Wednesday, February 22, 2012

tax Rates Around The World

I did some simple math today, for S's and G's. Putting together personal income tax, social security, medicare, state income tax, and health care coverage, I discovered that about forty cents of every dollar I earned in 2010 went away before I ever saw it. I was fortunate in one respect -- as a postal employee my health care coverage was reasonable to the extreme. Now that I have retired, my health care costs skyrocketed to nearly 12 percent of my retirement income. In another way I was less fortunate: living in California I fell under one of the highest state income tax rates in the country at 11 percent. The point is, by the time everything was taken out, my tax and health rate ran to 40 percent.

I also looked at a tax rate graph including various countries. I was surprised to learn that the United States average income tax for individuals is 30 percent while corporations here pay much more at 40. In Holland, the place of my birth, the rates are reversed -- corporations at around 25%, individuals at 40-plus.

I state this to do a comparison of rates, with the underlying question being, how much do we GET for what we put in? Other places with higher tax rates provide more for their citizens on the spot. In America, it seems we are expected to work until we drop, and pay and pay and buy and buy, and not get sick until we hit 65 (or older) and mandatory MediCare steps in. They cover 80%. You still have to suppliment the other 20%, and at a high cost.

I read an article that flatly stated that baby boomers are finding they have to keep working into 70. I am not against working when your mind is active and your body is willing, I think it's good to work. But it was never the American Dream to keep working past retirement and until you drop dead at the job site. This is yet another change in a country and society that -- for all its entitlement programs and big spending through government programs -- gives back very little to its people.

Feel free to disagree. Then remember how much health care costs the individual, and how many exceptions there are to your coverage. And remember the last time you got five weeks paid vacation, or 8 months paid parental leave. Life is expensive everywhere in the "developed" nations. I have no direct experience as to how things work in other places, but I see a great deal of expensive waste in our country, and I hear not word one about HOW to make things better in all the promises our pilticians dispense like free cheeseburgers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Let's Wage War On Iran

It's Iran's fault. Gas prices are climbing faster than they fell over winter, and Americans can expect to pay upward of around $5 per gallon by Memorial Day. The experts cite uncertainty in the Middle East over Iran's nuclear program as the cause; in other words, speculation is driving up the price of gas. We can look at this two ways: either oil interests are taking advantage of the high media upset to gouge us; or, the media upset at being gouged will prepare us for yet another war designed to liberate a people from the terrible government that is not cooperating with the United States. In other words, Iran is bringing US wrath down upon their heads and I expect that we will have our soldiers, freshly home from Iraq, back in the saddle again by September, faster if Israel jumps the gun.

Turns out that Iranian oil imports are a small fraction of what we buy here, but a larger component of European oil supplies, so if the Europeans have to look elsewhere for more fuel then in turn America will have less reserves to draw from as well, and on and on. Meanwhile, somebody stands to make a great deal of money, and it's not you and it's not me. That being said, when our pocketbooks are affected, we will buy any excuse for war. Ultimately, if the powers that be want a war, they will get it. There's money to be made on death, too.

Remember, we have declared that we love the Iraqi people, so much that we wound up killing thousands of them to save them from a dictator we did not like. We love the Afghanni people, so much so that we killed thousands of them to save them from a religious group we didn't like. We love the Iranian people -- so much so that I fear we will be willing to kill thousands of them to save them from an elected government we do not like.

This is politics, American style. When you play politics that way, people die. Innocent people die and we apologize for that. And somehow the price of gas goes up anyway.

So a year from now, look back with nostalgia: "Remember when gas was just three bucks a gallon? Those days are gone forever!"

And somebody will get rich.

Monday, February 20, 2012

When Ambition Takes a Walk

Ambition comes and goes like a mood. It waxes and wanes like the phases of the moon. A bit of pain, a slice of unwanted or unwelcome news can knock ambition clean out of you. They can make ambition leave the building, asking as she goes, "What's the point?"

And you're left nodding your head, if you have the energy left to nod.

But ambition never stays away too long, because the point, of course, is fun. Maybe it's the doing that matters, maybe it's the reaching out to and actually touching someone else. Maybe the only one who ever sees your words or hears your songs is you, and maybe that's the point, too. Ultimately, life is joy and the point is to do something joyful.

Like Kurt Vonnegut says, we were placed on this earth to fart around.

My ambition took a hike over the weekend, leaving me with "those things a man's gotta do because a man's gotta do them." That's a shrill excuse for not writing. I usually don't need an excuse for not writing, I just don't write. But I am in the middle of something fun and special to me, and not writing feels like the wrong option, especially because I didn't feel like it.

Fortunately, my ambition returned this morning. Until then I just farted around. And it was fun.

One good thing: I finally joined a Procrastinator's Club. Still waiting for the newsletter.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

TV Wasteland's Top 25

Is anyone besides me in the least bit curious why "Once Upon A Time." the ABC fairy tale re-do, consistently makes TV's top 25 watched shows for the week, while NBC's superior "Grimm" faces an outlook that is, well, grim? What is this saying about American television? Of course, the week I checked last was topped by two episodes of "American Idol." Two other spots were taken by reruns of "NCIS" and "The Mentalist" In fact, seven of the 25 slots were covered by reruns and one by the Pro Bowl. It makes me wonder if the public will watch anything. Or maybe we're starved for a new "Roots" or other bit of captivating programming.

I have something they could use, of course . . .

And turning to Brit TV is not a good idea -- remembering Coupling? SyFy has their version of "Being Human," but I watch the BBC original on BBC America. In all fairness to the Americans, I have not seen a single episode although I heard they do a fine job, but why watch the same show twice, one dubbed?

I have heard more than one philosopher say that there are no original thoughts out there. Television, at least the Network variety, seems to verifty this maxim. But I think there is plenty of good material that can be made into effective viewing,

In fact, I have something they could use.

Call me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fine Wine And Valentines

Everybody knows that I love all things Dutch. Well, most things, and I cannot think of any exceptions right now besides perhaps an oddly shaped piece of Delft Blue pottery I discovered in Amsterdam's flower market and did not buy. That is, as they say, another story for another day.

Having said this, I want to mention a Dutch product I am sure you all will like, and an appropriate addition to a romantic Valentine evening. It is called ChocoVine, a product of Holland under the label Europal. What it is, is a combination of red wine and chocolate -- what could be better? Not only that, it tastes wonderful and is easily quaffable. It is also affordable, retailing around $12 a bottle and often on sale. I bought a bottle for tonight at my local grocer's for $8.29.

In Montana, liquor is sold in state-regulated stores and pretty expensive, but beer and wine are readily available at prices similar to what I remember in California. Also, with beer and wine being the mainstays of choice here, the selection is often surprising and inventive. I love a good Malbec or Chateauneuf du Pap, but my beer budget is more in line with Pinots and Shiraz's, and, of course, ChocoVine.

ChocoVine comes in two flavors: chocolate and coffee. Haven't tried the latter yet, but it's Dutch so I know it will be good.


Monday, February 13, 2012

My Alter-Ego Wants His Own Book

Sometimes, it's hard to know what to write. This is rare, I admit, since i am a man of many opinions on many things and rarely am at a loss for words. Evidence -- look how many words I have used so far, and said nothing!

I could talk more about taxation, or health care, or the waning of America, but I feel a bit more upbeat this evening. I don't know why. Maybe it's going through old material of mine and discovering that I still like the stuff, that, yes, maybe I am as good as I want to be at writing stories. We shall see. But while working on Ghost Music I have come across older material that I thought would blend into the GM storyline, only to discover that this project may stand on its own. It will share characters with GM -- in fact, it shares one with AMBER WAVES. I see that quite a bit in writers, that they fall in love with certain characters and allow them to be our voice to the world. My voice, my alter-ego of sorts, may surprise you.

You'll have to read the book.

Anyway, it looks like GM might morph into several inter-connected but stand-alone books. If that's the case I will be happily writing and re-writing for decades! As I approach my 62nd birthday, it;s nice to have such job security. Money security is another matter. it is also nice to know that I have to stick around for those decades to do the work justice.

I am up for, and up to the task. I just how all of you will be patient.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Claiming Our Inheritance

Thank you, Carol. Your point is well taken when you say:

It is a sad commentary that we live in the only "civilized" country in the world that does not provide health care for its citizens. Not one of the few .. the ONLY.

Carol B

What is happening in America is criminal -- criminal neglect. Live with your illusions: the only thing that matters here is what you can do for Corporate. Your value as a human being does not matter, or matters in reverse proportion to what you can contribute. This puts the cart before the horse, as far as I can see. Keeping our countrymen healthy and happy will promote economic growth; economic growth should not dictate individual value.

I know other systems of economics-slash-government have their problems and their share of disgruntled citizens, but at least they're healthier than we fast-food placated, empire-driven Americans.

I love this country. I am saddened by the sinking standard of living here. I do not see how increasing profit margins for insurance companies that are reluctant to pay the people back does anything but hurt America. We hobble ourselves with a Congress determined to do nothing useful, by holding onto a misguided understanding of the American Dream that itself dengrates that dream, and by sitting by and doing nothing while a handful of unreality-based politicians strive to promote only one thing -- themselves.

We can get America back on track, but first we have to get America back at all.

And by the way, what exactly is WRONG with free universal healthcare?????

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fifty Percent Tax Rate

If you knew for a certainty that your health care, including eyes and teeth, would be covered 100%, no matter what; that you got five weeks paid vacation every year, no matter what; that your children were guaranteed a college education if they wanted it, no matter what; and that you would not have to downsize your lifestyle or home upon retiring unless you wanted to, no matter what -- would that be worth fifty cents on every dollar you earned? No more insurance premiums, college funds, or fear about how to afford to live beyond retirement. No more rainy days.

If you said yes, you are at least partially a socialist. If you said no you're probably a member of Congress (who has the best health care system in the country, for life). I ask you to consider. If you have health insurance and add its cost to your state and federal taxes, your social security and medicare taxes,I bet the percentage creeps above 50%. Then what's left has to feed you, clothe you, buy you all the things our society and economy need you to buy, plus earn savings for both your college fund and your retirement (which today they say should be one million dollars plus by the time you reach retirement age).

I think I know where the profits go. Maybe it would feel better to have a stake in your own future -- half of what you earn comes back to you in help. Not a handout; you earned it. And as o quality of care, education, and living, it seems that we in the US are lagging behind anyway, with much greater stress levels than any socialist I know.

Of late I listen to pundits who advise us how, what and how much to save, how to prioritize our income, how to budget to achieve the highest saving percentage, and on and on. It is solid advice, but the people giving it seem trapped in the same bubble that has engulfed Washington. Reality in America is a sinking ship. One in four of our children goes to bed hungry every night. One in six Americans -- most of them children -- lives below the poverty line. In the wealthiest country that ever was, ever.

Things have to change here, but first our attitudes have to change, and our prejudices have to be overcome by education. America has become a war-based economy that serves to protect its own corporate empire; no other country in the world (except perhaps Israel) spends so high a percentage of its GNP on war. In fact, the US spends by itself almost as much as the rest of the world combined -- and the rest of the world, at least the developed world, treats its own citizens better than we do.

In America, stay healthy. You can't afford the alternative. And think, challenge, question, learn, even if you find a way to prove me wrong.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Being Busy

Dear Ones,

I haven't written for two days. I needed the mental break, having just finished transcribing all my notes for Ghost Music. That's just phase one; now I have to blend that material with other material that suits it and gives it plot and development, to make it a novel. This will take time and feels like a daunting task. Part of me is digesting all that stuff and hoping it comes together into a cohesive, moving and entertaining whole.

I am also in the middle of trying to set up AMBER WAVES as a hand copy paperback book through CreateSpace. This is a bit tricky for a first time self-publisher, so I am going slowly and carefully. But the reward will be a real, tangible book for sale along with the Kindle version.

I also am trying to piece together a chapbook of poetry for Kindle. My nephew and good buddy and fellow Silly Man Erik says I should keep it to between 25-40 poems, when I was thinking 100. I now think the middle ground, around 60, will be where I settle. I am also trying to bring some of his artwork if I can to the project.

Then there is my grandson. I watched him on Tuesday for a few hours and he takes all my attention, gladly. At one point he spontaneously climbed onto my lap, grabbed me for a big bear hug, held on tightly and said, "You're so beautiful!"
He melts my heart.

Then, there is tax season to consider. Don't get me started on THAT. Or politics. At least not today!

I guess I am telling you all this so I can give myself a break about taking a break. It's a busy life. Sometimes it seems too busy, but after all, it does beat the alternative. And even sorrow can bring me joy.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Short Note at Half Time

Just a hort one to keep my hand in. It's hard to write a blog a day, especially if you spend your day tickling your grandson on demand or building Duplo structures just so he can knock them down. By the time he's ready for bed, so am I.

It is one of our greatest delights to have Xander on sleepovers almost every weekend. It's a wonderful way to stay connected and to watch him grow, change and develop. It also offers me in particular the opportunity to train Xander in the very porecise arts of being a Silly Man.

Montana is great in no small measure because of Xander and his terrific parents. I wish more grandchildren were on the horizon, but, then, for the time being Xander gets the benefit of our full attention, which any nearly four year old can really enjoy.

Silly Men unite! Special note to Erik -- the next Silly Man Convention needs planning big time. Bring your own spam.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Choice Memory

Politics is in the air, like Spring. Politics is always in the air, and sometimes it doesn't quite smell as nice as Spring. But sometimes it does.

My fondest memory of a comment made by a politician comes from Julian Bond, then 3 years of age. It was 1972, the year Richard Nixon was running for re-election. At the Democratic National Convention the delegates were having a heck of a time settling on the candidate they thought could beat Nixon. Someone suggested to Bond that he run, to which he thanked the Convention and said, ":Unfortunately, I am not of age."

He would have been the first Afro-American candidate in our history and possibly the first President. I can see it still, as the President inroduced himself as "Bond. J. Bond."

His slogan, naturally, would be: Our Bond Is Our Word.

But he never got up a head of steam for 1976, which was a wide open chance to unseat the Republicans after Nixon's resignation and Ford's pardon. With the real chance that a mere 36 year old Black man might run, the issue barely or never came up and Mr. Bond was religated to the sidelines. Still, Diane and I both really lijked and admired him, so we created our own write-in ticket for Mr. Bond and Bela Abzug. The thing was, Di put Abzug up for President and Bond for Veep while I voted the other way around. I think it cost them the election.

But what a ticket!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Some Random Thoughts

Once in a while you just hear stuff. On headline news or Today or you see it in the little blurps that show up on your server's hopme page under headlines. They can sound odd or rough or cruel or danmgerous and many of us take them right out of context -- because the little blurp (and I am intentionallyt using that term) takes them out of context. One example is today reading that Presidential Hopeful Romney says that he is not worried about the poor. WHAT???#@!!

If you reasd the aricle he esplains that there are systems in place to help the poor -- a safety net. If elected and he finds that net broken, he will repair it. He also says he is not concerned about the very rich, they can take care of themselves. His focus is the middle class. Now that sounds more reasonable.

Still, I wonder what he defines as "poor." In America. In 2012.

More thoughts:

Today we also are stepping up concern about Iran's nuclear capability and Israel's possible pre-emptive strike response. It makes we think about another situation in which a major power was concerned about the growing strength of another major power and decided to launch a pre-emptive strike of its own. They attacked Pearl Harbor, and that didn't tirn out too well for Japan. Just saying.

On justice: can't we leave that to the courts? In America an accused is innocent until proven guilty, yet under freedom of information, the accused's name is released to the media, where the same person is guiltyu until proven innocent and the damage done by the public opinion garnered in the case can damage that person for life even if they prove nto be innocent.

Thirdly, there is an ad on TV for Tums. Is your favorite food foghting you? Change your diet -- your body is trying to tell you something!

And finally, I leave you with this thought:
Remember, every silver lining has a cloud.

Th, Th, That's all. Folks!