The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘California’

SANCTUARY AND THE RUST BELT

In his attempt to find something as a “legacy,” President Obama is, through his minion Secretary of State Kerry, attempting to forge a deal of some sort with Iran.  Sadly, the president has not come to the realization that this deal, good or ill, will not be his legacy.  He has already established that.

The obvious and lasting legacy of this administration will be its consistent refusal to enforce the laws of the land – or, more exactly – to enforce those laws which it chooses and from which it sees a sense of political advantage and to ignore those which do not fit its agenda or which might benefit its opponents and all the rest of “We The People.”  The legacy of Obama will be that a nation whose foundation was built on equality under the law will have moved to a state of lawlessness on its way to nihilism and possible anarchy.

The unfortunate, tragic and avoidable death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco at the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is a direct result of the Obama administration’s refusal to enforce the laws regarding illegal aliens which are on the books.  But they are not alone in responsibility, the Sheriff of San Francisco, the members of that city’s Board of Supervisors and its mayor also share some part of the blame.  But if there were one specific cause for this tragedy to which we may point as being the culprit, it is San Francisco’s self-adoption of its “sanctuary city” policy – and the Federal government’s tacitly condoning it.  Translated, that means that San Francisco has chosen to ignore Federal law and do what it wants.

By now everyone knows that the alleged (and now admitted) murderer had entered the country illegally and been deported five times; that he was guilty of seven felony convictions; and had chosen to reside in San Francisco largely because he knew that he would find a safe harbor there and not be turned over to ICE authorities for yet another deportation.  So, in addition to the loss of a perfectly innocent young woman who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, we will now go through the expense of a trial and most likely spend good taxpayer money incarcerating a man for life who shouldn’t have been here in the first place.

You might have thought that with the brouhaha that Donald Trump made with his statement about illegal aliens that we would have heard something from BoPeepObama.  But the highest level of commentary came from California’s two senators, Feinstein and Boxer.  The two of them, who have been in the Senate since shortly after the great flood, took time to put down their hairspray and rinse just long enough to issue two separate but equally insipid statements in which they expressed an appropriate amount of tut-tutting and said that we really should do something about this whole thing with (using the PC term) undocumented aliens.  If there is a silently imposed invisible glass ceiling which keeps women from the same opportunities that men enjoy, these two and their colleague representing San Francisco in the House, Nancy Pelosi might well be the reason.  This troika might well be named the “Three Ditzketeers.”

Washington state and Colorado’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana are another example of how local government has decided to thumb their noses at Washington and do what they will.  They have received a non-response from Washington just as have the two hundred “sanctuary cities” that have self-declared themselves as such.

So as long as we are cool with local governments adopting policies which are in variance to what the Federal government mandates, this provides an opportunity to extend the logic of local self-determination to a higher level.  And this concept may go far to help revivify some of our rust belt cities which have fallen into a state of near collapse – places such as Detroit and Baltimore.  Those and similar declining municipalities should declare themselves a Federal Income Tax-free sanctuary zone – exempting their residents from the necessity of paying any Federal income taxes in the future.

There is very little reason for a person to want to move to a Detroit or a Baltimore.  Hundreds of properties in both are either abandoned or extremely run down.  The crime rate is so high that living there is a bit like taking a vacation in ISIS controlled Iraq but with no exit visa.   Unless there is some substantial incentive, soon they and similar cities will turn into a vast wasteland.  So the city governments should turn over those properties to pioneers who would like to take a shot (no pun intended) at rehabbing them.  Returning them to the tax rolls would provide the local governments some much needed revenue – if they could entice enough adventurous people to take part in this experiment.

Would the Feds go along with this income tax exemption?  After all, they’ve overlooked states that violate Federal narcotics laws – and municipalities that ignore Federal immigration laws.  But then when it comes to money, that may be where the buck stops.  After all, the reality is that collecting money from the American people is the lifeblood which continues to finance pompous politicians and bloated bureaucracies.  And in the end, maintaining their own privileged lifestyles may prove to be of sufficient importance that they would actually take action and put their feet down.  Money is probably more important than the citizens of this country to them.  Just ask the family of the late Kate Steinle.

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KEATS AND THE TAX MAN

“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk …”

Beginning of First Stanza of “Ode to a Nightingale”

– John Keats

Senior year in high school and the public speaking contest was two days away.  My English teacher encouraged me to participate and I agreed.  The only problem was that I hadn’t selected a piece for recitation.  In my (limp) defense, during the three weeks prior to the actual competition I had considered a number of pieces but had, for various reasons, rejected all of them.  And now the deadline was looming and my only defense for my lack of preparation was that I had been working on the third movement of the Mendelssohn First Piano concerto.

I browsed through the books in the family library and happened to pull out a volume of John Keats’ works.  I came across “Ode to a Nightingale” and was fascinated by the beauty of his imagery in the poem.  I decided, “This is it.  This is the piece for which I was looking.”  So I set about memorizing it.

As it turned out, I lost the competition, coming in second.  My rendition of Keats was defeated by a soliloquy from “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”  I chalked this up to the fact that Eugene O’Neill was in vogue – although I must admit that the chap who delivered this oration was nothing short of captivating.  Only for a fleeting moment did the thought that if I had spent a bit more time in preparation, I might have carried the day for John Keats.  Responsibility – what a burden.

This poem came to mind yesterday.  I opened my mail and saw that I had received a letter from the California Franchise Tax Board.  They are apparently the people who collect California Income Tax as I learned when I perused the letter.  In it they claimed that I had an unpaid balance due them in the amount of $891.00, plus penalties and interest all of which totaled $961.65.  All of this was for the tax year 2013.  I thought that was rather strange since I have never lived in California, haven’t visited the state for about thirty years and certainly had no earned income which derived from any employment in that state.  Rather than procrastinate as I had with my public speaking project (I am trainable), I decided to have a cup of coffee and take the bull (or if you prefer the bully) by the horns – and call the toll free number listed on the form letter.

The opening line of this notice began as follows:

“Our records show you owe a balance.  We previously billed you for the balance, which remains unpaid.”   Since I had received no such previous notification, I presumed this was merely step one in the “intimidation” process that most tax agencies normally consider the way to conduct business.  This was confirmed as I read the notice’s second paragraph.

If we do not receive your balance payment in full within 30 days from the notice date, we may take collection action against you, such as file and record a Notice of State Tax Lien against your property and garnish a portion of your wages.”  Warmer words were never penned by poet laureate or bulbous bureaucrat.

I sighed as I dialed the number.  It was not a question of how difficult it would be to speak to a live person but how many hurdles I would have to leap to do so.  It appears that whoever designed the California FTB’s automated answering system holds an advanced degree in telephonic obfuscation.  There was no option given to dial “0” for operator or anyone resembling anything human.  “Perhaps they, like their federal counterparts at the FCC are too absorbed looking at pornography to deal with the tax paying public,” I thought.

Having found that selecting option “1” for individual taxpayers and that led me to a circular recitation of the five options available to me, I decided to try option “2” which is reserved for tax preparers and professionals.  Interspersed with my time on hold, a total of twenty two minutes, were various veiled threats about what this agency could do in terms of seizure of property if the deadbeat on the phone didn’t pay up.  As I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t know if this same threat was repeated in that language.  For all I know they were telling the Hispanic caller a great recipe for a taco salad – or how to sign up for California’s various generous welfare programs.

Finally, I was connected to a soft spoken man with an Indian sub-continent accent, making our exchange all the more challenging.  He identified himself by name, Mear and I off-handedly asked if I were speaking with him in Sacramento.  He assured me that, rather than New Delhi was where he was located.  I was going to speak the one phrase of Hindi that I know, “Opka bagicha bahooth sundar hai,” but I couldn’t find a way to work telling him that “You have a lovely garden” into the conversation.

I explained that this notice, contrary to its statement that it was  a follow up was my first such notice.  I further explained that since I had never derived any income from or in the state of California, this notice was obviously intended for someone else.  Mear immediately and without hesitation said, “You are obviously the victim of ‘identity theft.’”  (They have a form to resolve this sort of problem – so I suspect, particularly in light of yesterday’s announcement that Russia has been able to hack into nearly two billion user names and passwords – that this happens all the time.)

In addition to completing FTB 3552 (Identity Theft Form), Mear explained that I needed to make out a police report, make a copy of my Social Security card as well as copy my Driver’s License or other state issued ID.  When I had all that information gathered, I was to call back and they would give me the FAX number to which that all should be sent.

It naturally occurred to me that once upon a time, Social Security cards were issued with the inscription, “Not for Identification Purposes.”  Apparently they are adequate for identity fraud and may be used for that purpose.  And with all the brouhaha about Voter Identification, you can’t even speak with a tax collection agency until you have verified that you are who you claim you are by presenting a valid form of government issued picture identification, but in many states can vote.

Being a curious person I wondered why someone would file a phony tax return using someone else’s social, name and address if the return showed that there was a liability due.  I asked Mear how much income I had purportedly reported on this return – and I expressed my confusion about why someone would file such a return if they were not receiving a refund.  Of course, dutifully protecting my sensitive financial information, Mear said he could not give me any information until after they had received my fax.  In fact, he wouldn’t even give me the fax number until I had assembled the required documents.  I have to call back in order to get that number – but now at least I know how to beat their system.

My guess is that someone in California probably used this information to get some kind of government benefit during year 2013.  That is, of course, just a guess, but I can think of no other reasonable alternative.  Hopefully when I get all the required documents together later today and after the California FTB has had an appropriate amount of time to shuffle those around, I will get an answer – although I think the likelihood of this is about fifty/fifty.

In the meantime, I can console myself with a recitation of Keats’, “Ode to a Nightingale.”  The good news is that in my fervent effort to memorize that poem for the public speaking contest, I still remember all eight stanzas.

“Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”

Keats and the tax man.  Given a choice, I’ll stick with the poet.

A JURY OF YOUR COMPADRES

A few of my more politically extreme acquaintances think that the best thing that could happen to improve America is if a severe earthquake caused the State of California to separate from the North American continent and sink into the Pacific.  As I said, they hold extreme views.  Among their more sanguine comments about California is referring to it as “the land of fruits and nuts.”  Although I might disagree with their analysis, at least for the moment, everyone is entitled to his opinion.

Recently the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that jurors in that state need not be able to speak English and yet be eligible to serve.  This concerns me for several reasons.  The first and most important is that as a kid, I played the game we called “telephone.”  Perhaps you know the game.

One person whispers something to the next person who then whispers it to the next until the message makes its way back to the originator.  The larger the number of people involved in the game, the more distorted the original message becomes.

Perhaps we can look forward to scenes in our Arizona courts that resemble this episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy is arrested for passing counterfeit money:

While there is no reason to believe that translating a statement that a witness or the defendant might make incorrectly or without the nuance that was used in the original statement would be done intentionally, that possibility does exist.  And barring that, at the very least, as we see in the episode, this translating and re-translating slows down what is already a tiresome and laborious process to begin with.  At the very least, we should expect that allowing languages other than English will add to the cost of a judicial system which is already overburdened.

But as far as Arizona has gone, the Golden State is contemplating going yet further.  Governor Brown now has before him a bill which would allow non-citizens to serve on juries.  Since the state has now begun issuing drivers’ licenses to “undocumented individuals,” (non-Americans who are in this country illegally), this next step really shouldn’t surprise any of us.

But I wonder if a case could be made by a person involved in a lawsuit that he or she would not accept any jurors who were not citizens of the United States.  After all, we are supposed to be tried by a “jury of our peers,” and to many of us, part of our “peerdom” is that we are all citizens of this country.  I guess, were I in that position, I would argue, “Yes,” “Si,” “Ja,” “Oui.”

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