What should we be fighting for?


Well, with an annual income significantly below the median in Portland, that is to say 60% of the median income, (based on HUD Estimated Family Income Data for the Portland, Oregon Metropolitan Area in 2009), I think it’s safe to say that I am one of the 99%. (If time travel were possible, perhaps I could send myself and my household’s current annual income back to 1994, when our current income was the median income. Of course, we’d still be part of the 99%).

So, as one of the 99, I have been a bit dismayed by the lack of focus and agenda. On the one hand, there are people who say that these protests don’t matter because of the lack of focus. On the other hand, there are people who say that it doesn’t matter that there’s no focus, the very fact that people are coming out to “change the dialogue” is what’s important.

I have to say I disagree. The protests ARE important on their face because they do demonstrate the anger and disillusionment present in this country. They also belie the suggestion that the silent majority (that’s us folks!) agrees with the Tea Partyers or the Republicans, as they continue to insinuate. The suggestion is that our silence is a tacit approval of their rhetoric and a simultaneous condemnation of the Democrats agenda, President Obama, and the federal government in general. On the other hand, having some actual policy points to make would be helpful to actually CHANGING things for the better (we hope).

So, let’s get the ball rolling, folks! Here’s my list of possible reforms:

1. End all speculative trading and non-asset based financial instruments.

Buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and actual THINGS (like gold or other precious metals) etc. – anything backed by an actual asset.

No more margins, no more hedge funds, derivatives, options, futures, or day trading for that matter. The stock market was originally designed to allow individual investors to purchase a stake in a company and benefit from sharing in the profits. It benefited the company by raising capital that the company could use to invest in equipment, materials or labor and thus increase profits. It was good for the company, good for the investor and good for the country. Now, the stock market is used by many like a Las Vegas slot machine. Day traders roll the dice and hope that day after day the trades balance out to a profit. It’s gambling.

2. Tax passive income at the same rates as active income.

Why do we favor investment (passive) income over earned (active) income? Where is the productivity in investment income? It existed when individuals bought shares of stock and raised capital for a company. But what does day-trading produce? Nothing. (Business for cardiologists perhaps). By taxing passive income at lower rates, we encourage people to favor it over earned income. But there is INHERENT value in earned income. The income is producing a good or service. Trading stocks has NO INHERENT value.

3. Let’s not be “too big to fail” anymore. What ever happened to anti-trust laws?

Banks should bank, insurance companies should insure and investment firms should invest. They used to be separate entities for a reason. They were allowed to expand into other areas for only one reason – consolidation of wealth. Media conglomerates, food conglomerates, communications conglomerates – the Federal Government (evil destroyer of unlimited personal wealth), used to put the kibosh on mergers that gave one entity too much market share. That was a GOOD idea. Republicans and Tea Partyers take heart, at the bottom of this idea is the PROTECTION of capitalism. Healthy competition = capitalism! Conversely, monopolies = a lack of competition and therefore threaten capitalism!

4. Real regulations with real consequences.

Why were “independent accounting firms” able to look the other way when presented with questionable financials? Their job was to verify the accuracy of the data. Regulations had loopholes. And in any case, what consequences were put in place to insure that these firms would be UNWILLING to certify the lies presented to them? Consequences could be in place to deter CEOs, and board members of corporations and the accounting firms of any and every company in this country from committing fraud. If the punishment is sufficiently severe, and it will be implemented, then it IS a deterrent. We could start by absolutely, 100% erasing (confiscating) ALL GAIN acquired by breaking the law. That of course would include the cold hard cash, the homes, the yachts, the furs and jewelry. All of it. ALL OF IT.

5. All federal employees, including members of Congress, the judiciary and the President shall have the SAME health care benefits and pension/social security benefits of ALL other Americans.

Instead of arguing about whether federal employees should have it better than the rest of us, let’s decide what is right and fair in terms of health care and retirement, and apply it to ALL of us. Would we resent federal employees for the health care they received if we received the same? Would we want to decrease their benefits, or increase our own? We’re all in this together folks!

We have decided that we all have the right to free speech, the right to bear arms. We all have access to a public education and public roads. Let’s decide whether or not we have the right to health care, and if so, to what extent. And for that matter, what kind of education do we believe we should provide? Is it enough that kids at the local high school can be physically present in the building for six hours every day, even if they only receive three or four hours of instruction? Do we want smoothly paved roads and infrastructure in good repair, or do we want to save our money for our own personal needs and drive over potholes?

6. End the failed war on drugs. End the privatization of prisons and military excursions.

It is morally repugnant that a man growing marijuana for sale may serve a longer prison sentence than a rapist. In Oregon the sentence for manufacture of marijuana is up to twenty years in prison.  Rape in the first degree under Measure Eleven (mandatory sentencing for violent felons) is 100 months, or just over 8 years. It is also morally repugnant that a private contractor in Iraq will be better equipped and get paid two to ten times as much or more to do what a soldier in the U.S. Armed Forces is doing. Equally repugnant is the tax dollars of Americans that go directly into the pockets of these “for-profit” companies. Why should our government provide profit to anyone to fight crime or war?

7. Graduated flat tax. Or national sales tax in lieu of ALL other forms of federal taxation.

Graduated flat tax:  That’s right. You heard me. I am in favor of a simplified tax code. I am also in favor of wealthier Americans contributing a higher percentage of their income to this great nation of ours than lower income Americans. Because they can. And still live in luxury. I am also, however, invested in the idea of ALL of us paying something. If we need to exempt people out of mercy, let’s exempt the abject poor. (note: if you own a cell phone, big screen TV or SUV, you are  NOT abjectly poor).

OR

National sales tax – (exempting food (NOT SODA OR CANDY OR GARBAGE WE PUT IN OUR MOUTHS THAT WE PRETEND IS FOOD – JUST FOOD), and medicine).

And while we’re at it. State income or sales tax as noted above. NO MORE property tax.

Want to exempt corporations, fine. All individuals deriving ANY income from a corporation (in the form of salary, bonuses, or stock options that MAGICALLY turn into cash at some point in the future), will pay taxes on that income. Or we’ll have no income tax at all, just a sales tax that everyone is subject to. No exemptions, no deductions, no IRS. And April 15th is just another lovely spring day.

There’s more, oh there’s so much more. But let’s start here. After all, it’s just a start.

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About Leila

I am a wife and mother. I am an Orthodox Christian. I am a Syrian American with family living in Syria. I am a also a yoga teacher and freelance writer. I recently described myself in a job pitch as "a person who's lived in Portland, Oregon for over 20 years with a passion for writing and a passion for all things Portland. I'm a foodie, knitter, wine and beer lover, bee-keeper (yep, I said it), mead and fruit-liqueur maker, organic gardener, home-canner, hiker, biker, runner, and occasional skinny-dipper. I’ve camped all over the state, I sail a sailboat that’s moored on the Columbia (o.k., I'm the first mate), and I spend a large percentage of my time at our beach house in Seaside." That about sums it up.
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12 Responses to What should we be fighting for?

  1. DaveN says:

    Is the market more volatile lately? Yes, in recent months I would say so. But that’s more because we’re constantly on the cusp of collapse, thanks to Europe (currently). Is this normal? The markets have always gone through times of volatility. That’s why speculators are essential. Without them you’d have no one to sell to in the event things go badly for you. You can’t always count on find a non-speculator when you need ’em.

    As far as day traders in complex instruments… there aren’t any. To get into anything really complex an investor has to be certified as a Qualified Institutional Buyer. Which is to say, legally, “I know what I’m doing and I do not require the protections of the Acts of 1933 and 1934.”

    Anything listed on an exchange already complies with those laws and is, by definition, a straightforward instrument.

    As to whether a long term investor is better than a day trader… I don’t know, it doesn’t matter to me. I have very little respect for day traders, as I’ve known many. They were essentially gambling addicts. But they’re a miniscule section of the investing population (by both number and capital).

    As you might’ve figured out I’m a professional trader and a professor of Finance at Columbia GSB (though not currently teaching).

    • Leila says:

      Oh Yay! You know a GAZILLION times more than I do about this! Yay for me, don’t know how you’ll feel about me asking you questions all the time! I didn’t mean to suggest that day traders are involved in complex instruments. It was a list – day trading was one of the things on this list. We seem to completely agree about the gambling addict thing, although that was my impressions, whereas you have firsthand information. Yay firsthand information! I’m gonna stop now because I want to continue, but I don’t want any of my readers (I think I have six) to miss this exchange so I’m going to put this in a post tomorrow. But I have one question for you – if the things I’m concerned about are no big deal, what should we be worried about? Or do we need to be worried at all?

  2. All excellent points you mention in the article, it is too bad that politicians have no interest in anything other than maintainig their employment status to actually make any changes in US policy that will lead to a prosperous future for all Americans.

    • Leila says:

      I think a big part of the problem is that their interests are misaligned with the majority of their constituents. Of course, all citizens’ interests will never align completely, but at the moment, the interests of politicians, the ultra wealthy and corporations are aligned and largely at odds with the interests of small business and middle and lower class Americans.

  3. DaveN says:

    You suggested I post here, so I’ll give it a shot. But I’m only responding to your first point about speculation. I haven’t read the rest in full, and I can already see we agree on about 50% of them just by your headlines.

    Speculation is the lifeblood of capitalism, which is to say the American economy. Without speculators markets become warped and tend to bubble or crash. If you’ve ever owned a stock without going to the annual meeting and attempting to guide the company’s future, you are a speculator. That includes owning shares of IBM or GM in an IRA. A speculator is anyone that takes a position in an asset with an expectation that the demand or supply and therefore the price of that asset will change in the future. IBM goes up? the buyers win. Real Estate goes down? the renters win.

    As far as futures go, why should a farmer in November not be able to hedge his exposure to next years crop of winter wheat? He is planting today for a harvest in April. Why should he not be able to sell his crop now? That’s what a future is.

    I agree that most people don’t belong in the stock market, or more sophisticated markets for that matter. But that’s their problem, not the speculators.

    • Leila says:

      Dave, my man! So pleased with your reasoned argument. This is the kind of exchange of ideas I’m looking for! I’m gonna do something that might seem strange in the political discourse arena and not immediately argue with you and tell you all the reasons I know that you are wrong! Hah! Take that!
      Seriously, I would like to consider carefully what you have said before responding fully, but in the meantime, I have a few ideas and questions. First of all, I would say that it is true that purchasing stock is a type of speculation, in that the stockholder believes that the stock will have further value in the future, either in share value or dividend payout, or both. But it seems to me that there is (hinky accounting aside), quite a bit of transparency there. The investor is free to read a detailed prospectus, examine balance sheets and other financial statements, look at the historical value and performance of the company and in fact, get to know quite a bit about the way a company works, its business philosophy, etc. before purchasing stock. If an individual investor is not of a mind to do that kind of extensive research, they can avail themselves of many sources of analysis of various companies and their performance prospects. Or, they can hire a financial advisor to do the research for them, or invest in mutual funds, which of course are managed by someone who does this extensive research on an ongoing basis. The stock market is ALWAYS a gamble, but research, caution, cost dollar averaging and diversification are some of the tools a “speculator” can use to manage his risk. As for farmers and futures, I see your point. Although again, we are talking about individuals with not only intimate knowledge of the many factors that affect the outcome, but also, a direct and vested interest in the commodity in question. My biggest concern in posting Number One is with the current volatility of the market. And so I have questions for you. Do you see this market as being more volatile than it has been historically? Do you think that volatility is a concern? Do you see day traders and investors in arcane investment vehicles that are barely understood as being essentially the same as long-term market investors? That is to say, do you think they have the same effect on the market? Do you see either as being inherently preferable to the other? I’m not looking for any particular answer here, not trying to lead you anywhere at all, I truly want to know what YOU think. I think the volatility and lack of transparency is a problem. Do you?

  4. Mush says:

    +1 for 6. The War on Drugs is horrendous. Something like 10k dead in Mexico.

    • Leila says:

      Yes. Of course, I mentioned the obvious repugnance of sentencing, but should have also mentioned the fallout of our drug policy in Mexico. Of course, that’s why the terrorist’s hate us – the persistent and tragic consequences of U.S policies on people all over the world. No wait, I keep forgetting, they hate us for our ice cream.

      • Damn us and our icecream, lol.

      • Leila says:

        They hate us for our Rocky Road! Thanks for checking out my blog. I was happy to check out yours and find a fellow traveller. You may like something I posted a while back called, “so I’m thinking about getting a medical marijuana card.” It sums up nicely my feelings about legalizing cannabis and I’d like to thank you for fighting the good fight!

    • Mush that is actually over 40,000 Mexicans have died since the current president escallated the Mexican side of the drug war back in Dec. of 2006. This is a horrible policy that is leaving many deaths in it’s wake. Agreed on the +1 for Ending the War on Drugs.

      • Leila says:

        I seem to remember the Mexican government toying with legalization, but only if we did as well, which of course would be necessary to have any benefit for Mexico. However, it seemed plain that the US never seriously considered the proposal.

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