Tuesday, February 21, 2017

JD DeHart
Eight Men Who Are Doing Quite Well

A notice appeared in the paper recently with the names and faces of eight men who have a combined wealth of $426 billion. According to Oxfam International, in 2015 this would have equaled the amount of wealth held by half the world’s population, the poorest half.  

Oxfam International is a confederation of charitable organizations in 90 countries seeking to stop the injustices that cause global poverty. They have been tracking wealth and poverty in the world for a long time. 

It’s remarkable that six of the eight men are Americans: Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg and William Gates.  Only Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, and Amancia Ortega, the Spaniard, are from other countries. 

Oxfam blames what it calls this "obscene wealth” on laws that have shifted the tax burden form the wealthy to the middle class.  

Supposedly this concentration of wealth has grown a great deal since Ronald Reagan's administration.  President Donald Trump has said that he supports an additional tax cut of 15% for billionaires.  Some say this might result in an even smaller middle class although the dynamics of the connection are not entirely clear to the average layman. But many people would probably agree the six wealthiest Americans don’t seem to be in need of any additional tax breaks.

According to Oxfam, America is not the only nation where the wealthy seem to be living quite well, thanks to the failure to collect proportionate taxes. 

In Africa, Oxfam says that $15 billion dollars is hidden from tax collectors, quite a sum on a poor continent. Critics say that the $15 billion, if collected, could bring health care to four million residents in Africa and put a teacher in every African classroom whatever number of classrooms that might be.

In Europe, says Oxfam, Greece and Italy lead the way in citizens avoiding taxes. Both nations are enduring difficult times. Some critics maintain that uncollected taxes if collected would bring relief to these overburdened economies. 

Failure to collect taxes, according to Oxfam, endangers the European Economic Community. Germany is being asked to fill the gap and Germans are not happy about that and perhaps understandably so. And the current situation will not improve if Greece renounces its debt and firms across the world, long-suffering creditors in waiting, no longer have anything to wait for.

Meanwhile, in America, concern grows about what some people call “tax equity,” meaning the need for new laws to make the rich pay their “fair share,” whatever that might be. It is admittedly difficult to arrive at a “fair-share” percentage with economists differing on the amount.

Similar concern grows over the need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage whatever a living wage today in America might actually be. 

Minimum wage workers are lobbying hard for $15.00 an hour. Whether that would be a living wage or not is debated. Whether that amount should be enacted nationally or not is, of course, debated as well. 

But proponents of raising taxes on the rich and paying a higher minimum wage say that if something isn’t done to solve these problems, poverty will continue to grow and people will continue to suffer. 

Back in the early part of the 20th century, Henry Ford was asked why he was paying employees $5.00 a day and he is said to have responded, “Somebody has to buy this stuff,” meaning of course his automobiles. 

Today, if too many Americans max out their credit cards and have little cash in their pockets, who is going to take advantage of the sales at Walmart? Who is going to be able to buy enough of the products to make the economy grow?

These are very difficult problems but it seems obvious that something isn’t right if eight men, six of them in the United States, have a combined wealth greater than half the people in the world. 

And in the United States it doesn’t seem that a step in the right direction would be to reduce the taxes on our wealthiest six billionaires. Perhaps better to listen to arguments as to why their taxes should be raised and then have Congress make a decision. The bill would of course require the signature of President Trump but who knows what he would do. He is still in the early stages of his unexpected presidency and no one can be certain what he will do in many matters of great importance.

To do nothing and remain in the status quo is to risk increasing the number of poor and the United States, like the world, obviously has enough poor people as it is. 

Donal Mahoney

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Hunters for the Hungry
Fred has been working with an agency called Hunters for the Hungry for five years. During that time, his food bank has received thousands of pounds of venison to feed the poor. This year, however, when Fred received no call from the agency saying it was ready to deliver the meat, he called the organization himself. 

The answering machine was full and Fred never got through. Finally, he called a state officer for the agency and to his dismay he found out what the problem was. 

Fred learned that the state’s governor, in an effort to balance the budget, had stripped $100,000 from the allotment to Hunters for the Hungry. In past years, that money had allowed donors of deer meat to have it processed free of charge. The meat would be put in one lb. rolls to be given to non-profit groups that operate food banks. 

Fred was told the state now requires hunters to pay for the processing costs as well as donate the meat. Many of the hunters are unwilling to pay for processing. The cost is not cheap. 

The staff at Hunters for the Hungry is upset with this new rule as are the food banks that won’t get the meat. As a result, food pantries and soup kitchens across the state have a big problem this year they can do nothing about. 

After all, as Fred says, if the goal of private enterprise is to make a profit, and it is, then the goal of government is to take care of people. And in many states, government does a good job of doing just that. 

Balancing the budget is important but cuts should not be made, Fred says, to programs that help those already down on their luck.

Fred and others would like to know how the money allegedly saved by the governor’s action is being used. Roads in the state are still crumbling, schools are making drastic cuts and those in need remain in need at a basic level—food.

Meanwhile, the staff at Hunters for the Hungry is trying to locate other meat for Fred’s food bank. They know the demand for food is exploding among those with inadequate income. 

The missing deer meat means charities all over the state must spend more for food. This money would normally be spent to help pay for utilities, medicine and other necessities for the needy.

Something’s not right with this cut in the budget, Fred says. What’s worse, he adds, the next election is a long way off. 

Donal Mahoney
A Shining Star at Every Wake

Bill hates to go to parties but he loves to go to wakes. One of the advantages of being old, he says, is that there are fewer parties to go to but a lot more wakes. 

At parties he finds a distant corner, stands there like a sentinel and watches the young folks have fun. 

“At parties the young move among each other like bees among flowers,” Bill says. “When I was young I tried to find the right flower and hover there, if you know what I mean."

Although he doesn't approach anyone to start a conversation, Bill's not upset when people approach him. Some young folks want to know why is the old guy standing in the corner. And he doesn’t hesitate to tell them. 

“I came with my wife," he says. “She’s out on the floor somewhere having a good time."

Moments later, he adds the obvious: "She’s an extrovert and I'm not."

At parties Bill and his wife always slow dance at least once even though he says he has two left feet. He says that after 50 years of marriage, his wife’s used to having her feet under his. He says she never complains. She loves parties and is happy that he’s willing to come along, even if it’s only to stand in a corner. 

At wakes, however, Bill comes out of his shell. He’s in his element at wakes.

“I’m the life of the party at a wake,” Bill says, "if you’ll excuse the expression." 

His modus operandi at a wake isn’t complex. First he consoles the bereaved and then talks to anyone and everyone who has come to the wake. When Bill has finished his rounds, everyone, even the dead person’s kin, feel a little better. 

"Bill should have been an undertaker,” his wife says, coming back from the dance floor.

Bill says he would have been an undertaker but in most states you have to be an embalmer to qualify as an undertaker. 

"Embalming is not a trade I ever wanted to learn," Bill says. “But I don’t have to be an embalmer to help people feel a little better at a wake."

Several years ago, a friend of Bill's lost his wife and Bill, of course, went to the wake. 

He was talking to the widower when a lady walked up, interrupted them and said to the widower, 

"I know you're not ready to date, but when you are so inclined, I would like to throw my hat in the ring.” 

Bill and the widower were shocked, but later the widower dated the woman and married her. In a relatively short time, she spent most of his money and then divorced him when he got sick. He died a year later very much alone. 

Had Bill known his friend was sick, he would have tried to supply him with support. He has great empathy for the dying as well as for those mourning the dead. 

Going to wakes reminds Bill that some day he will be the guest of honor at his own wake. He has mixed feelings about that. 

“I don’t know if there is ever a perfect person for someone,” Bill says, “but my wife is the only one for me." 

He thinks it’s selfish to want to die first but that is his wish. He doesn’t want to live without his wife by his side.

“She’s my North Star….my compass,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to dance on anyone else’s feet.

Donal Mahoney