2011-07-01 / Columnists

Rock Solid

Got Independence?
Commentary By Vivian Rattay Carter

Independence Day is one of those American holidays celebrated with disparate emotions among the populace.

Are you part of the investor class or a wage earner? Wage earners live for the weekends, particularly the three-day ones. Those of us who enjoy weekends don’t even think to applaud organized labor, the much-maligned establishment that bargained to achieve such regular lulls in our work schedules. The investor class budgets “free time” instead. We all look at the world through different lenses.

For many, this holiday is a time for eating outdoors at a BBQ. We used to call them “picnics,” and during my youth, they were “company picnics,” with the entire bill footed by my father’s employer. For others, the “church picnic” was paid for by your house of worship. In the early 1990s, my family started calling the July 4th outing a “family reunion,” and we all chipped in to share the cost.

Depending on your circumstances, travel to far-flung family reunions may be a luxury long ago abandoned, due to higher air fares and fees, and gasoline prices. So, I trekked to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for some “face time” with my teen-aged daughter last weekend, where we met relatives visiting from Ohio and Pennsylvania. We felt fortunate to avoid a hefty bridge toll and/or parking fee, and were able to enjoy the entire day of activities (plus some snacks) for less than $50 because it was Sunday, when you can park for free on the streets of downtown Brooklyn, then grab a quick subway ride to lower Manhattan. Sometimes, I count my lucky stars that my kid is a history wonk with a strong interest in her immigrant ancestors; she’s completely satisfied by such an outing.

This year’s Fourth of July celebration carries emotional baggage for many. The “jobless recovery” has continued the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many. Those of us who are struggling to make a living in the actual freemarket world, fear continued income volatility like the plague. I consider myself neither a wage earner nor part of the investor class, a group which often seems to be insulated from risk. I don’t punch a time-clock or receive a regular weekly salary; I’m a self-employed commissioned advertising salesperson. Like many others, my life has become a game of watching the bills go up, and figuring out how to put off a few expenses into the following month. Avoid taking vacations; put off buying clothes and household furnishings. Since I can write off the substantial cost of operating my car, a tax refund helped get me through a few months. But my fortunes are highly dependent on tangible market perceptions. The spring advertising bubble is almost evaporating into the summer funk. Do people still pick up The Wave and read it in the summer months? I try to remain positive about that.

My thinking has been illuminated after reading a recent Mother Jones piece by Kevin Drum, entitled: “Why the Democratic Party Abandoned the Middle Class.” Drum explains the past three decades as a continued struggle for the soul of the progressive movement, replayed as a battle between mainstream, middle-American, mostly white union activists and the New Left that arose in the 1960s (associated with struggles for peace, civil rights and environmental regulation).

There is still a major disconnect between these two wings of the Democratic Party. Today, the right and center portions of the New Left are being partially co-opted into Mayor Bloomberg’s version of the “Independence” Party, if through no other means than the twopronged, lavish spending of PlaNYC funds to stimulate green programs, and the elegant refurbishment of public school buildings as the new abodes for the charter school movement, unlettered from union control, of course. What’s unclear is whether there will be high standards at such new schools, and whether the community will have a say in their management. We also have no sense yet of how much of the public funds invested in green infrastructure projects (through PlaNYC and federal stimulus funds) are expensive, wasteful gimmicks.

President Obama’s most reliable support in the upcoming election should surely come from the same voters in the Democratic Party who have been coopted by Bloomberg. Locally, the Mayor and the U.S. Interior Department have become cozy partners for the revitalization of Floyd Bennett Field, and the last remaining, thorn-in-the-side community advocate, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, is now out of the way. Will the Mayor and the Interior Department include community members in the process, as private corporate investors and out-of-town recreation advocates with grant money seek to host festivals and concerts, build windmills and solar panels and expand campsites and bike lanes? Probably not.

Their objectives may not differ so much from the desires of those of us who live here, but grass-roots democracy is a farce when community meetings are mere window dressing for the finished product, devised in private meetings among the players with money and power. After all, what politician is going to bother seeking real input from residents living on a peninsula where the median annual income is less than $30,000?

Drum believes the central task of the new decade for progressives is to figure out how to “rebuild the infrastructure of economic populism.” But when it comes to the health of grass-roots democracy and how to revitalize it, the 300-pound gorilla in the room is the question of power. The two major parties hold the power of corporate money, and control of the mainstream media. They use these tools to serve their constituency, that is, the people and entities with money and power. There is very little difference between Democrats and Republicans, in my view.

Enjoy Independence Day, but remember — we’re not as free as we think we are.

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You idjot!!! how did your tax

You idjot!!! how did your tax REFUND get you through a few months. Did you ever stop to think that the money that was taken from you and then given back was theft and then asking for forgivness. We are free if we fight for it. Vote conservative

I just ran across your

I just ran across your comment. I'd be happy to share further explanatory details about my tax situation, notwithstanding your resort to disrespectful name-calling. You made an incorrect assumption that I am an employee subject to withholding tax, and that my refund was based on over-withholding. Neither is true. I am a self-employed commission sales representative for The Wave, so I am required to make my own quarterly estimated tax payments, in the event I owe anything. In tax year 2010, I received slightly less than $20k in 1099 compensation, and paid $8,400 to maintain and operate my car, cell phone and a home office with internet service for my business. I paid these expenses, as incurred, in cash on the barrel-head. At year-end, I only owed a self-employment tax of $1100 on the modest gain from my business. My tax credit for one dependent came out to $3500. Surprise! Not only was I not obligated to make any quarterly tax payments, but at the end of the year, I received a refund of $2400 from the IRS. So, I guess it seems that the federal government paid me a refund because I overpaid GEICO, AT&T, Mobil, Exxon, and MTA Bridges and Tunnels. Ironic, isn't it? No wonder these companies have billions in profits each year (well except for MTA B&T), and the federal government just gets further and further into debt. The present tax scheme does not even permit me to take advantage of a couple thousand I donate each year to local not-for-profit community groups. In fact, the present tax system creates a disincentive for me to support these groups that contribute so much to my quality of life. Looks to me like the U.S. tax system unduly enriches the corporations who provide goods and services to the self-employed, in the guise of "stimulating the economy." So, you can see it's also true that the big U.S. corporations, which have their significant business expenses of maintaining corporate jets for executives, so they can fly to China to supervise their factories, pay $0 in taxes, and/or receive refunds from Uncle Sam. Maybe that's why they pay their CEO's and board members such lavish totals in salaries, benefits and stock options...the end result is very little profit on which they'd have to pay income. Yet, conservative candidate for Congress, Bob Turner, says, quite honestly, "I'm a Republican! I never met a tax loophole I didn't like." I can see why. We must truly have an abysmal educational system to be ashamed of in this country, if this is how inequitable our tax system is, and people are not even informed enough to protest! Vote conservative? I don't think so. In fact, if things continue in this direction, and Mayor Bloomberg succeeds in his stated goal of improving the quality of our educational system, I'd expect to see more educated voters pulling the lever for the socialists, not the conservatives!

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