Friday December 14, 2012

Budget business just more smoke and mirrors

Editor of the Reformer:

Friday’s Opinion page Santa cartoon (Dec. 7) continues an inaccurate, misleading media meme about a "spending problem."

Our budget imbalances are self-inflicted and can simply be uninflicted. Corporations have precipitated passage of "Free Trade Agreements," e.g. NAFTA, forcing American labor to compete against third-world slaves by sending jobs overseas. Resulting unemployment has lowered tax revenues and economic performance; the under/unemployed can’t buy. Government has ostensibly reduced corporate and high-bracket income taxes to spur investment and employment, but this hasn’t worked because the 1 percent want the crisis pretext to justify dismantling social benefits they don’t need personally.

Other self-induced budget stressors are: chosen wars ($1.5 trillion); Bush tax cuts ($100 billion/yr); corporate welfare statutory prohibition against Medicare D bulk drug purchasing ($100 billion/yr); privatizing government for corporate profit; bank bailouts including Quantitative Easing ($30+ trillion); Medicare incentivized, organized for max expense/profit; unreasonable privatized Pentagon spending. All these stressors, including "fiscal cliff" (2010), were gratuitously created and most could simply be uncreated.

Furthermore, debt is actually not problematic now. Despite self-induced stressors, debt-to-GDP ratio is manageable, rock bottom interest rates not adding much. We’re not having trouble finding lenders; bond auctions are packed. The debt carries no moral hazard; investors Japan, UK, China, Social Security Trust Fund, among others, don’t need immediate reimbursement for groceries.

Comparing national debt to household debt is inapt. Households cannot: raise taxes, print money, sell bonds, rollover bond issues, adjust their own interest rates, among other government powers. The false household comparison is designed to oversimplify national issues, to induce public consent to actions against our interest by the corrupt, corporatized Congress and president.

Claims that "Social Security is broke," it’s an "entitlement" which must be "fixed" in order to tame the "deficit" are lies. SS Trust has $2.7 trillion surplus, annual surpluses are ongoing: $95 billion in 2011. True, annual surpluses are decreasing. Without adjustment, decades from now they will become annual deficits, but this is normal trust behavior: we have time, don’t have to cut. Presently Social Security Wage Base is $106,800, meaning everyone who makes that or more pays same FICA withholding amount. By raising Base to $150K, SS will function properly into perpetuity.

SS and Medicare are paid for by dedicated withholding from wages plus contributions by employers based on wages, constituting more earned compensation. SS cannot contribute to Federal budget deficits because it’s paid with dedicated taxes. SS budget is separate, not part of the Federal budget. The entire deficit hysteria is a panoramic tapestry of lies and omissions designed to allow elites to steal more money from us. Why our elites and politicians want a world that is so poor it subsists in dangerous chaos and comprises vast spaces where they themselves cannot go, I don’t know, I only know that is what they seem to want, because none of this is necessary and they know it.

Wat Stearns,

Brattleboro, Dec. 8

Making the connections between ‘us’ and ‘them’

Editor of the Reformer:

I have worked in Brattleboro since 1970 and, for most of those years, I hardly noticed the Brattleboro Retreat. Then one day I read that the Retreat had restored its name to honor its roots. This resonated.

I am an employee/ member of the Trust Company of Vermont, an employee owned company, founded 13 years ago when eight of us left the Vermont National Bank when it merged with the Chittenden Bank. All of us spent many years in a corporation where senior management worked tirelessly to meet the needs of both the shareholders and the employees. None of the eight was in senior management and there were times when we thought of ourselves as "us" in the context of "them and us." Fortunately, senior management, decent folks, lived and worked in the neighborhood, so it was easier for them to see the impact of balancing the shareholder and employee interests. 

As a result of changes in the banking laws, principally after 1997, banks focused on mergers and consolidations, which favored the shareholders at the expense of the employees. Our future as employees was threatened. Our response was to form our own company to enable us to remain employed and stay in our communities. The transition to an employee-owned organization took time.

Our neighborhoods are vital to us and we are sensitive to the signs of a downward trajectory of a company. Sometimes the name changes from local to regional signaling the movement out of town. If a company has poor earnings, and management’s first response is to reflexively cut staff rather than look for new sources of revenue, they may start to mirror their global cousins who manage far from our neighborhoods, signs that often do not bode well for the community and the employees.

Ordinarily nonprofits don’t have to deal with shareholders focused on short-term profits. Their focus tends to be on the sustainability of the organization rather than, perhaps, the ultimate salability.

When I learned awhile ago that the Retreat’s board, all unpaid volunteers, suffered under the stress that the institution might not survive, I thought management would have reduced staff. Instead, they have taken the direction of sustainability. Management added revenue and they added several hundred jobs over the past few years.

The Retreat’s goal is both sustainability and keeping jobs. This is a challenge these days and the recent layoffs were difficult for them. Nonprofits tend to behave more like employee-owned companies.

Unions were born of need and justice. In this, the corporate world, they built a system to speak for and empower the employees. I, for one, can resonate with those who favor "us" rather than "them," but I find the union’s behavior unsettling. This management and board were, and are, trying to maintain the health of the organization for the long term. It is your neighbors that are trying to make this organization vibrant to those it serves, to its employees and to this community. Management and board are "us" not "them."

Jack Davidson,

Brattleboro, Dec. 4

Gary’s legacy at BCTV

Editor of the Reformer:

BCTV lost of one of our most important partners with the recent passing of Gary Blomgren. Gary was asked to create a TV Production class at BUHS in Fall 2007, and for the following five years he led students in producing a daily newscast on top of his duties as a department head. He asked BCTV if we could carry the show to expand its reach to parents and community members, as well as to online viewers such as parents of exchange students. What followed was a daily partnership that often involved learning from our mistakes, but which resulted in a flagship program for both organizations. While we relied on Gary’s humor to get us through the rough spots, his professionalism and creativity were the basis for the show’s success. Gary went above and beyond for BCTV by testifying before the Public Service Board in 2010 to make sure that Southern Vermont Cable would carry Channel 10 and its BUHS programming to area viewers. Of all the evidence we presented, it was his testimony, as a respected faculty member and long time Dummerston resident, which carried the most weight.

At Gary’s memorial service, I joined hundreds of mourners in the BUHS Auditorium. There I heard story after story of how Gary went above and beyond for everyone -- his family, former and current students and faculty members, and community members like me. On behalf of our board and staff, I want to thank Gary for all he did for BCTV, and to salute Karen Trenosky and the BUHS-TV crew for carrying on with the show. I encourage you to watch the BUHS-TV Morning Advisory Report weekday mornings (excluding Wednesdays) at 9:15 a.m. on Channel 10 and 6 p.m. on Channel 8, or online at brattleboroTV.org.

Cor Trowbridge,

executive director,

Brattleboro Community Television,

Dec. 12