Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Counties and cities use the ballot to get extra revenue for special projects. These municipalities use an election to insert a referendum for special funding. Referred to as a SPLOST, (“Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax,) it will show up on the ballot to add a penny sales tax to all county or city purchases. It is for a set time and will expire as soon as the anniversary date is complete. At which time, there will be another urgent need that has to be addressed with another special penny tax, and it starts all over again. It is always worded to make everyone think it is for the good of all involved and if the area has much tourist traffic, the “out of towners,” will pay most of it. Voters can choose to have it or they can reject it. The way the amendments are proposed fool many people and often they don’t realize how some of this special interest money actually affects them personally. Most think very little of an extra penny. That isn’t very much to pay to get certain advantages in the community. The problem is that many SPLOST amendments are slipped in on elections that are not super publicized like a Presidential election. Most only benefit a special faction who have lobbied for the extra tax to go toward their favorite hobby or activity. This special faction will make sure their people who are of like mind turn out to vote. If the election isn’t a high profile election, so the amendment could pass by a majority of votes because the overall voter participation is low. No big deal, it is only a penny, right? Wrong, if you are in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. Taxpayers need to ask themselves these kind of questions: How many times a week does one go to play these sports? Do you have children in the school system? If one is retired, of how much benefit do these new things provide for the average senior? Will these improvements bring tourism or will they attract elements that are not so desirable? Will it add to or detract from property values? If any of the answers to these questions are negative, think of the financial burden it can bring. When a new vehicle is purchased for $ 25,000.00, the extra sales tax on it is an additional $ 250.00. This comes straight out of pocket upon signing and is not rolled into the loan. What about at the grocery store? Some states do not require sales tax on food, but the counties or the cities do. That extra 1% on the $100.00 is another dollar gone. Buy a washer and dryer for $ 800.00, that is an eight more dollars gone. As many times as the average person buys things they need, or want, this tax bill begins to add up to a substantial sum. Multiply that by the population of the area, and it grows exponentially. Remember to do all of the math when voters are asked to pony up for the next doodad that is on the county agenda. Is your penny well spent or just another monetary burden on the average taxpayer?
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Now that the election and all its vulgar, backbiting whoopla is no longer domnating the news, now is a good time to bring up something very important, and much more pleasant. The Arts in the United States, and the programs that support them, is an integral part of our culture as a people. Those who create leave a legacy. They make a mark on an otherwise barren work a day world. Civilizations are remembered for the beautiful things that they leave behind. Has anyone ever said, “Wow, the Egyptians really had it going on with their profit and loss sheets, and talk about that gross national product?” “The Greeks, they really had some ideas about industry and the bottom line!” No, it is not these things that make a civilization memorable. Potsherds, paintings on cave walls, or on pyramid walls, architecture and wordsmiths, those things make the list of intrigue. Who were these people? What inspired them to create? What was it about their culture that they have left behind? If arts are so vitally important in defining a culture or region, why are the programs that support those who create waning? http://www.smokymountainnews.com/opinion/item/17397-the-arts-thrive-only-if-we-support-them What is support of the arts, or patronage, as it is often called? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronage A patron of the arts in the Renaissance period included the powerful de Medici family. They were known to give monetary aid to those who had the muse and made beautiful paintings, sculptures, etc. In ancient times, often the powerful used their patronage to further their political aims. Today, there are programs to support artists in various forms. The NEA or National Endowment for the Arts is a federal entity that gives grants, (sums of money that doesn’t have to be repaid,) to artists or nonprofit groups of various genres. The individual states, offer grants to various genres, some are more supportive than others, but there is some offerings for the creative, if you meet the guidelines. Usually the grant is given to those who have already reached some notoriety! Or as Samuel Johnson, renowed English writer pointed out while describing patrons, which can be applied to governmental grant and arts assistance as well, “A patron is one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help.” Support for those who struggle to create and live at the same time is in short supply and has been waning for quite a long while in the United States. Western North Carolina, a vast treasure trove of artists and all of the genres that they follow has experienced a lack in the availability of funding. Buncombe County, one of North Carolina’s most talent endowed areas, totally excluded the arts when drawing up an economic plan for economic development and job creation. Denise Drury, director of the Fine Arts Musein WNC was quoted as saying, “The arts in WNC are at a tipping point. Our reputation for being an art, music and craft nexus is growing on a national scale. It is time for us to come together and make a plan on how we can capitalize on our collective successes and how we can train and grow our current organizations and nurture our next generation of artists.” The bottom line is this: Unless more people realize how very important the arts are to our culture and be willing to support them, with both time and money, the less likely it will be to have a sustainable community of artists of any and all genres. This is a national shame. Give today to the Arts. Search out and gift your support to an artist, a writer, a sculptor, a poet or any form of creative expression. A monetary, often tax deductible, gift is the very breath of life to those who create and their creations. Might I suggest: Bohemian Literary Project Inc, dba Bohemian Renaissance – a free literary magazine. For more details, visit BohemianRenaissance.com.
Trump’s revolutionary presidential win and promise of business friendly acumen has emboldened the big banks and Wall Street to lobby to push back the shackles that were placed on them at the onset of the “Great Recession.” Their lobbyists have already ventured to Washington to plot and scheme toward a repeal or at least a loosening of the bank’s abilities to speculate with their shareholder’s money.http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/banks-gear-up-to-fight-dodd-frank-acts-volcker-rule/ar-BBxS2C4?li=BBnbfcN&item=delivery_service_enabled:false&item=personalization_enabled:false Instead of giving all the details, like how much more profit the banks can earn, lobbyists plan to focus on the fact that Volcker is reducing market liquidity, thereby hurting companies, investors and the economy. What did the big banks do when they were bailed out by the stimulus, “TARP” money? Did they use the windfall to cancel unsecured credit card debt and make short term business loans? NO. Did they voluntarily offer lower, fixed interest loans on ARMs and other predatory loans that caused homeowners to lose their homes? NO Let’s look at only two examples of why big banks cannot be trusted. The scandals of mishandling and abuse of the deposit holders in Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase have resulted in large fines by the Banking Commission. Two of the incidents and fines are listed below. In September and October of 2013, JP Morgan paid 920 million and 100 million dollar fines respectively and ADMITTED to “reckless conduct and market manipulation” in connection with the 2012 “London whale” trading debacle which caused 6 billion in losses. These are only two examples of the fines the banking institution had to pay for its reckless conduct with shareholder’s investments. There are 11 other infractions mentioned in the article below that involve fines of both millions and billions, not to mention the amounts that investors lost because of their recklessness.http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/10/19/jpmorgan-chase-major-settlements/2901501/ However, the CEO, Jamie Dimon received a 7.4 million dollar cash incentive bonus this year. His salary has been consistent since 2014, of 1.5 million in base salary plus large stock options. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/22/jamie-dimon-bonus_n_6528342.html Not bad work, when you can get it. Wells Fargo is no stranger to fines and penalties for abuses of financial trust. Recently, it was discovered that Wells Fargo put so much pressure on its employees to open new accounts that they were forced to do so without many of their client’s knowledge. The bank has now been fined 185 million for their “outrageous sales culture.” http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-wells-fargo-settlement-20160907-snap-story.html But wait, there’s more, as if destroying the trust of their investors and depositors was not enough. Wells Fargo had to pay 1.2 billion for improper mortgage lending practices, admitting that they certified loans that were not eligible for FHA mortgage insurance and the bank did not disclose thousands of faulty mortgage loans to HUD, according to the Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wells-fargo-bank-agrees-pay-12-billion-improper-mortgage-lending-practices Ordinary people would go directly to jail if caught doing either one of these things or even just lying or misrepresenting themselves on an application for a FHA loan. Yet in 2013, Wells Fargo’s CEO, John Stumpf won the dubious title of winner for the most salary in the banking business. His yearly wages are 22.87 million. The company reported that the huge amount was justified due to the strong showing in 2012, earning 18.9 billion. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/14/business/la-fi-mo-wells-fargo-ceo-pay-20130314 Un-huh, sure, it did, it is easy to see how that profit margin came into play. Apart from the all the big bank’s illegal didoes, the Federal Government has been practicing Quantative Easing for the last 8 years, a policy where a central bank (The Federal Bank) creates new electronic money in order to buy government bonds or other financial assets to stimulate the economy. This is put into play when standard monetary policy cannot uphold a failing currency. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantitative_easing This artificially inflates the stock market, causing the economy to appear much healthier than it actually is, meaning the rich do beyond great and the rest of the working people not so much. It appears that both Wall Street and the Big Banks are guilty as charged in their destructive role in the “Great Recession.” No easing of regulation is warranted here. If allowed a free rein, these two groups will not only NOT help the economy, (except their own,) they will put the US and the world RIGHT BACK to the crash in 2008! Stand up, and write or call your elected representatives in Washington know that no easing or repealing of the Frank Dodd / Volcker Act will be forthcoming!!!