Author Archives: Ann

The War on Women

Before the war on women continues down the path recently begun by Virginia’s Republican men and a Republican candidate for president, we might do well to review what life was really like for women before the Civil Rights Era and the Women’s Movement.

My first memory is being told by the bank manager where I worked part-time while in college, that my male counterpart (who had barely passed high school with a D average, whereas I was the school valedictorian) deserved twice my wage per hour, because he was a man and I was a woman. No other reason needed to be given.

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“NOT WITH A BANG BUT WITH A WIMPER”

There are those who think the answers to economic progress in a democracy are simply to be had by privatizing everything as much as we can as soon as we can, all the while de-regulating the market place. (Both nationally and locally.) In case you are not yet sure how you feel about that—or even if you think you are, consider your almost 1000% increase in tolls on the Greenway. If that’s not enough to get you “into the streets,” then consider also this local example:

In a current HOA condominium neighborhood in Loudoun, a recent discovery was made of structural repairs needed. There are two cost options for these repairs: 1) $2 million dollars; or 2) $700,000. A vote will be taken of homeowners (never mind the ones who lease and whose lease will increase. They can’t vote.) There is a corporation that owns several investment condos in the community. It gets to vote each piece of property it owns. The rule is “one property = one vote,” not “one person, one vote.”

BUT, each and every homeowner will be assessed either $3500 or $10,000 depending upon the choice this one company makes.
In other words, there is only 1 absentee landlord making this decision – not the resident owners who live in the neighborhood, although they will share the cost burden – most of them seniors or working families… many of them with mortgages under water as a result of the last housing debacle.

Moreover, who will guard against the possibility that the whole repair proposal is possibly a fraudulent scam? The only people who could afford the lawyer to do that are the ones who stand to benefit from having homes dumped on the market at a low price that they can snap up for investment purposes.

THIS is how wealth is transferred from the bottom up… and only a small example. THIS is how we become dis-enfranchised and will increasingly so when corporations own everything. They have already bought Congress and the investment HOAs, and a commuter highway. Why is anyone so eager to give them more?

SKIN IN THE GAME

[Promoted by Epluribusunum. I was remiss in not finding and promoting this when it was first published. When asked to recommend someone who could speak with authority about poverty in Loudoun, I immediately thought of Ann. She will be leading a discussion about poverty in the US and in Loudoun tomorrow at St. James UCC in Lovettsville.]

Much has been made in the news recently about (supposedly) 50% of Americans who “don’t pay income taxes,” and whether or not they contribute to our national welfare. An analysis that takes into account all taxes paid—shows that everyone has “tax skin in the game.” About two-thirds pay payroll taxes, and most pay state and local sales taxes as well as excise taxes on gas.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, of those that file 1040s showing a zero tax due on April 15:

13 percent are a mix of mostly higher-income individuals with enough itemized deductions for items like mortgage interest, health payments, or charitable contributions, education tax credits, or tax exempt interest to zero out their income taxes.

22 percent are senior citizens who can exclude some or all of their Social Security income (which was taxed previously at the outset) and may have tax-exempt interest from mutual funds and municipal bonds. For those who itemize, charitable contributions and medical expense deductions also subtract from their tax liability.

15 percent are working families, many of them extremely low-income, who qualify for one or all of the Earned Income tax credit, the Child tax credit, the Child and Dependent Care tax credit.

For half of those that don’t pay federal income taxes, standard deductions and personal exemptions are enough to counteract their taxable earnings. A couple with two children earning less than $26,400, for example, will pay no federal income tax in 2011 because their $11,600 standard deduction and four exemptions of $3,700 cuts their taxable income to nil.

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IS SMART GROWTH STILL AN ISSUE?

[Promoted by Liz. I'd like to see where this discussion goes. I also edited it so that the links work. And I added a link to Burton's opponent]

We may believe that “money can’t buy you love” or possibly even happiness (although more are beginning to doubt this), but we obviously do believe it can buy you an election. So much so, in fact, that campaign effectiveness is often judged almost solely on who has raised the most money in the shortest amount of time. Is that true? Should we just add up the total amount raised and declare the winners without going through all the bother of stuffing envelopes, “dialing” phones, and knocking on doors in 100 degree weather? (Receipents of those annoying robocalls are probably shouting “yes!” at this point.)

Maybe. Maybe not.

Large contributions do convey a message: In the Blue Ridge District of Loudoun, the Republican challenger had not only raised $44,730 as of June 30 (including in-kind donations), but had already spent $34,300 of it. www.loudoun.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=344&fmpath=/Electoral%20Board/2011%20Campaign%20Finance%20Reports. She obviously must be expecting much more to come in; November is still a long way off. Almost all of these contributions are from real estate developers, brokers, agents, builders, contractors, financial management, attorneys and insurance — many of whom are located outside the District: (There is one Round Hill contributor listed as “farmer,” but when I looked up the name and address, an entity appeared on the web as “Financial Management Services.”) Three donors are from outside the County: Herndon, VA, Alexandria, VA, and Catonsville, MD.

This clearly represents a full frontal attack on the current zoning of western Loudoun. More housing development, strip malls, chain stores, office buildings and traffic. Is that what you want?

We have over 30 million square feet of industrial and office space approved by the county and waiting to be constructed now, in addition to the 14% vacancy rate of existing buildings. A “no holds barred” approach to unfettered growth could likely result in more stalled commercial projects surrounded by houses which will be sold on the promise of a tranquil life in (rapidly disappearing) rural Loudoun. After which it will be even harder to convince businesses to fill the vacant buildings, considering our biggest draw is the beauty that surrounds us. So, the commerce we actually get may very well come in the form of fast food, strip malls and big box stores to service a sprawling residential demographic that works in Tysons Corner.

Are you really ready to give up the idea of Smart Growth? (Drive slowly by Rt. 15 N in the vicinity of WalMart and Target before you answer.)

Although outside money IS intent on buying access to the open space, if you disagree with this goal, you don’t need to dispair of being able to defeat that intention since the conventional wisdom about elections being all about money is not necessarily true: I noted with interest that in the Leesburg Town elections last year, Mayor Kristen Umstattd was re-elected even though she spent far less than other candidates during her campaign (approximately $2.60 per vote received compared to challenger Dunn’s $5.50.). Similarly Councilman Kevin Wright’s tally calculated at only $3.75 each, while Reid spent a whopping $7.00. Winning does not always require heavy fund raising and expenditures; it can be done with experienced name recognition and a history of trusted service.

The incumbant, Jim Burton (I) has a 16-year history on the Board of Supervisors as a strong supporter of Smart Growth and the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Contrary to the other Blue Ridge candidate, all of the donors on his recent financial report actually live in the Blue Ridge District that he represents.

Why did you move here? Why do you stay? This year’s elections, possibly more than any other, will determine the future shape of Loudoun County. The choice is between quick speculative profits for outside development firms — or sustainable economic development for a diversified area. It’s time to pick a side and make a stand.

AMERICA IS NOT BROKE

[Promoted by Liz, because YEAH! What she said!]

Below is a small sampling of financial data from three diverse corporations (Intel, Home Depot and Walmart). See for yourself. Research more if you like, by going to Google and typing in “company name, financials 2011 annual.”

If these companies and others like them are not creating jobs, it is because they don’t want to. Giving them tax-free money won’t change that. (Is it possible that the only entity that will actually create jobs would be government projects for infrastructure, education and research?)

Further, when looking at financial statements, keep in mind that the net profit shown on an Income Statement is NOT the net income reported to the IRS. There are markedly different rules for depreciation between Generally Accepted Accounting Principles required for SEC filing and the rules for IRS reporting: http://www.section179.org/ (on tax reports, a company can write off 100% of new equipment purchased and placed in service this year…. And $500,000 more of used equipment.)
AND yet the corporate world thinks the only way to balance the US budget is to refuse to honor the Federal contract with its elderly—the workforce that built this wealth over the last 50 years, while paying into funds to ease their end of life.

Think about it.

What kind of people are we?
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Intel (December 2010) Earnings per share doubled over last two years; and cash and cash equivalents: $21,000,000,000 +
http://www.intc.com/intelAR2010/financial/balance/

Home Depot (January 2011) Earnings per share increased 150% over last two years; cash and cash equivalents: $545,000,000
http://www.homedepotar.com/financials.html

Walmart (January 2011)
Net Cash provided by operating activities: $23,643,000,000

http://walmartstores.com/sites/annualreport/2011/financials.aspx
“In fiscal 2011, we recorded $434 million in net tax benefits that resulted primarily
from the repatriation of certain non-U.S. earnings that increased U.S. foreign tax
credits and favorable adjustments to transfer pricing agreements.” – Annual report
Dividends paid to stockholders doubled over the previous 5 years.

The Cost of Losing Union Strength

There was a time when “charity” meant helping those who had fallen to calamity — sudden illness, accident or misfortune to prevent productive work, to such an extent that the social safety net could not hold at bay tragic loss. More recently, however, I notice that appeals to donate (which come at an ever-increasing rate) are for aid to the “working poor.” Food, clothing, shelter, child care, scholarships. How is it that we are in a position of being asked to constantly and personally subsidize families who are working full time? And who is the real beneficiary of our generosity? Does it bother you that we are being asked to privately make up the difference between what a worker is earning and what it takes to actually stay decently alive? That donated difference equals additional profits to those who then control political campaigns and public policy with their affluence.

What choice do we have? To write public policy that requires a “living wage,” means higher prices for goods and services, so we pay as we choose to purchase. To refuse to donate to charity means that we will increasingly live in a social order that will become chaotic as the least among us are unable to both work and provide for healthy family life. So we will increase our portfolios on the misery of others, or upon the appeals to “charity.” If we truly believe that hard honest work should be rewarded in a capitalist society, then we might want to seriously rethink our attitudes toward unions. Just hoping (and culturally demanding) that parents who have to work two jobs to pay the rent will be there to nurture and provide adequately for children is simple fantasy.

“With union membership declining, workers are less able to demand and win a fair share of the economic pie. The “union effect” on pay is dramatic: unionized workers earn 20 percent more in wages and 28 percent more in total compensation than non-union workers. The beneficial effects of unions sometimes extend even to non-union employees because their employers tend to improve pay in order to compete for workers. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25 percent unionized is paid 5 percent more than similar employees in less unionized industries.” – Economic Policy Institute

I know unions are not perfect. What is? But their demise is creating a permanent underclass that we will continue to pay for, one way or another.