How Do You Eat an Elephant?

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. ~Mark Twain

When you’re standing in front of a seemingly insurmountable task, overwhelmed and exasperated, there’s a saying that folks might offer to encourage you:

“How do you eat an elephant?” The saying goes.

“One bite at a time.”

A fairly disgusting saying, to be honest. But there’s wisdom there, too.

When we focus only on the finish line, we see the distance between where we are and where we want to be. When we focus instead on the steps we can take today, we impress ourselves with how far we can go in 24 hours.

One year ago, the world shifted under our feet. We were – and are – confronted with a seemingly insurmountable task: fighting against our very government to protect our values and our democracy.

That’s a big ask.

But we’ve done it. We are doing it.

We’re doing it by focusing on the small things that we can do every day: making telephone calls to Congress, advocating over coffee, educating friends and neighbors, learning about our government. Even the big things we do (like writing, speaking, and organizing) we break up into smaller chunks that feel actionable.

One year ago, on November 20, Small Deeds was created because one Peter Marshall quote summarized the impact of small regular actions so well: “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”

And since we’ve started our journey together, we’ve impressed ourselves with just how much we’ve grown as a movement and as individuals. Those changes have been incremental. Almost imperceptible. But now that we’re further along, and closer to the finish line, we can look back and see the great distance we’ve already traveled.

I hope you can appreciate how far we’ve come.

So, on Thanksgiving, as you reflect on what you are thankful for, I hope you’ll take some time to recognize the work you’ve done to better us all. I hope you’ll recognize how many people are thankful for what you have done, what you have saved, what you have worked toward.

And friend, please know.

I am thankful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday & Wednesday: Choose Your Own Tax Adventure!

Your Senators will be home this week, gearing up for Thanksgiving and hopefully meeting with constituents. This is a great week to call their local offices to find out what they’re up to and to pressure them to vote agains this dumpster fire of a tax bill.

It’s hard to keep everything straight, so here’s a quick explanation of where we are.

The House passed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act last week on party lines. So there’s no need to call your Congressman to convince him/her to vote against it – unfortunately, that’s a done deal. You can, however, call to express your displeasure.

The Senate bill passed out of the Finance Committee last week, also on party lines.

These bills are not the same. The bill that was passed out of the Senate Finance Committee is not the same bill as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. They are both terrible, but in their own unique ways.

So as we’re calling our Senators and advocating against the Senate bill’s approval, it’s important to keep them separate. We’ll discuss some key differences below, but here’s a handy chart, courtesy of the Tax Policy Center, that compares the two bills and current law, so you can chat about them with your GOP-loving uncle while asking him to pass the potatoes:


Here are the main Senate bill talking points: the Senate plan would raise taxes on many in the middle class – at least 29% of Americans – and would result in $25 billion in cuts to Medicare and $118 billion in cuts to other essential programs because of the Pay-As-You-Go Act (PAYGO) which would be triggered by the massive debt the bill creates. Over the next ten years, the Senate bill would increase taxes on those making less than $75,000/year. The tax cuts disproportionately benefit the wealthy. And all of the above is subject to a great deal of debate, because there’s been insufficient time and public disclosure about what has been described as “historic” tax reform.

Now for those specific hot-button issues that are addressed differently between the House and Senate bills:

  • Students: The House bill eliminates the student loan interest deduction and taxes tuition waivers (both for students, and for parents that work in universities that are able to send their family members to the university for free), effectively eliminating the ability of non-independently-wealthy students to get their PhD (and potentially causing a brain drain from the U.S., as students seek institutions in foreign countries). Notably, the Senate bill retains the student loan interest deduction and would not tax tuition waivers. The House Plan also no longer permits Coverdell Accounts – which allow parents to save up to $2k per beneficiary and can be withdrawn tax-free so long as used for qualified educational expenses – whether that’s elementary school or college tuition. Those accounts would have to be converted to 529 plans – which are only for college.
  • Medical Expense Deduction: The House bill eliminates the deduction for medical expenses – taking a blow to families with complex medical needs and those who are in facilitated care. The Senate bill keeps that deduction.
  • Estate Tax: Both bills double the estate tax, from $5.5 million/person (yes, $11 million per couple) – so that now it only applies to estates over $22 million. The House version eliminates the estate tax altogether after 2024, while the Senate bill retains it.
  • ACA Mandate: The Senate bill eliminates the ACA individual mandate, but the House bill does not. So, the Senate bill results in $25 BILLION in cuts to Medicare – and that’s just in 2018. It also requires $118 BILLION in cuts to other programs in 2018 because of the “Pay As You Go Act” – PAYGO. Over 10 years, the Senate bill would trigger $410 BILLION in cuts to Medicare. Pulling the rug out from under the ACA is also expected to cause premiums to increase for every American, thereby reducing actual pay; it will also cause 4 million people to become uninsured by 2019 and 13 million by 2025. Those uninsured Americans actually increase prices for insurance and health care for everyone.
  • Medicaid: The Senate bill also cuts Medicaid subsidies by $179 billion.
  • Benefits to Foreign Investors: Because the primary beneficiaries are corporations, and foreign investors own 35% of corporate stock, more foreign investors would receive tax breaks than American families. Yes. You read that right.  Net benefits to foreign investors will be $22 BILLION dollars. Net benefits to American taxpayers would be $8 BILLION. And those benefits are skewed largely to the top, as already discussed.
  • Private Aircraft: The Senate bill provides a tax break for private aircraft . (I’m sure we all breathe a sigh of relief here, don’t we? Those poor private jet owners just can’t catch a break these days…)

So, now we all need to call our Senators and tell them why we believe they should vote against this bill. And now you can see why Tuesday and Wednesday’s actions are called “choose your own adventure.” There are so many terrible-awfuls in this bill that you could call their offices five separate times without repeating your objection. Here are some options. Mix and match!

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to ask the Senator to vote against the tax bill that was passed out of the Finance Committee last week. It will [require $25 million in Medicare cuts because of PAYGO] [increase taxes on those making less than $75k annually] [disproportionately benefit the wealthy donor class at the expense of the middle class that the Senator has pledged to protect] [benefit foreign investors more than it will benefit American families] [cause $410 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade] [cut Medicaid subsidies by $179 billion] [provide tax breaks for private aircraft while eliminating tax deductions for state and local income taxes] [continue the Senate’s terrible record of trying to ram unpopular and historic legislation through in a partisan process devoid of public hearings and comment]… Thanks for your time, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday & Friday: Give Thanks, and Support the Elephants. (Like, Actual Elephants. The Pachyderms. Not the GOP.)

No doubt you’ve heard that the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era prohibitions on imports of big game trophies, and then rolled back their rollback, and now are in a state of limbo about the whole thing. While we wait for them to decide where they stand on the issue, let’s take advantage of our increased awareness and talk about what we can do now to protect these majestic animals.

Each year, 33,000 elephants are killed – most for their ivory. Lifting the bans on imports of ivory will likely increase the demand for it, and increase poaching in order to get it. So, here are some entities that provide on-the-ground security for these amazing, thoughtful, intelligent creatures. (Organized in alphabetical order.)

African Parks is an NGO that cooperates with governments in managing protected areas. They enter into public-private agreements with governments, and are ultimately responsible for what happens in the area they’ve agreed to manage. They have an interesting “poacher to protector” amnesty program, and – of particular interest to donors – overhead is covered by an endowment so most donated funds go directly to efforts on the ground.

Big Life Foundation  was founded by a wildlife photographer and conservationist; it employs hundreds of rangers and protects 2 million acres, with 40 outposts. They protect elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife from poachers. (They’re also a significant local employer.)

Save the Elephants – a long-time leader in advocacy – has created the Elephant Crisis Fund, which seeks to fund the “best conceived” interventions in poaching hotspots. Through the ECF, donor funds reach the groups that need them earlier.

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: These folks not only patrol and protect wildlife – they also raise baby orphaned elephants. It’s as sad, and as heartwarming, as you would think. Their caretakers sleep with the baby elephants at night so the little ones aren’t lonely, give them milk from a bottle and warm blankies. Baby elephants are taken in by their herd of orphans, where they become part of an elephant family. You can adopt an orphaned elephant, and you’ll receive detailed information about where they were found and their progress.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.

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