Posted by: MC | July 26, 2010

Ancient Trees and Taxes

On matters of taxation, there’s confusion in our country.  Just where does that money go?  Another way to say this is to suggest that there’s too little education of everyday citizens on the whole economic thing.  How does it all fit together – the business part, the investment part, the tax part, the public interest part?  And how do we participate in it for the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, our communities and country?

Boring questions?  Well sort of.  Not for people at the helm of the Tea Party or for the appropriations bodies of our local, state and federal governments (e.g., the members of the House of Representatives).  The availability and allotment of tax monies is what they think of pretty much by definition.

If we don’t know at least to a general level about how all of this works, we get seduced into other people’s stories, primarily the stories told by the folks listed above – oh and by the media, corporate leaders and politicos not so directly involved with appropriations.  Very often those stories don’t have much to do with fundamental information and play more on emotion.  The stories, of course, come from every angle and each of them can have truth in it.  “There’s too much regulation.” “People are in need.” “You’re being lied to.”  “Trust us and don’t trust them.” And, of course, that one persuasive story – “Terrorism.”

And then once and awhile, and without warning, there are moments when the benefits of community and taxation are right in your face – or through your bedroom window, as the case may be.  Those are the times that, if you pay a particular kind of attention, offer a crash course in how it all works.

Yesterday a heavy limb of my ancient Silver Maple mixed it up in the otherwise perfectly still, sunny, and lovely summer afternoon to crash through the window of my small Victorian home’s second story.  Yikes!

The end of the story…sort of…my beloved tree is 1/3 her size, today.

It was quite the scene.  I ‘d heard giant cracking noises of indiscernible origin for about 45 minutes around 3:00 yesterday afternoon.  I noticed a woman out on the street looking up @ the tree right when there was another loud pop.  I opened the front door and called out, “Are you hearing that weird noise, too?”  We speculated for less than a minute before the mystery was solved with the sudden breaking of an ENORMOUS limb, it’s substantial branches crashing through the bedroom window with … yep … plenty of attendant shattering of glass.

Pretty quick, I called 911 because of danger to anyone walking down the sidewalk.

Soon, a pint sized police officer showed up, checked out the scene, called the city’s urban forestry department (gotta love living in a rainforest) and, for a really down stated moment wrapped the front yard in bright yellow police tape. Then GIANT city trucks and awesomely capable city employees arrived (the tree is technically Portland’s), closed off the street (busy street, so added even more to the drama of it all), and performed miracles.  By 9:00 last night I was sweeping the walk.

Right after the 911 call, I phoned the 800 # for my insurance company.  For the privilege of paying $1000, I can get financial help with any costs beyond that.  Hmmm.  Two thoughts:  Good it’s not a house fire (knocking on wood, now).  And sheesh, that’s a lot of cash.

Now I have the cards of three small business people who are repair specialists.  I have an insurance claim number and Google’s search engine is keyed on “small house structural integrity” (I’m worried about the window frame, but I’ll probably be better served by putting in “window replacement”).   And, there’s the yellow plastic held by duct tape that covers a few very jagged window panes.  The plastic makes weird breathing sounds at night when it catches the breeze, but like my neighbor David said, “There are really good things about this — like it’s not January.”

The economic system was, for whatever reason, vastly obvious to me in those 6 hours.  The policeman and the completely skilled tree team were on it.  Pedestrians and commuters were safe.  All of that happened because of taxes.

The insurance company had people trained to deal with my weirdo circumstance.  Weirdo circumstances are their business.  They put me in touch with repair specialists, and so did a few most wonderful and helpful neighbors – people I met and now know only because of the commotion.  All of this was on a Sunday.

Of course, you knew I’d get to the voices of EX:Change.  They never fail as sources of perspective on change.  Change then keeps showing up as linked with everything.

Back on February 25, 2009, the day after Obama first addressed Congress, I spoke with Kim Ward, a talk show host, in a Starbucks in Jackson, MS(EX:C blog, “Graduation Season:  Your Tax Dollars at Work,” 06-07-2010).  I had no context then for one sentence in his interview that now carries countless headlines of meaning.  “I believe there will be a group of individuals who stand resolute,” Kim said.  “As a matter of fact we’re meeting tomorrow here in Mississippi; a like-minded nucleus of individuals who intend to make changes in 2010.  Our desire is to peacefully make changes in 2010 through the ballot box.”

There is a lot of publicity around the Tea Party – most of it filtered through the media, most of it radical renditions of their activities.  Some of the groups actions do qualify as out-there and one of their central tenants is supporting the elimination of most taxation.  Time for me to listen more closely to the thinking behind that.  I found myself walking right by the opportunity on Aril 15 because I was too comfortable in my isolation from the people protesting what they perceive unfair.  Maybe the discussion wouldn’t go well, but I learned a lot from Kim Ward that morning in Jackson.  It’s time for me to get past my fake confidence that I already know, and to listen to what everyday people who are members of the Tea Party say they value and want.

In early March 2009 Anna, the business woman in Marietta, GA, believes fully in a free market (EX:C blog, “The Hundredth Day.  Activism:  Conservative, Liberal or Effective,” 5-3-2010; “Listening Across Differences – We’re All in This Together, Pt. 1,” 5-11-2010).  From that decided leaning she spoke of taxation and balance.  “America has a very strong ‘I can’ attitude that other countries don’t have,” she said. “The lack of that optimism in other countries is probably due to their being so taxed and regulated and restricted.  That’s the reason our country’s been such a huge success.  If the pendulum goes too far in that direction we won’t be that shining place of opportunity any more.

“We’re spending money now that we don’t have as a country and as [more local] governmental entities.  I’m worried about my little granddaughter.  You see taxation going up.  You also see a lot of other countries that are heavily taxed but don’t really have vital business communities.  Ours went too far with some of the excesses in business centered policy, and now pendulum is swinging back.  I sure don’t like the extremes.  I want there to be happy mediums without people losing their optimism and hope.”

A few week’s later in a Washington D.C. Starbucks, Sharon W. also spoke of taxation.  She was in town from her home in Las Vegas, NV to attend meetings with legislators regarding charitable work she supports.  “I don’t mind helping,” Sharon said.  We have money so I pay my taxes.  In fact, I owe my check when I get home. It’s OK.  I don’t mind.  Don’t be so greedy, because what you do with greed is you hurt people.  There are people homeless, people losing their jobs.  It doesn’t matter what color they are.  They need help.”

Kim, Anna and Sharon slowed down enough on the days we talked to reflect on change.  In that reflection each of them dipped variously into articulation of their personal sense of the tax system.

Following yesterday I’m feeling quite grateful for the privilege of paying taxes – although I can’t say I usually love the amount I pay when it all adds up.  Still I understand a little better.  Looks like the coming days will also bring a bit more understanding of the interrelation of the public and private aspects of economic well being.

Solutions to the massive limb-through-the-bedroom-window situation draw on lots of segments of national economy.  Tax funded public service, small business owners (the repair folk), corporate giants (the insurance communications companies), and volunteerism.  Each of these is happening every day and they all depend integrally on one another for the whole thing to work.  Usually we don’t see it or the intricacy and interdependence of the system is lost in simplistic political pronouncements that rely on fear.

The fear is understandable.  Times are tough and we’re afraid.  Nonetheless, learning and looking and listening to how taxes work as a part of economy can go a long way to cranking the intensity down enough to make us more thoughtful consumers and purveyors of the stories.  Out of knowledge and less agitated by fear we are then more capable of participating in productive analysis of what in our economy needs to change and what needs to stay the same.

There is, of course, not one single quick fix.  And the learning doesn’t really require an emergency.  I don’t wish those on anyone.  It got my attention, though.

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