When is a tax NOT a tax?

I’m sitting here very confused. And whilst you might think that this isn’t unusual, well…. you’d be right.

However, before there are too many comments aimed at me (you know who you all are) let me explain what’s getting me this time.

Here in the UK, we enjoy certain benefits, which is part and parcel of living in this nation we call home. We enjoy the benefit of knowing that – if we fall ill – we will be looked after, irrespective of whether we are rich or poor, whatever our background, race, politics, gender, or any other delineator you can think of: we get sick, we get treated, and thanks to the skills of our medical professionals, we know that if it’s possible to get better, then we most likely will.

We enjoy the benefit of a diverse community, where people are valued for what they bring to us rather than devalued for what we might think they take. We excel at embracing differences.

When the need arises, we have the benefit of truly brave, truly exceptional people in our emergency services. The sight of a copper on the beat, or the sound of a siren signalling the presence of an ambulance or fire engine rushing to an incident, makes almost all of us react with respect for the job they do.

We also have our government and parliament. Now I’m not going to be so churlish as to say they get – or deserve – universal respect. However, I haven’t ever had cause to complain to our parliament over the situation that – were I a US citizen – would have me fuming and firing off emails and letters by the hundreds.

The other day, the Republicans got their Tax plan past the first hurdle towards making it law. Seeing as they have failed to get any other significant bill passed, despite control of all levels of the US Government machinery, makes this a big deal for them. But it appears to have been rushed through with many, many amendments that the legislature simply didn’t have time to fully read or understand before the vote. And as the detail emerges, it seems that there are some elements in this bill which really shouldn’t be there.

Remember – this is a bill about taxation levels.

So why is there a clause in the bill removing restrictions on drilling for oil in the Arctic wildlife preserve?

Why is there a clause removing the requirement for churches not to endorse political candidates (thereby revoking the separation of church and state that is enshrined in the constitution and bringing the potential demise of the First Amendment one step closer)?

Why is there a clause on abortion, reclassifying life as officially starting at conception (I mean – what has that possibly got to do with taxation)?

Why is there a clause reducing the size of some of the US’s most beautiful National Parks by as much as 90%?

There are a bunch of things being pushed through in an apparently desperate attempt to sneak previously failed legislation onto the statute books. And there are some amazingly unfair, even cruel fiscal policies that are bundled into the bill.

Why are welfare programs that help 50% of Americans survive – not thrive, but survive -being defunded so that millionaires with their own private jets can deduct the cost of owning and running them? Medicare itself is being defunded to the tune of $400 BILLION.

Why are student debt relief regulations (which allow young adults with outstanding tuition fee debt to pay the debt without the additional tax burden) being scrapped, so that those with homes worth over $5.49 million can avoid paying tax on their estate when they die?

Why are changes to the mandate put on states to provide healthcare insurance under the ACA being lifted, so that individual states can decide not to treat people with particular illnesses? And so that 13 million people immediately lose their healthcare coverage?

There really are so many elements in this bill which are almost viciously cruel in and of themselves. Bundle them together, and the aim is clear – the ‘family values’ party really doesn’t care about you, unless you are wealthy and can afford to buy them off.

The elderly, the sick, the young, would all be worse off. Whereas certain families, such as – ironically – the Trump family, would be better off to the tune of over a billion dollars a year.

And yes – that’s the worst use of the word ‘ironically’ in the history of language.

I said at the top of this post that I’m confused. And I am. Here’s what confuses me.

How the hell did enough people believe the lies and propaganda that has brought us to this position?

I sure as hell can’t work that out…

Still, look at it this way. Republicans control the Senate, the House of Representatives, the majority of State Governors, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency. This situation hasn’t happened since 1928. And they are truly partying like it’s still the Roaring Twenties.

Let’s remind ourselves of what happened in 1929…

 

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The American Way, or the Highway…

I’m following current events in the US with increasing dismay.

The protests / counter protests in Charlottesville over the weekend showed just how much white supremacist fascism feels enabled by the actions of the present government over there.

The death of a young woman, Heather Heyer, and the injuries suffered by many others is horrific, but I fear that the underlying cause that created these events runs far deeper.

‘The American Way’ is often touted as their utopia. It’s all about people being free – free to do, say, live, behave, worship however they want, with little or no interference or control from the state. In principle, that’s a good idea. Sadly, it relies on a principled population to work.

Let’s take the First Amendment – the freedom of speech. Basically, you can say what you like. Even if that’s not what other people like. and they can say so, and you can argue, and you can confront each other’s views, and then suddenly there’s a car being driven into a crowd of people simply because they think differently to you. And people die.

That’s not an issue that specifically surrounds white supremacism, although pretty much all of the recent events have been due to their actions. And the alt-right need to take responsibility, as do all groups, for the impact their views have on society as a whole.

Let’s take the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. Written in the late eighteenth century at a time when there was a clear danger from Native American Indians, rogue English-supporting vigilantes, and claim-jumpers looking to secure the best land for themselves, it made sense that a homestead could be protected.

But it’s not been updated for over two hundred years, and you now have people with an armies’ worth of assault weaponry, quoting ancient legislation as their ‘right’. The rights of these gun-toting mavericks legally outweighs the rights of the rest of society to be protected from their potentially murderous intentions, or any accidents caused by a trigger-happy citizen out shopping (such a dangerous pastime in some states, clearly).

Most other ‘civilised’ countries understand the need to draw a line between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. They know that free speech is important, but hate speech is illegal. They know that having an armed population will only lead to people being shot.

America needs to wake up to the fact that ‘The American Dream’ is in severe danger of being left for dead on the sidewalk, and that only by bringing the edge-case lunatics (white fascists, survivalist weapons hoarders, etc.) into line by protecting the many against the few, will the US start to regain it’s freedom.

Because – after all – the anthem doesn’t just talk about it being ‘the land of the free‘, it also declares itself ‘the home of the brave‘, and it’s time that the brave stood up – like Heather Heyer did – and start to make a difference.

 

General Election 2017 – Riserdrummer’s What, Why, and How guide

Well, it’s been a few days since the election, so here – in all its glory – are my thoughts on where we are now, how we got here, and where we go from there.

Let’s start with what we all know.

Theresa May called a snap election because she felt she needed a more recent and personal mandate to pursue her policy of a hard Brexit (a word I still despise, but am forced to use it to avoid grammatical nightmares). As we know, her parties slim majority turned to a slim minority, and we’re now all doing the math on what this actually means. The Conservatives are talking to the DUP, whose 10 MPS would push the balance of power beyond the ‘magic’ 326 number.

In the meantime, Labour are claiming a ‘moral’ victory, UKIP were basically wiped out, and surprisingly the SNP saw their Westminster powerbase slashed with many of their constituencies choosing the Auld Enemy by voting Tory.

That’s what the media are presenting, and what most people believe is the whole truth. But I suspect the reality is quite different, and more complex. And to understand why, we need to step into the Way Back Machine and take a journey to 2010…..

The General Election in 2010, as it did this time, gave us a hung parliament, where no one party has enough votes to form a working majority. As is the custom, the incumbent party has the first chance to form a coalition with other parties, and if they are unable to do so, the largest single party can have a go. Seven years ago, the Liberal Democrats rejected a coalition with Labour in favour of moving in with the Conservatives, and we saw five years of deal-making, deal-breaking, and the rise of UKIP as the more EU-friendly Lib Dems tempered the Eurosceptic elements of the Tories.

Fast forward to 2015. Many people feel that the Lib Dems have sold out for a taste of power, based on the items that they were unable to bargain away over the previous five years. UKIP’s media presence was looking likely to take seats and votes from the Conservatives. And so David Cameron and his team launched their ‘master-plan’ – a manifesto promise on our EU membership – the one thing UKIP were firmly against. This was, on the face of it, a quite clever idea. All the polls were suggesting there would be a second hung parliament, and this EU referendum was a simple thing to trade away when negotiating the terms of the new coalition. All was going seemingly, until the polls closed, and we discovered that the unthinkable had, in fact, happened: a Conservative majority. UKIP, whilst they pulled a reasonable number of votes, didn’t actually gain anywhere near enough in any constituencies to become a power in Parliament.

Now Cameron was in a quandary. He didn’t want to hold a referendum, but his choices were to either break his promise or do what he feared. And despite many, many lies and a campaign of mistrust and vitriol on both sides, the vote was a close decision to leave. Which prompted Cameron to do the same, as he really didn’t feel he could negotiate something he fundamentally felt was the wrong decision. Cue a leadership contest, and welcome to the stage Mrs T May, our second female Prime Minister.

Which basically brings us up to date as far as the history goes. And now we’re looking at the future. So let’s pause, and consider the actual numbers:

The important ones are: Conservative 318, DUP 10, making 328, which (if the DUP votes were guaranteed) makes a working majority of 2. In practice, this would be a working majority of eleven, as up to now Sinn Fein MPs have never taken their seats in Westminster. Something that – if the DUP have any voice in power – can no longer be taken as read.

Labour have 262 seats, so would need to bring in the SNP (who originally said they wouldn’t work with them unless a large amount of power was granted to them and IndyRef 2 was legislated), the Lib Dems (who have said they won’t work with Labour, and whose presence in parliament is still nowhere near its 2010 heyday) and the combined minor parties of Green and Plaid Cymru. This would still leave them short of the Tory total by 4 seats, and by 14 against the Tory/DUP coalition should it emerge. However, the level of back-room deal-making that would be required beggars belief in that scenario.

Enough about what the actual make up of Government is / might be. What’s in fact more revealing, is why.

It’s clear from the 82.4% who voted either Labour or Conservative, that there is a partisan split in the country. But that’s not the only split. The country is clearly also split over the EU, and within that over how the EU departure should be managed.

And it’s this latter split that’s probably the key here.

Yes, some people (I suspect mostly younger naïve first-time voters) went for Labour because he promised to end tuition fees and stuff. Others would have sought an alternative due to the inclusion of a Fox Hunting vote in the Tory manifesto (one of the more outlandish things to bring into an election campaign).  But honestly? I think that the nation’s feelings over Brexit were clearly key. But not in the obvious way.

Had Labour declared itself a Europhile party, then they would have won by some margin, as would the Conservatives had they gone down that route. What we understand now is that it’s no longer a case of 52% against 48%. It’s more a case of 10% rabidly anti-Europe, 10% rabidly pro-EU, probably another 10% that want to continue the bolshy, hard negotiations we’ve seen so far, and 70% who want to make sure that if we absolutely have to leave the EU, we do it at a pace and in a manner that safeguards as much of our current trade agreements as possible. That allows us to remain in the Single Market, and that doesn’t leave us with excessive trade tariffs and import taxes. That allows EU nationals in the UK, and British citizens living abroad, to retain their rights and status. Kinda like a civil partnership. We’re not actually married to the EU, but a lot of the day-to-day stuff and legal protection still applies.

Evidence for this? Look at the seats that turned red. These were the ones not simply where the previous Tory majority was tiny, but where the Remain vote was strongest. Naturally, any anti-Tory vote would be most effective voting for the second-largest party, which is why these votes can be seen not as pro-Corbyn but anti-Brexit. In areas where the Leave vote was higher, the Tories did better, winning some seats from Labour into the bargain. On the whole, people don’t want a tough break-up with the EU. If we do have to leave, we want it to be on the best of terms, not the worst.

It’s very apparent that the EU was the pivotal factor in this election. That public opinion was misjudged by both sides. That Labour benefited from a protest against May’s strategy over the EU, but not by enough to make a significant difference due to also being anti-EU. And that what most people actually want is for the vocal, rabid minority to shut up and for the country to come together somewhere in the middle, sort out its differences and its problems and move on.

I’m feeling lost…

Ever since I was first able, and ever since I knew what it meant, I’ve been a political animal.

I’ve looked at the issues, I’ve listened to what each shade of political opinion had to say,  I’ve formed what I always believe to be informed opinions, and I’ve been able to align myself with people, and with a party, that shared, if not all, then certainly most of my views. That has tended to move me to regard myself as a conservative, to vote that way in local and national elections, and to feel that a country led along those values was more or less the country I wanted to be a part of.

Only now – for the first time – I don’t feel that way.

I look at what’s going on locally, domestically and internationally, and I’m really struggling to find any of my values reflected in any single political stream.

I strongly believe that leaving the EU is the wrong thing for us to commit to, unless we really know what the conditions for life outside the EU will be. If life is better (or at the least not significantly worse) then fine, that’s what we will end up with. I can’t be the only one whose concerns centre around that fact that nobody has a clue, we’re simply heading full-pelt towards an edge without knowing if there’s a good landing place or not.

My local MP (and now Prime Minister) Theresa May campaigned to remain in the EU, and is now seemingly one of the most hard line anti-EU protagonists. This is showing a lack of consistency and personal character that are surely a requirement for anyone in her position. If there was an election tomorrow, I don’t think I could vote for her. Trouble is, I can’t see myself voting Labour or Lib Dem either, whilst UKIP turn my stomach with their views.

As we’re on the topic of leaders with no moral compass, let’s talk Trump.

I utterly abhor what’s going on in the US at the moment. There’s an upsurge in bigotry, racism, hatred and sexism that is given legitimacy by the words and actions of the President. There’s such a clear attempt to stifle any and all dissenting voices, there’s blatant lying from all and sundry, there’s people like Betsy DeVos, surely one of the most unqualified people even in an administration led by someone such as Trump. She’s bought her job, without a doubt. And she’s just one of the many people whose background and documented views should surely disbar them from the very important roles they now fill.

Would I have voted for Clinton? I’m not sure she’d be that much better (although she would certainly be better) so I don’t know.

I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. His actions leading up to the election (mocking disabled people, branding Mexicans as thieves and rapists, repeatedly lying about his achievements and refusing to release his tax returns) and his actions since taking office (the ban on muslims from countries he has no business dealings with, his faux-divestment of his companies making it very believable that he’s skimming vast amounts of tax dollars into his personal accounts, and his refusal to act in any manner befitting a US President) gives a hint on what’s on the way.

So what do I do, and where do I go? If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s because I do care, that I have to ask the serious question: When you know you need to engage, but all the options make you shy away, how do you make a difference?

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Election Cometh…