Saturday, September 19, 2009

Heterosexual Couples Have It All Under Washington State Domestic Partnership Law

At a time when there is national concern that social security funds may soon run dry, it should be noted that the Washington State legislature recently gave official approval for what, in my opinion, is an unethical drain on these funds.

According to Laura Turnbull's article in the Seattle Times ("Ref 71: Heterosexual Partners Lost in the Debate") September 6, 2009, the legislature, in crafting the 2007 Domestic Partnership Law, included heterosexual couples, aged 62 and over. Coincidentally, a large number of this segment of our population is eligible for social security benefits and also includes, according to Turnbull's article, those who are receiving monthly social security support checks based on a former spouse's income.

Registered heterosexual Domestic Partners get to have it all. They receive legal benefits traditionally acquired through marriage, and probably enjoy improved financial situations that generally come from the pooling of two incomes. AND, by reporting themselves to Social Security as "unmarried," they can also keep that check from the ex-spouse coming.

This is probably one of these "certain benefits," that couples quoted in Turnbull's article stand to lose by remarrying.

But not by registering as Domestic Partners.

It is my understanding that initially, assistance based on a former spouse's income was intended for divorced persons who were starting over, trying to make it on their own, possibly inadequate, income and therefore needed temporary additional financial help.

The unmarried stipulation in social security law reflects the assumption that if divorced persons entered into new committed relationships (the only legal term for which at the time was "marriage") this would, in most cases, result in additional income for them and would then negate the need for on-going assistance.

Social security income based on a former spouse's income comes from YOU and ME. It comes from taxes we pay into a system that is about to go broke.

Domestic Partnerships aside, couples who live together and enjoy the benefits of pooling their incomes, and purposely decide not to marry to keep that check from an ex-spouse coming in, are adding to their income with YOUR TAXES and mine.

From this perspective, perhaps we have the right to ask the Social Security Administration to be more prudent in its distribution of tax dollars. Perhaps by cross-checking registered Domestic Partners with a list of those who are receiving social security checks based on a former spouse's income, perhaps by noting individual tax returns with addresses in common.

Perhaps it is time to update Social Security Law. Especially where it reads, "Recipients must be unmarried" by adding, "and not registered as state recognized Domestic Partners."

Printed the the Everett Herald, September, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Social Contract Requires Respect

The most troubling aspect of President Obama's comments last week on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by Cambridge Police Officer James Crowley was the fact that the President omitted any basic respect for the value of law enforcement in communities across America.

Consider the "impossible." Imagine that potential law enforcement officers, weighing their dedication to career against the possibility of financial and emotional devastation from lawsuits alleging racial bias or unnecessary force on out-of-control persons, decide it's not worth it. They'll pass.

Then, ask yourself how you might feel living in a community where a 911 call is not an option, where no one is available to come to your assistance, to protect you against a possible burglary, an abusive neighbor, a drug deal going down next door. You would be on your own, and you would have brought it on yourself.

We need law enforcement in our commmunities. It is one aspect of our society that elevates us as a civilized nation. Despite the reality of abuses of power on the part of some law enforcement officers across America, we need to show respect for those who do not abuse their authority. Any one of us, at some time in our lives, may need their help.

Published Monday, Auguest 3, 2009 in the Everett, Wa Herald

Friday, May 22, 2009

Senator Conrad Reveals the Chip on His Shoulder

On C SPAN, on a Monday in April, 2009, the subject under discussion by the Budget Committee was the House/Senate/ White House 2010 Budget Plan.

Representative Jeb Hensarling (R. Texas, 5th District) addressed the Budget Committee Chairman, Senator Kent Conrad (D. North Dakota) and said, "The President says he wants to reform entitlement spending, but it never happens. Don't say that you're being bi-partisan; you're not being bi-partisan."

Conrad replied, "You, Representative Hensarling, tripled the national debt, so who are you to talk? Bush did the same thing, things you're blaming us for. Not you, but your party. It was a disaster."

What, I asked myself, was his point ?

that two wrongs make a right?

that you Republicans had your turn to create a disaster, so now we're taking ours?

A more professional reply from Conrad might have been to defend his committee's crafted formulas for resolution, to point out some informative details for the benefit and support of the viewing public. Instead, he acted like just another bratty kid in the sandbox.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Art of Side-stepping the Question

One workshop in particular, which I attended years ago as a real estate agent in training, was entitled something about "overcoming objections," and it came back to me as I listened to our President and our Treasury Secretary answering (or in these examples not answering) questions put to them by members of Congress.

The verbage I was taught to use when a prospective buyer was reluctant, say, to purchase a bedroom painted red, went something like: I understand how you feel and many people have felt the same way." Followed by, "Let's look at that gorgeous diningroom--wouldn't your friends be impressed by your entertaining amid such ambience !"

The trick is to deliver with confidence, what appears to be a direct answer to the question, while, on analysis, creating a subtle diversion, a side stepping, with a response that makes sense but doesn't constitute an answer.

Consider President Obama's response to a question during his March 24th briefing to the public. Question: "On Cap and Trade Policy--will you vote against it?

Obama: "I've emphasized I expect Health Care Reform to come out of this budget and also free our dependence on foreign oil."

Secretary Geithner is also skilled at this. One of his stock responses is,"I share your frustration. I feel stronger than you do." And here are his answers to some recent questions from members of Congress:

Question: On Collateralized Debt Obligations-- don't you have to deal with them"

Geithner: (no answer)

Question: You don't have to deal with CDs?

Geithner: Well, yes we do, I just don't call them CDs."

Question: There are now three Trustees to oversee voting interests in the US Treasury. One Trustee comes from the New York Fed. Did you work with one of those new trustees when you were with the New York Fed?

Geithner: I believe these individuals were selected before I left the New York Fed. I look forward to working with them."

Congress returns today. Tune in for more displays of this fascinating skill.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

University of Pennsylvania Professor Comments on Survival of Public Trust

In my Penn Arts and Sciences Magazine, Fall/Winter 2008. Professor Cristina Bicchieri addressed the issue of public trust. "When you deposit your money in a bank, you trust the bank not to fail. When you vote, you trust the system to be fair and efficient, this is what we call 'impersonal trust.' Reciprocating trust means doing what you're expected to do--following the agreed upon rules." When these implicit agreements fail, she warns, says author B. Davin Stengel, societies may face systemic collapse.

Bicchieri: "Public trust is a cultural phenomenon that takes a long time to emerge and as we're seeing now, it can be very fragile.

In response to a question asked by interviewer Stengel, Bicchieri said, "I have done several computer simulations of the evolution of impersonal trust and what they show is that impersonal trust can only survive in a society of punishers; that is, if a society includes a majority of people who punish those who do not reciprocate, than trust and reciprocation will be quite common. In terms of that's happening now in the United States, the lesson may be that people must be sure that somebody will be punished. Americans who are facing foreclosures or shrinking 401 k (s) feel very bad when they hear their government saying that they don't really know what happened, that they are bailing everybody out and so, I think in cases like this a good way to rebuild confidence is through a big show of punishment of those individuals who violated public trust."

In my opinion, Bicchieri's credentials and credibility lend support to the growing public pressure to see indictments of the handfull of AIG executives who facilitated innumerable risky loans, of buyers who lied about higher incomes, of mortgage representatives who encouraged them or looked the other way, of appraisers who caved under pressure to produce inflated property appraisals and of escrow agents who packaged and sold loans without confirming buyers' stated credit profiles.

Public trust and the waning of it, may only seem like some issue for philosophical debate, not directly relevant to the specifics of what our legislators are doing (or not doing) for us. Not so. Public trust or the loss of it, can be seen on a regular basis currently, in peoples' frowns, worry lines, cynical scoffs, crabby negative attitudes, and refusals to part with their money.

Until there is some show of punishment of those who violated the public trust the malaise will continue.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What Exactly Was That That Happened at the First time in 50 years Televised Meeting of the House-Senate Appropriations Committee?

I'm new at this, so I may not have got it all right, but as a watcher of the actual televising Wednesday night of the House-Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, this is what I noted:

Senator Inouye chaired the meeting, at some point announcing, "There will be no amendments presented in this meeting." I thought this was curious, because I had understood that the purpose of the meeting was for selected Republicans and Democrats to "tweak" the bill that had just been passed by the House. This tweaking, I thought, was to be accomplished through debate and amendments to the House bill, so that the resulting bill out of Appropriations could be a compromise one.

What struck me as odd was that most of the attendees were Republicans Where was an equal number of of Democrats? And why were amendments not allowed? Don't those who show up get to sway the vote?

A few days later, a FOX news reporter mentioned that on Wednesday, while Republicans showed up to debate and amend, the Democrats never showed. They were "holed up" behind closed doors.

So apparently a House-Senate Appropriations Committee meeting never was, dispite the fact that something loosely described as one was televised.

So much for transparency.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Senator Ensign Requests Key Lawmakers Debate on House/Senate Compromise Stimulus Bill Be Open to the Public

Debate on the House/ Senate Compromise Stimulus Bill by key lawmakers apparently will not be open to the public via CSPAN, as last week's was. This next round of debates will be behind closed doors. Although this may be current protocol for Congress, given the current economic crisis the US is facing and President Obama's pledge of greater transparency in government, Senator Ensign's request makes sense. I believe that Americans are currently paying closer attention than ever before to how their government operates. Decisions made behind closed doors in the absence of a public hearing will tend to lead to more questions, frustration and cynicism at a time when Americans need to believe that our representatives are acting on behalf of all of us and not out of loyalty to their specific constituents and themselves.