FROM SEN. JEFF MERKLEY Oregonians, you better watch your wallets: The biggest bank heist in American history is underway, and you may be among the victims. House Republicans just passed a tax bill that they are marketing as a tax cut for the middle class. But in reality, it raises taxes on many
by Chuck Sheketoff
Often I am asked, “What can we do to address income inequality?”
There are a number of good ideas for confronting income inequality, which now stands at historic highs.
In my view the first thing to do is to “do no harm.” Don’t enact policies that will exacerbate the problem. This is particularly true in the area of tax policy, where decades of tax cuts and subsidies favoring the well-off have contributed significantly to rising income inequality.
In every Oregon legislative session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle bring forth proposals to cut taxes for the wealthy outright or provide some new tax subsidy for the rich.
For example, a seemingly perennial effort — fortunately rebuffed thus far — is to give favored tax status to capital gains income. Capital gains income is income derived from the profitable sale of stocks, bonds, real estate and other such capital assets.
A cut in the income tax on capital gains would not just be a tax cut for the rich; it would be a tax cut for the very rich. Indeed, the wealthiest 1 out of every 1000 Oregonians (the one-tenth of the wealthiest 1 percent) reap about half of all capital gains income.
So what can you do to help confront income inequality in Oregon?
With candidates holding fundraising and campaign recruitment meetings as the fall election season approaches, it’s a good time to engage them. Ask candidates whether they will pledge not to exacerbate inequality. Ask them to take the income inequality oath to do no harm. Ask them to promise not to cut taxes on the already well-off, be it by cutting the income tax on capital gains or any other means.
Bring this capital gains infographic (JPG; a PDF version is here) to meetings with candidates and pass it on to your friends and neighbors via email and social media. Ask them to join you in calling on candidates to take the income inequality oath to do no harm.
This post was originally published on www.blueoregon.com on July 31, 2014. The original post can be found at http://www.blueoregon.com/2014/07/income-inequality-oath-first-do-no-harm/. – See more at: http://www.ocpp.org/2014/07/31/blog201408-income-inequality-oath-first-do-no-harm/#sthash.DGJpisUW.dpuf
Same-sex couples married in jurisdictions that recognize their right to wed will be considered married for federal tax purposes regardless of where they currently live following a ruling announced Thursday by the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service.
According to the Treasury Department, the ruling applies to all federal tax purposes that take marriage status into account, including income and gift and estate taxes, filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.
“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in a statement. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”
The ruling applies to any same-sex marriage legally entered into one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or a foreign country. It does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships recognized under state law. According to Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, that fact in particular “highlights the need for an America where everyone can marry the person they love in any state, and have that marriage respected at all levels of government.”
With the statute of limitations for filing a refund claim set at three years from the date the return was filed and two years from the date the tax was paid, the Treasury Department says same-sex couples can still file refund claims for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012. Moreover, some taxpayers may be able to file refund claims earlier than that depending on special circumstances, such as whether an agreement was signed with the IRS to keep the statute of limitations open.
A release from the Treasury Department states, “employees who purchased same-sex spouse health insurance coverage from their employers on an after-tax basis may treat the amounts paid for that coverage as pre-tax and excludable from income.”
The ruling comes just over two months after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old lesbian widow at the center of that case, sued the federal government to recoup about $363,000, the federal estate tax she was forced to pay on her “inheritance” following the death of her wife in 2009. Prior to today’s ruling, lawfully married same-sex couples were forced to declare themselves “unmarried” when filing their federal tax returns.
“With today’s ruling, committed and loving gay and lesbian married couples will now be treated equally under our nation’s federal tax laws, regardless of what state they call home,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “These families finally have access to crucial tax benefits and protections previously denied to them under the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.”
The ruling is the latest, and perhaps broadest, implementation of the DOMA ruling by the federal government to date. Earlier today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a memo clarifying that the beneficiaries of private Medicare plans have access to equal coverage when it comes to care in a nursing home where their legally-recognized same-sex spouse lives, no matter where they live.
“We urge all federal agencies to the greatest degree possible to join the Treasury Department and the IRS in recognizing the legal marriages of all same-sex couples,” Griffin added. “No family should have to worry about losing important federal rights and benefits, simply because they live in a state that doesn’t recognize them as equal under the law.”
[Photo: Jack Lew. Credit: U.S. Treasury Department photo.]
NY Comptroller Asks President To Order a ‘Place of Celebration’ Standard For Marriages | The New Civil Rights Movement
Toward that goal, Comptroller DiNapoli has written to President Obama, asking him to direct all federal agencies to adopt a “place of celebration” standard, recognizing the place where the couple was married and not the couple’s state of residence, as the determining factor when making the decision whether or not to grant federal benefits to that couple. He observed that many corporations adopt as their company policy whatever the federal government directs, and after the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision, they are looking to Washington for direction.
Opponents of the comptroller’s financial activism have criticized DiNapoli’s plan to invest pension funds only in companies which don’t discriminate. ”It seems very political,” complained one such detractor. “DiNapoli should be more focused on getting a better return on the pension fund and not focus on these social issues.” But DiNapoli insists his policy is good investment judgement. Companies which don’t discriminate tend to do better than companies that do. In his letter to the president DpNapoli wrote:
“I have become increasingly concerned that companies that refuse to protect their employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and those that exclude same-sex spouses from employee benefit plans that are available to opposite-sex spouses, are hurting their financial bottom line.”
There are 49 other states in the union, and all of them have multi-million dollar pension funds. Money talks, and big money shouts. Let’s hope other states follow DiNapoli’s lead, and weed out from their portfolios any companies that discriminate against same-sex married couples. Applying economic pressure may just be faster than waiting for Washington to act.
DiNapoli sent his letter to the White House today. We will let you know if the president responds.
Photo from Twitter
Of course you’ve heard that actor/director Angelina Jolie went public this week with an op-ed piece in The New York Times about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy in the wake of finding out that she is positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, which dramatically increases her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
The news has generated a staggering amount of media attention, with bloggers and medical experts and pundits of all stripes weighing in on Jolie’s decision. The overwhelming reaction to the news seems to be one of support and admiration for a highly public figure who’s been forthright enough to go public with a very personal story in the hopes of raising awareness about BRCA and women’s options in the face of it, and confident enough to assert that her surgery (which included breast reconstruction) will not in any way detract from her success in the film industry, her role as a parent to six children, or—let’s face it—her status as a contemporary icon of female sexuality and beauty.
There has been been, rightly, a sizable amount of grumbling about inequalities in health care coverage: The genetic test for BRCA alone costs in the range of $4,000, which puts it far beyond affordable for the average citizen, especially those without health insurance to cover the test. Prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction cost many times that, arguably making these procedures the purview of the 1 percent. The discussion has also brought to light that a private company, Myriad Genetics, holds the patents to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations and can therefore exclusively dictate the testing options (and price) for women who potentially have the gene, as well as research into it. (A case before the U.S. Supreme Court is challenging these patents, with a decision expected in June.)
What I haven’t seen, however, in my admittedly inexhaustive review of the reactions to Jolie’s disclosure, is much in the way of discussion about another surgery the actor/director alludes to: oophorectomy, or the (preventive) surgical removal of her ovaries. Jolie notes that she has a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. “I started with my breasts,” she says, “as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.”
It would seem that Jolie is planning to have her ovaries removed at some point, in a procedure that, while less medically complicated than her breast surgery, is—in my opinion at least—equally, if not more, significant.
And my question is this: In the event that Angelina Jolie has her ovaries (and likely her uterus) removed, will we care as much as we do about her breasts?
Oophorectomy, while not as readily “visible” as mastectomy, is a radical procedure, thrusting women into immediate surgical menopause. In addition to the obvious negation of fertility, the sudden and dramatic change in hormone levels can have several side effects, including changes to sex drive and function, metabolism, mood, bone density and muscle mass, and cognitive function. The surgery and its potential effects are a big deal—but we wouldn’t know that by the amount of ink and bandwidth devoted to it in relation to Jolie.
Maybe that’s because Jolie’s oophorectomy is only a hazy future event, while her breast surgery is here and now. Maybe it’s because her risk of breast cancer is higher than ovarian cancer.
But I’m not so sure. I think that our focus on Jolie’s breasts as opposed to her ovaries speaks volumes about the ways in which we continue to overvalue the external when it comes to women’s bodies. Put simply, the world is so interested in Angelina Jolie’s breasts because they’re pretty to look at and pleasing to men. (Full disclosure: They are also pleasing to me and, I’m sure to many other women, gay or straight.) Angie Jolie is cutting off her boobs? How brave! Don’t worry, though—she’ll still be as sexy as ever due the miracles of reconstructive surgery! She’ll even get to keep her nipples!
But ovaries? No one sees those. You can’t touch those. You can’t “enhance” (much less restore) them surgically, or click on a button to increase their size the way gamers do with Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (Jolie portrayed the busty Croft her in the 2001 feature film; rumor has it that several Internet “patches” have been designed to remove the character’s clothing in the game). Tucked away inside her body, or removed surgically, Angelina Jolie’s ovaries are about as appealing as her gallbladder.
But ovaries are a crucial part to women’s reproductive, sexual and overall health. With no reliable test to detect it, ovarian cancer is often discovered too late and can be deadly. If and when Angelina Jolie undergoes prophylactic oophorectomy, she may feel no different (or even better) afterwards, and I hope that’s the case. On the other hand, the surgery poses the risk of several significant side effects.
If and when she decides to have the surgery, and if and when she writes about it, let’s hope we care as much as Angelina Jolie’s ovaries we do about her breasts. Because they’re no less an important part of her.
Susan Goldberg is a writer, editor, and blogger based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She was tested for the BRCA1 mutation after her own mother, a carrier, died after several battles with both breast and ovarian cancer, and created a 2006 radio documentary about the process. You can read more at www.mamanongrata.com.
Photo from Flickr user Gage Skidmore under license from Creative Commons 2.0