Monday, July 27, 2009

Taxes Are NOT Political

I am so bloody sick of taxes.

Not taxes themselves. Taxes, I get. We need schools, social services, parks, cops (debatable). But could we PLEASE simplify the system?

Last year, I was a resident of Michigan for the entire year. I worked in Michigan, but I also spent 3 months in Baltimore. Evidently, this time I was working in Baltimore created such a mass of chaos that I have still yet to escape from underneath that cloud. Why didn't the State of Michigan just continue taxing me? I was working for an International Organization. I'm pretty sure we could've worked that one out. But instead, I was taxed by both DC and Maryland, and only partially by Michigan, and even though my take-home was less than $20k, I still have to pay Michigan. (Although, they aren't answering their phones, so we'll see...)

So, let's see, poor people get taxed but they won't be able to figure it out. Young people are taxed because we're NOT trying to build a life for ourselves? Am I Republican because I hate paying taxes to an over-inflated, cumbersome and pointlessly convoluted system? No. Taxes Are Not Political, as much as politicians want you to think otherwise. A flat-rate system creates predictability, stability, helps poor people, helps recent grads, streamlines the system and ELIMINATES loopholes. Which, by the way, corporations and rich people use.

Well, anyway, enough angry rambling today. Here's the letter I wrote to my congressman. (I'm big on letters to congresspeople.)

Dear Congressman Camp,

Although I tend to be a more liberal Independent, I support you, and agree with a lot of the work you do.

Recently your newsletter addressed the Energy Tax. Then today, I received an EXTRA tax bill from the State of Michigan. While I made under $30,000 last year, I traveled extensively, and so paid Maryland AND DC Taxes out of my paystub. The amount I took home was far less than the $30k salary, and I had personal financial struggle because of it, including credit card debt and repaying my (University of Michigan) student loans.

So now I have to cough up an additional $700 for the State of Michigan, when I'm struggling to build a life for myself at 23, including planning a wedding.

I don't necessarily mind paying taxes. I know that good education and social services require taxes. I just wish the system was simpler.

Why can't we assess the poverty line, and for every dollar you make above the poverty line, you're taxed a flat rate, like 8%? This would solve a lot of problems created by the recession in two important ways, in my opinion.

1. Clarity: People who could NOT afford a company to do their taxes (like me) would have a simple process that was understandable, and not so complicated that you had to pay penalty fees when you don't understand what you're supposed to do.

2. Stability: In uncertain times, why continue to dump stress on people struggling to make ends meet? If people can prepare, plan for their taxes, without requiring a calculus degree to predict how much they'll have to pay, it would create one little factor of stability in a time of uncertainty.

I believe Oregon does this. And I believe that they have Tax Estimator on their state website. Do we have anything like that? Can't we try helping out Michiganders for once? It takes a lot of guts to stay in a state that has such a high unemployment rate. But for some people, like my family, it's not an option, Michigan is their home.

Thanks for listening.

Michelle O'Brien

Friday, July 24, 2009

Racism, Presidential Misstep or Misunderstanding in Cambridge

Black Professor wrongly arrested. Check.
Al Sharpton gets involved. Check.
President Obama says the officer acted "stupidly." Check.
Union reps weigh in on the officer's conduct. Check.
President Obama calls the officer to express regret. Check.

So, was it racism in Cambridge? "Reverse racism" from the White House? Or just a big misunderstanding? I'm willing to bet that we're not quite through with this.

Depending on what you choose to filter through your television at any given moment, The Media has blamed everyone above for racism. No really, everyone! All it takes for 48 hours of maniacal coverage on one topic is a splash of ambiguity. I'd love to give a lecture about racial profiling, and how realistically, the NEIGHBOR is (at least somewhat) at fault for calling the cops in her froofy neighborhood when she saw two black men. I'd like to do that, but I won't. Instead, I'll share a story from one of my first days of solitude in a city I like to call Baltimore. Cambridge, Baltimore could beat you up.

I wrote the following faux-news article in November 2008, after an eventful day, indeed.

White, 20-Something Liberal Bridges Racial Gap at Shoe City

BALTIMORE – Greenmount Avenue got a splash of a new color this morning: white. Having lost her luggage on a flight from Northern Michigan, Michelle O'Brien, a 20-something white liberal, Mapquested her way to a clothing store within a one-mile radius of John Hopkins University.

Walking into Shoe City, Ms. O'Brien was aware that she was the only white person in the store, and, waving the flag of white guilt, she asked for help.

“They were all so nice, once they found out that I had lost all my clothes and needed a whole new wardrobe,” O'Brien claimed, once safely back in her Charles Village apartment, sitting cross-legged on one of her two IKEA sofas. “I felt like we really, like, connected.”

Representatives from Shoe City were unavailable to comment.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Women & Development

Just a quick note for a muggy Wednesday evening.

Lately I have been increasingly interested in Economic Sociology and the empowerment of women.

My recent influences have been:

1. Three Cups of Tea/Greg Mortenson/Central Asia Institute
2. The work of Kiva
3. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen
4. The work of my good friend Theresa VanderMeer, who unfortunately does not have a website, but who is incredible and brilliant, and has worked extensively with women in India. I will encourage her to get online and will repost a link here!