War, Death, Marriage, Taxes: Your Letters
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What They Do Over There
I am a psychotherapist who works with Vietnam combat veterans. What truly haunts them after all these years is not what was done to them, but what they did to others. Someone (and, I don't know who, but wish I did) said, "There are more terrible things than war and war brings them all." Thanks for a great editorial.
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When my kid brother returned from boot camp many years ago, he told us that the main thing they were taught was—"Everything you learned in civilian life is wrong."
One of the things you learn in civilian life is that killing innocent people is wrong.
So just how, pardon me while I laugh, is ethics training going to fit in except as a press release?
Former Secretary Reich provides a great common sense argument for not repealing the estate tax. I would suggest that an argument can also be made for maintaining the estate tax based on the cost of security and protecting our nation and its assets. It can be argued that someone with assets exceeding 100 million dollars has much more to protect and keep secure than a typical "middle class" family does. Therefore they should be willing to contribute accordingly, but that would not fit the model of self interest that has been predominant since the Reagan years.
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You do not tell the whole "estate tax" story. I am third generation of a Napa Valley farming family. When I say "farming", I mean FARMING. We work the land everyday and hire out only what we cannot do ourselves. My 81-year-old mother is still working in the vineyard every day—driving tractor, hoeing vines, tying and leafing and picking grapes. My whole family has worked in these fields all our lives. My grandparents bought this land in 1929. It has been a family farm ever since and the fifth generation is out under the grape vines right now. My childhood was spent working in the vineyard—there were no "after-school activities" or games. School was our only break. After school, weekends and summers were spent working in the vineyard so we could keep the land, the roof over our heads and food on our table. There were no "allowances" paid. We worked together for our own sustenance. We still use my grandfather's 1970 Ford pickup and my mom's car is a 1966 Ford. Our other vehicles are a 1995 Toyota pickup and a 1996 Ford pickup. Every penny we have ever earned has been declared for taxes. We don't take vacations or eat out. My grandfather was buried in the suit he was married in and we still have his cobbler's stands that he used to fix our shoes.
We have paid taxes on whatever we have—no offshore accounts here.
When my grandparents died, with the former full inheritance tax, the government took almost every penny that they had assiduously put into the Bank of America over their entire lives. My parents were left with almost no cash to continue to operate the ranch. Were we richer? Had we inherited lots of money that we had not earned? No. We kept the land so we could keep working and producing for ourselves but the government took the money and we cried for the loss of our grandparents.
When my dad died, did my mom inherit a lot more money? No, there was just one less person to work in the field.
Now, just because a bunch of hucksters and cheap conmen like Robert Mondavi decided to make Napa Valley a playground for a bunch of rich playboys who like to get drunk (oops, I mean they like to sip fine wines) and because Greenspan felt like playing games, the land value has appreciated wildly. It is worth millions. Aha! you say, when your mom dies, you ungrateful, spoiled, lazy, filthy rich selfish person, pay. I say why? We will not have one penny more when my mom dies. We will have our grief and one less person working in the vineyard every day until the fifth generation gets big enough to really help. Please justify why we should pay again on money that we have already paid taxes on? Why should we pay on the wildly appreciated property value (thank you, again, Robert Mondavi) that is meaningless to us. It puts nothing in our bank accounts or wallets. It is a false value. Nothing will have changed for us, except for our loss. We will still live in the same old farmhouse with the leaky roof and hoe the same grapevines. We will have no more money that, according to you, was "given" to us. Please justify for me why we should pay taxes again, on the same money that we earned, to a filthy rotten corrupt government?
We should not. I say pay it in capital gains. If anyone in the future of this family sells the land and profits by the false economics of increased land value, then tax the hell out of them. They did nothing to earn that and they should pay. But we, who have worked the land, paid taxes all along, saved our money and continue to farm the same land should not be robbed again.
Repeal estate taxes and tax the hell out of capital gains—that is the lazy, rich man's haven. Are you blind?
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The first time I remember hearing about the estate tax was when it was referred to as the "death tax" in a commercial. I believe the picture they painted was a tired farmer sitting at a kitchen table with his wife worrying about how they were going to lose their farm because of the death tax. I thought, "My goodness, how horrible! What in the world are we penalizing family farms for? We, of course, should abolish the death tax." I'm sorry to say that I fell right into propaganda. Now I know the real story. Thanks to your writers.
A Zero-Sum Game
Why doesn't someone seriously deconstruct the assumption that the gay-marriage argument is somehow a zero-sum issue? It seems like people objecting to gay marriage are operating from the assumption that there's only so much marriage to go around, and if gay couples get any, some straight couple won't.
I have never had it explained to my satisfaction why letting my uncle and his partner get married would somehow trivialize or undermine my parents' 40-year marriage or my grandparents' 65-year marriage. I just plain don't get it.