Who Will Get “Relief”? Some Bank/Investment Accounts?

Like President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and NY Times columnist David Brooks, I agree that the best-risk Covid-relief proposal is to pump maximum loaned-money-at-low-interest-rates into the hands of families.

But where’s the income cutoff point and how to do we measure that?

There are two competing viewpoints. Both from Democrats who have the votes to pass one or the other. Do we send those $2800 stimulus checks to couples making up to $150,000 a year, or to those making up to $200,000? Do we base that on the 2019 or the 2020 tax returns?

And should Congress use gross income, adjusted gross income (AGI), or net income? Remember that AGI allows deductions of medical and long term care deductions. Also education expenses, student loan interest, alimony payments and contributions to a retirement account.

You can deduct up to $72,000 for a couple from your gross income in calculations for your AGI.

People maxing out their AGI deductions damn sure do not need those $2800 stimulus checks for couples.

Democrats favoring that plan say it’s stimulus, meaning money you can spend and help stimulate the economy. But it’s also money you can put in the bank or an investment account unless they give it out as a debit card that can only be used to buy things.

Republicans want smaller stimulus checks and a much smaller relief bill. About $600 billion rather than almost 2 trillion dollars.

Where I agree with them is on stripping out all but essential moneys for now, and leaving controversial payments for later discussion. There’s too much “fat” in the Democrats’ “cover everything” bill.

The GOP, for instance, would strip out families which  got an earlier stimulus payment. It wants smaller payments of $1,000 to individuals earning less than $40,000 a year and couples earning less than $80,000. The payments would phase out faster, cutting off individuals making more.

All except exempting those earlier-stimulus families makes sense to me. How about you?

In order for the Senate to pass the bill, Democrats would need the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who has suggested that the new round of stimulus payments should be more targeted. Not just sent to almost everyone but the well heeled. 

There’s a long way to go before a final bill text is agreed upon and the income thresholds could change. Lawmakers hope to pass the legislation by March 14.

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What’s A No-Harm Gift? What’s Considered Pigging Out??

I’ve always been a bit of a fence-sitter on the matter of small gifts such as wine or sushi or even a Ted’s Bakery pie given by a news source to a journalist or a lobbyist/constituent to a state legislator or City Council member.

The majority of people I know who are socially progressive take a hard line. Just don’t give and don’t accept and then you don’t have to parse between what’s okay and what touches the boundary of a bribe or at least an improper tool of influence.

It’s come up for public discussion against this year because of Ethics Commission rules and some lawmakers’ efforts to make nice with the public by showing that they can’t be bought.

When I was a TV news director I simply told the staff that we all know the difference between a token gift that’s okay and one that’s excessive and not okay. We were not subject to any ethics body or laws about ethics. We made it up as we went along. So a bottle of moderately priced wine didn’t cross the line. A $33,000 bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton would!  Some PR types would bring our newsroom food tidbits such as cookies at Christmas and I never felt we were “bribed” by that.

This year at the Legislature, there seems to be some movement to outlaw all gifts from lobbyists. The reasoning is that it is hard to come up with a measuring stick for what’s harmless and what’s a foul.

But then again, legislators regularly grant meetings with lobbyists that the rest of us would be hard put to get, and in which those lobbyists might well hint that favorable treatment of their pet project is likely to bring generous campaign contributions next election. That’s certainly a gift with hardly any way to stop it. Lawmakers are expected to meet with persons with direct interests in bills and campaign money is perfectly legal so long as it’s declared.

Our current ethics laws allow lawmakers to accept gifts up to $25 in value — although who sets the value is not stipulated. And if I’m not a registered lobbyist can I give a lawmaker a large “gift of aloha”? And if a lawmaker discloses gifts as he/she is supposed to, who’s to do an investigation of the giver’s background and the true value of the gift.

HB 645 would allow meals and/or beverages too be accepted at any “informational meeting or presentation or goodwill event”  without disclosure if those are made by a non-lobbyist. That seems to be sensible. We have a culture here of small gift giving.

Currently, state lawmakers have to file a disclosure statement for any gift greater than $200. There’s a proposal up for discussion to lower that to $100. House Bill 1108 would allow lawmakers and their staffs to accept low-level gifts from lobbyists and their clients. Senate Bill 1326 would allow lawmakers to accept any gifts from anyone if valued under $25.

It’s all very complicated and the only easily-regulated ethics law would be one that says “no sitting lawmaker shall accept any gift of any value.”

But do we need to be so snow white that a lawmaker could not even accept a drink from someone he meets in a bar? Or a plate of homemade sushi for his/her office staff? Not even a bag of chips or a quart of a new brand of coconut water?

How many sushi before you’ve violated the $25 rule?

I think you see why the legislators’ inclination has been to put off all these proposals and think them through before calling for full hearings, which would turns loose a flood of constituents’ perceptions of right and wrong.

And if you just stick with $25 value — how many times can one giver give a $25 gift per legislative session?

And is my $25 your $25? Where do you find a good sushi appraiser?

In the end, we’ll probably settle for “small gifts are okay; just don’t pig out.”

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“We are going to the Moon that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself.” ― Anaïs Nin

It’s a little hard for me to work up enthusiasm for us spending $28 billion to send a man and a woman to the Moon in 2024.

There have been 12 people on that Earth satellite, all Americans. I don’t know what essential things were missed that the new astronauts would uncover during a longer stay.

A NASA illustration of two astronauts on the planned 2024 Moon mission.

The White House says this Moon shot, called Artemis, would “conduct new and exciting science, prepare for future missions to Mars, and demonstrate America’s values.”

That’s a lot of moolah to “demonstrate America’s values.” I’d be inclined to spend it on demonstrating America’s commitment to better public school education or else an endowed public health insurance program.

I’m a big fan of the potential of space travel, but most of it can be done these days by machines. Let’s say we can put people on Mars (first having to solve the deadly space radiation problem) in this century. What then? It won’t be a future home. Mars is as likely to get whacked by a large asteroid as is Earth.

Are we doing this mainly to say “ha, ha, we beat you” to the Chinese? NASA claims it’s all about science. “”We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.”

Of the $28 billion NASA for  phase 1 of the program, $7.6 billion is for the Space Launch System rockets. $16.2 billion for the initial human landing system, which includes developing, testing and launching the new lunar landers. $518 million is for lunar suits. $552 million for “surface logistics.” $1.2 billion for exploration technologies and $1.9 billion for the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, described as a key component of NASA’s “establishment of commercial contracts for lunar landing transportation services.” I guess that means a little buggy for surface trips.

Meanwhile, Congress debates whether to give American families $600 checks, $1,000 checks, $1,200 checks or $4,000 checks to see them through these difficult pandemic times.

The checks will be much bigger for the Boeing North American Space Alliance Company.

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Sounds Good. But The Devil Is In The Details

Nobody seems totally clued in on how things will go in prisons, in school restrooms or in sports if the federal equality laws are modified to allow trans-people to choose which gender’s facilities or sport they prefer.

There’s the right thing — not making anyone choose a gender identity at all, if that’s his/her/its wish.

Then there’s reality. Most women likely would rather not shower with a trans-woman who has not had “bottom” surgery. There are many more trans-women than trans-men who would have to be accommodated in public facilities. And the sports issue is already in full bloom as trans-women seek the right to compete against birth-gender women who tend to be much less muscular by genetic makeup.

Sen. Rand Paul got into this as Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona came up for confirmation on Wednesday .

Paul: “Does it bother you that like the top 20 percent of boys running in track meets beat all of the girls in the state, that … it would … completely destroy girls’ athletics, that girls are being pushed out?.They don’t make the finals in the state meet, they don’t get college scholarships, that it’s really detrimental to girls’ sports. Do you worry about having boys run in girls’ track meets?”

Cardona: “I recognize and appreciate the concerns, and the frustrations that are expressed. As [Connecticut] commissioner of education, I have had conversations with families who have felt the way you just described it, and families of students who are transgender. So, I understand that this is a challenge.”

And in schools, well — we all know that children can be extremely cruel. You can instruct them to be otherwise, but that’s not going to change their limited-control behavior.

We haven’t even worked our way yet through all the adjustments to gay men (Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary) and lesbian women (Lori Lightfoot, Chicago mayor) in top government slots when President Joe Biden appoints a very masculine-appearing trans-woman, Rachel Levine, to be assistant U.S. Health & Human Services secretary.

Dr. Rachel Levine

Me? I’m very comfortable with everything except that thorny sports matter. I’ve always felt we could learn to live with coed restrooms. Many college students do. There is certainly warranted concern about sexual predators using neutered restrooms to find victims. As for gays and lesbians — who cares about anyone’s private sex life? It’s job competence we want.

But it’s a hard sell in much of conservative America — Which is to say most everywhere but the two coasts and Hawaii. I predict that trans-mixing in sports will be a no-sale.

Britain handled all this with its The Equality Act of 2010 which protects trans-people from discrimination and says anyone who identifies themselves as a woman can use single-sex facilities.

However, it allows service providers  — including hospitals and prisons — to refuse a trans-person access to single-sex services if that is seen as detrimental to others.

Dr. Timothy Hildebrandt from the London School of Economics says the UK government doesn’t “see” transgender people, because they do not fit into the way services, such as healthcare and prisons have always been divided between the genders.

“The difficulty with gender identity discussions, there is simply no way for governments to really understand them because they don’t fit within the general framework of dividing the general population,” he says.

“Visibility is more critical than ever,” says Charlotte Clymer, a transgender activist and spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign. “Progress is often messy, but I genuinely feel hope for the future.”

It’s complicated. You could find out how people identify themselves by asking them, but not all persons who might be thought of as falling under the transgender umbrella identify as such. Transgender can also be distinguished from intersex, a term for people born with physical sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.

And you’ll run into some young people without any “not fitting” physical characteristics who simply choose not to call themselves male or female. Some feel standard gender identities are unnecessary.

Sexual identity traditionally has been how one thinks of oneself in terms of romantic or sex attraction. Now, people talk about sexual orientation identity, which is when they identify or dis-identify with a sexual orientation or choose not to identify with any sexual orientation.

As I said, it’s complicated and probably only understood by a small number of Americans, and maybe not well thought of by a large number.

If you’ve got a brilliant idea how to handle (or not handle) this, please do let the rest of us know.

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