Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ethical Behavior and The American Dream.

The more time I spend thinking about terms like 'income inequality" the more I conclude that my fellow humans have ethics which are dependent upon their personal view of what constitutes the American Dream. For some, the American Dream is having enough for their needs and maybe a bit left over for a luxury or two. For others, it's having enough to fulfill their desire to own everything they want.

Here in the United States, and quite possibly other parts of the world, we've confused a person's worth as a human being with how much money they can spend to purchase the trappings of success. We don't ever look at how they earn that money, we simply idolize that person because they have it. It should matter to us that they might not have been entirely honest in their quest for success. We should see who they hurt while achieving their gold and ask ourselves if they're worthy of our loyalty because of it.

A case in point would be the owners of the company I work for. During conversations with all but one of them, they brag about what they own and never mention how they've amassed the money to buy it. They've done that by taking things away from their employees.

The company founder appreciated her employees. While she didn't do everything she should have done (more on that later), she paid half of the employees health insurance. She gave raises every year. Sometimes it was just a nickle per hour, but it was a raise and it was there every year. She gave a picnic at a local state park every summer and a Christmas party was held the Friday before Christmas at every office she had open around the state. She didn't give money at Christmas, but she bought gifts for every single employee. She also went to bat for every employee that ran afoul of a County case manager. If a client was unhappy with the employee, she'd change the employee on that case. If the County manager took a dislike to someone, they had to have proof or she'd tell them they couldn't interfere with the employees right to earn a living. If there was a death in the family of an employee, she'd send flowers and a sympathy card and the employee would get 3 days off with pay.

At the time we had long term employees. When I was hired in 1999 some of the employees had been working there right out of high school. In one case it was the only job she'd ever had. As the on-call at the time I could call any employee and ask them to cover a case and they would simply say "Where'm I going"? That became, "No, I'm sorry, I can't" and that was if you could get them to answer the phone at all.

She retired in 2001 and we have since lost every single bit of that evidence that we are appreciated for our efforts on behalf of the company. They've taken away the annual raise, and actually cut our pay. We no longer get Christmas gifts or a party, no summer picnic has been held in 10 years. As a matter of fact, when an employee was killed while driving to her next case, they didn't offer anything to her family except words. Which is how we found out that the company founder had been doing something wrong.

The aide that died in a car crash left a husband to raise a young family alone. Like many young people they had no life insurance and there was a funeral bill to pay that he couldn't afford. He asked for assistance from the company because it occurred on company time and got told no. It seems that the company felt that their time was only the time an employee is actually with a client and not while we were traveling between clients. The husband knew enough labor law to understand that his wife should have been paid travel time between clients because from the time you begin with the first client until the time you leave the last one, you are on company time. So, he got mad and reported it to the Labor Department.

The Labor Department agreed. Which was when "travel time" became something we were paid for. What we didn't know was that in addition to the new pay, the state slapped the company with a stiff fine. Said fine kicked in last year which is why we lost our Christmas party and gifts. In addition to the loss of party and gifts, they have cut our hourly wage and also closed our offices an hour early to cut the coordinators pay by that 5 hours. The time was added to the on-call's duties at no extra pay, of course. Then the owners complain that they can't find good help these days.

Long term employees are few with far too many of them lasting a mere 3 or 4 months. And according to the owners, it's laziness not a lack of appreciation that is the problem. "Nobody wants to work anymore".

From where I sit it seems to me that it wasn't the employees that violated labor laws, it was the company owners. I'm thinking they should be the ones paying the fine out of their own pockets rather than on the backs of their minimum wage employees. However, their American Dream requires a new kitchen remodel in 1 home and the lease is up on the "company vehicle" and a new one was necessary.

The company founder drove a luxury Lexus. Paid for out of her pocketbook from money she made as a salary for shepherding a company to a point where profit was made. She made that profit by appreciating her hard working employees. As a result, her employees thought long and hard about the affect their actions might have on the company. It's called company loyalty and it's really, really hard to find in a company that regularly takes actions which lead those employees to believe they aren't appreciated.

Ah well, I get to retire in 2.5 more years, or sooner if the company goes under.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm Not A Billionaire, I Pay INCOME Tax

Had a conversation with a Conservative the day before elections. I don't know why I bother because the things they believe make me want to bang my head on a wall.

I said I pay income tax. He asked if I didn't mean payroll tax. Don't you love those talking points?

The really strange thing is, they believe payroll tax isn't income tax. I mean seriously believe that. On what planet is money withheld from your payroll that you don't get back at tax time not an income tax? On the Conservative planet where they see Social Security deductions, Medicare deductions and don't see the little goody called FEDERAL WITHHOLDING TAX. Ahem, excuse me for shouting.

Every year between January 1 and April 15, ALL working people file these forms with the Internal Revenue Service and whatever state they reside in. In my case the forms numbers are 1040 and IT-201. The amounts we use to fill in the blanks are based on forms our employers give us which show the amounts of money they withheld from our payroll. In case you missed it, our payroll equals the amount of INCOME we received from them.

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I have never received every penny of my Federal Withholding Tax or My NY State Withholding Tax back from either of those two entities. As a matter of fact, due to Hubby's business there have been years in which we have had to pay MORE to both of those entities. As a matter of fact a perusal of 10 years of income tax forms informed me that there were years in which we paid as much as $1500  more in INCOME TAX over what was deducted from my earnings.

Hey! If I was a billionaire Mormon, I could pay 10 times what I make annually to a slick accountant so I only had to pay $0 in INCOME TAX. Unfortunately on an average income of $20,000 give or take a grand or two, I pay 15% of my INCOME back in TAXES and that's BEFORE I add in my deduction for Social Security and Medicare which I may not ever get back because Conservatives believe those two "ENTITLEMENTS" are bankrupting our country.

Uhhh, no. Our country is in debt because people who can afford it most easily have stopped paying their fair share of income taxes. Too many loopholes through which they slide in their efforts to feed their need for greed. They hide their money in Swiss bank accounts or offshore tax havens and then claim that the poorest of this country are standing in line with their hands out to hide their own selfish behavior.

They are why the middle class is disappearing. They make their money and hold onto as much of it as they can by sending jobs overseas where they don't have to pay higher American wages. Then they hold onto more of it by refusing to pay the income tax on their ill gotten gains. Thankfully this past election showed me that not all of my fellow Americans are buying into their claptrap. Now, I'm willing to pay more tax to hold their feet to the fire, so let the Bush Tax Cuts EXPIRE.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Moochers Get All The Free Stuff

With Hubby's illness and the mounting medical bills, there's been a lot of stress in my life. That stress has cost me a long term client, the 93 year old lady that I've been visiting twice a week since 2007. I don't miss her.

She is in a program the state of New York offers to higher income elderly. They have to pay a portion of the bill themselves. The amount depends on how much their income is. It's available only to the elderly who don't qualify for Medicaid, and they may be asked to pay as much as half the bill. This program doesn't qualify the recipient for services like transportation to and from doctors. The aides servicing these cases are allowed to shop only once a month for these clients unless there is no family. Also, since the services rendered to these clients are considered to be largely personal care, chores like taking trash to the curb are the responsibility of the family. Which is where we ran into trouble on this case.

Her trash pick up was happening 15 minutes after I arrived on Mondays so I was taking care of it. Our office replaced my earlier client with one that required longer travel time so I was getting there 10 minutes later than normal which was approved by both client and her family. Then her hauler changed the pick up time for her trash collection and unfortunately it was a full hour before I would get there. I spoke to the client about that change which at the age of 93 went in one ear and out the other so I had our office call the family and explain. She did that, I was there in the office when she called.

Three weeks later when the trash was overflowing in the garage, she asked me why. I reminded her that I don't get there in time to put out her trash and before I could say because her hauler changed the time she exploded. "How DARE you take my time away from me!" As if it's my fault the office gave me a different case. Nothing I said pierced the rage so I went to the office and wrote out a grievance as I'm supposed to. Office called the family who weren't overly helpful. Like a 93 year old woman is capable of carrying the trash out on Monday, let alone if she remembers what day it is. Family is too busy to take care of it even though they drive right by her house on their way to work. Yeah, it really is that hard for them.

They gave the client a new aide and the family was notified that taking the trash to the curb isn't one of our duties. I also notified the office that I wouldn't take any more cases from that particular program. I would prefer the lower income moochers I keep hearing about from the families of the people in this program. They and their families are grateful for what services they receive. Not so the more affluent clients families. They have an over developed sense of entitlement.

I really hadn't thought much about it until this morning while reading the doom and gloom from those Conservatives who are rather rageful that their Boy Romney lost. After the 19th or so time I read a statement along the lines of Obama supporters voting for "that free stuff", I started thinking about the 30 or so clients I have serviced in the past 5 years and the other situations I am aware of with other aide's clients.

Even though these program clients pay for a portion of their services, they still benefit from a partial payment through a state grant. When they don't get a service, they're very vocal about those who do without any acknowledgement of the fact that their monthly income is twice that of the Medicaid clients in the other program.

My stress level is at Defcon 5 over things like:

The 93 year old with the trash problem plus the time her daughter canceled taking her to a doctor's appointment so she could take her dog to the vet.

The 80 year old who got diaper rash because her family couldn't find the time to stop and get her Depends so she ran out of them and couldn't change her undergarment. She reused the same one for 3 days until my day to go there and I went to buy them. Out of my own money because her family hadn't dropped off any cash for me to shop with. Elder abuse task force placed her in a nursing home. Charged her son with neglect.

The 71 year old whose laundry I couldn't do for close to a month because her family couldn't understand that they needed to pick her up and take her to the bank so that she could withdraw the money needed for the machines in her building. A building that limits the use of laundry machines to 2 per tenant at a time. A month's worth of laundry won't fit 2 machines. I'm only there 2 hours a week. Mom failed inspection. Guess who family tried to blame? That failed because our office had placed numerous calls to family explaining that money was needed for laundry.

The 86 year old who had to drive himself to and from the eye doctor and he had to have his eyes dilated at that appointment. When the doctor found out he didn't have transportation, they kept him there for 4 hours until he could see. When the daughter finally panicked because she couldn't find her Dad, all we heard was how "all those welfare bums get rides, why can't her Dad?"

Got a hot flash for her, not all those "welfare bums" get transported. Only those without families locally do. Funny, those families are mostly low income and they manage to take time off to transport Mom or Dad to the doctors. We've never gotten calls from those low income families wondering why we didn't move the furniture to vacuum (not allowed by the state) or why we don't remove all the knick-knacks when we dust (not allowed by the state). They just go and visit and help take care of these things themselves.

The grief we get from the families and in some cases the clients who can afford to pay for services is tied up in their sense that they are entitled to free things simply because the families are too busy, or unwilling to help.  In all but one of my cases from that program the clients and their families are Conservatives. The one client from that program that I still have doesn't have that sense of entitlement plus has assistance with whatever she needs from her daughter and son-in-law. They are Liberals. She never complains that anyone gets more assistance than she does, plus she donates as often as possible to our local Rescue Mission and to the Salvation Army. So people less fortunate than she can be helped. Something my Conservative former clients and families don't do because..."Moochers get enough free stuff".

Monday, November 5, 2012

Rebuilding The Gilded Age

A conversation with my Mom's oldest brother this weekend informed me that I am no longer the lone Democrat in a family of Republicans. Nearly 70 years ago when he registered to vote for the first time, he did so as a Republican. This year he changed his affiliation to the Democratic Party. This information that he shared with me didn't occur during a political conversation. It happened as we were discussing a History Channel program I spent time watching this past week.

"The Men Who Built America", Vanderbilt, Scott, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick, Morgan, Ford and Edison. All captains behind the growth of railroads, coal, oil, steel, automobiles, banking and electricity. All grew supremely wealthy at a time when American Workers could be bought for an average of $1.20 a week. If profits were down for the company owners, workers were fired, those duties were added to the remaining worker's day and pay would be cut in half.

There were no regulations, few safety measures and if you were injured beyond the point of ever being able to work again, well, you were on your own. You were fortunate if you had sons of 9 or 10 who could find a 60 hour a week job to support your family. Doubly fortunate if your sons and daughters were old enough to have families of their own and an adult breadwinner who could take on the task of supporting you. This wasn't as much of a burden as it sounds today because life expectancy was considerably less than it is now.

While you were struggling to make ends meet, your employer was attending balls, building block long residences to house their families and their art collections. They were taking cruises, vacationing in the Adirondacks in homes that although used for a few short months a year, were nearly as opulent as their New York residences. For some, philanthropy became an interest, but not until decisions they made caused death and destruction. However many libraries, schools and museums they built, they seemed to ignore the workers upon whose backs these grand edifices were erected.

Never did it occur to them to increase wages, correct safety issues or offer pensions so the elderly or infirm employees were not such a burden to their families when they were used up and incapable of working those 60 hour weeks. This was the topic of conversation when my life long Republican uncle said that he had changed party affiliation because "today's GOP is dangerous".

Rather than accepting that their policies have contributed to the current economic climate, they continue upon a path that benefits the few over the many. Corporations could be said to be people if one factors in the people that work for them, however, the policies of today are intended to benefit the bottom line of the corporate fat cats running them rather than the people who actually do the work.

Policies that strip the elderly, infirm and poor of any benefit they have earned through their labors. Policies that have allowed those at the top of the heap to hang onto and even take more from the pie leaving less to be fed to those below them who actually do the work which allows them to reap the profit. Policies which take from the people to give to the Pentagon so they may wage war on other countries and call it defense of the American Way of Life.

I think he's right, today's GOP really is dangerous and I can't see any way of stopping them unless we vote for humanity and not corporate welfare. The problem is, history isn't popular among the people who really should pay attention to it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rose Gardens, Rainbows and Golden Unicorns

I find myself wondering how the generations of people younger than I am got the idea that life was a piece of cake? That they could be anything they want to be with the least amount of effort on their part? In what alternate universe do people walk out the doors of the institutions of learning into high paying jobs that meet every want without any effort on their part? Boggles the mind. Who are these people anyways?

A few days ago, comic Jamie Kilstein was tweeting his opinion regarding the President's use of drones in the Middle East. He was calling the President a child killer, like no child ever died in the Middle East at any hand other than ours. I proposed that drones used were saving the life of our military men and women since it wasn't their boots on the ground that were being used. I strongly suggested that if Mr. Kilstein was so worried about those drones, he should volunteer to put his boots on the ground instead of running his mouth in Twitter. It wasn't the smartest move I've ever made in my life. Jamie Kilstein has FANS. They did not like my opinion.

Mr Kilstein made one defensive comment to me and then let his fans do his dirty work for him. It might have gotten much worse than it did if I hadn't been clear that my objection to his tweet was that he WASN'T objecting to WAR, just to the use of drones. Somehow, in my mind, calling the President a child killer for using drones against the Taliban isn't objecting to war. Oddly when I pointed out what the Taliban themselves were doing to children, which in the case of Malala was to target a SCHOOL of them to shoot a 14 year old, no one had a single thing to say about that.

It isn't just drones that kill innocent men women and children, it's war. Period.

Unfortunately, we the people with our reverence for Capitalism which few truly understand, we create a climate of war. For the top 10% it means profit. For the other 90% it means death.  As long as we continue to buy into allowing the few to profit on the backs of the many, we are buying into war and the use of drones to kill.

We're a society which believes all good things come to those who exist, simply because. There is no credit given for effort, and there is little effort expended that isn't there because of an expectation of rewards far beyond that which the effort expended deserves.

Then there's the internet. A place where we can sit safely in our homes and offices and pretend to be much more important than we really are.