they pay it only on earned income, not on capital gains or interest income, which for people in those brackets may be considerable. Thus, while everyone who earns any wages at all pays FICA, those taxes are definitely not flat; they are regressive: the percentage paid by people who earn $1 million a year is definitely less than the percentage paid by minimum-wage earners.

The next most common type of tax is income taxes, which are progressive, to an extent. That is, if all or most of your income comes from wages or salaries, you’ll pay a gradually higher tax the higher your tax bracket is, up to a current cap of 36 percent for the highest earners. But of course, there are loopholes and tax shelters and other ways that the rich can pay less.

It’s likely that you’ll pay other taxes as well, a few at a considerably higher rate, more at a lower rate, such as capital gains. And if you are lucky enough to be a property owner, you will also pay real-estate taxes (although landlords pass along these costs to tenants), which can vary widely across the country.

Most states also have a state income tax. Only a few states don’t have sales taxes, another regressive tax (and no tax at all to companies, which can deduct them as a cost of doing business).

Hence, the aphorism that nothing is inevitable except death and taxes.

Trying to agree on a fair assessment of taxes would be difficult enough if we only had to deal with humans, but in the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5/4 split decision along party lines, ruled that corporations are people, and that money is equivalent to speech. Thus under the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, corporations have the right to donate — in secret through 501(c)(4) PACs — to lobbying efforts and not pay taxes on that income.

(The Supreme Court has been silent about the death penalty or even prison for corporate officers when the corporations commit crimes, including causing the deaths of people. They can be sued, but the corporations — or their insurance companies — can reach a monetary “settlement” out of court when they believe they’ll lose or, as they claim, just to avoid the time and cost of defending their innocence or nonculpability.)

Thus we have some very large, mega-billion-dollar corporations paying virtually no taxes, while humans in this country, even the poorest, all pay taxes, one way or another.

Somehow, being a simple millionaire (by the old definition) doesn’t seem to be much of a big deal these days, does it?

Hypodermic Needle

 

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

Remember the recent outbreak of measles? It brought a rush response from the CDC to immunize recent immigrants and visitors with long-term visas, who sometimes come from areas of the world where measles hasn’t been vanquished to the extent it has been in the West. But it wasn’t just noncitizens who suffered; American children also have been catching this sometimes life-threatening disease.

We’re also seeing a resurgence of whooping cough, and not just among the poor or uninsured. We hear early warnings that polio may soon reappear as well. Can smallpox be far behind?

Either because of complacency or ignorance, children aren’t getting their shots. For fear that vaccinations will produce autism (debunked) or other unanticipated side effects, or for religious reasons, or whatever, it has become a deadly trend not to get all children protected. Their parents rely on the fact that most families do comply with recommended and required immunizations, when they enroll their children in public schools across our nation, if not before.

Recently, nurse in central Pennsylvania was fired from a healthcare facility, per company policy, because she refused to get a flu shot; she was pregnant and groundlessly feared miscarriage. I personally would prefer that my health-care workers be immunized. We’re told by the CDC that people can get the flu even though they have taken the shots, but if they do, they’ll likely get a less severe case.

Word is that the majority of cases this flu season are H1N1. This is the strain that Fred and I probably had in 2009 that knocked us flat on our backs in the middle of the South Pacific. About 10 percent of our cruise’s passengers were stricken. It’s terrible to be sick with a flu virus in tropical areas. My sister, traveling with Fred and me, left the ship at Tahiti to spend several days in a hospital there, and flew home to be hospitalized for four more days.

I might have had rheumatoid arthritis prior to the flu; but it was coincidentally diagnosed after I returned home. I can’t help wondering if that could have been triggered by H1N1. (I also realize that this speculation may easily be as misguided as that of those who fear inoculations and so, unintentionally, become part of the problem of spreading contagious diseases.)

Where do individual rights end? Who are the proper people to make this decision? Would you support this nurse’s right to keep her job without getting a flu shot? Have you gotten all the vaccinations you should have?

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

I worry a lot, maybe more than other people, maybe more than is good for me, but I am what I am.

I worry about global warming, how much carbon our atmosphere and our oceans can hold and still sustain civilization of human beings, especially. I worry about fracking and petcoke (a threat to the waterways in Illinois and Indiana, as well as to the rest of the world). I worry about money, both personal finances and the economy of the U.S. and the whole globe, especially about the greed for money that drives some folks to want to have more money than they or their offspring for countless generations could possibly spend, even if spent frivolously.

I worry about human culture in general and particularly about music, theater, architecture, and the future of fiction as a phenomenon. I worry about our having so many atomic weapons stockpiled in the U.S. alone that we are the worst danger to world peace and we don’t seem to have any plan to let go of the tiger’s tail.

Who I am is the new avatar of FP — his widow and now writer for Frederik Pohl’s “The Way the Future Blogs.” Many of you already know me — I did a few guest posts in the early days of the blog. Some of you may have even met me, because Fred seldom traveled anywhere without me in the last thirty-some years.

I don’t have a lot of time to polish this to perfection (I am a perfectionist manqué). But I hope at least a few of you will be patient and continue reading to see what I’m going to say. I intend to add bits and pieces of other items that interest me, especially cooking for health and economy.

Our blogmeister, Leah Zeldes, assures me that I don’t have to post much each day, but it’s better to post frequently. So, just as Fred aimed to write four pages a day, I’m going to aim to say what’s on my mind as often as I can.